(by Vivian Luk, The Globe and Mail)
A putrid stench, rust-like stuff running down the front stairs and swarming flies alerted neighbours that something was wrong in a house where a 65-year-old woman lived. Some had an inkling about what was going on inside, but no one called the police.
It wasn’t until Abbotsford police and the SPCA arrived at the home on Baldwin Road earlier this week that they realized the owner – who was not home at the time – was keeping 57 cats, four dogs and several birds.
“And those are the ones I would suggest are the pets,” said Constable Ian MacDonald. “It appeared that through some holes in the interior walls, that some animals had probably crawled up into the walls. We didn’t tear the walls apart, but you could hear critters in various parts of the home that we couldn’t locate or identify.”
The SPCA had been informed by a good Samaritan about the situation. On the outside, the house seems well-kept enough. But a horrible smell could be detected from a distance, and inside animal feces, urine, food and damaged furniture were strewn everywhere. SPCA manager of cruelty investigations, Marcy Moriarty, said the animals were suffering from severe ear mites, dental diseases and other illnesses. The SPCA has taken the animals, and charges of animal cruelty will be pursued.
“It’s definitely a hoarding case and these cases are always sad,” Ms. Moriarty said. “There’s no intention on the person’s part to neglect these animals, but the result is, unfortunately, that when you keep accumulating that number of animals, anybody’s going to become overwhelmed and the animals suffer the results.”
One neighbour said the homeowner is a nice person and that whatever led to the situation, it must have been well-intentioned. Another, Jennifer Clark, who lives three houses down, said she has only ever seen two dogs sitting by the dirty windows of the house. She rarely sees the owner and knows only that she has a hip problem.
“I feel quite bad now that I didn’t find out more about the situation and I don’t know my neighbours more,” Ms. Clark said. “It’s not a healthy or safe situation for anybody – who can live in a house where there’s 57 cats, peeing and pooping all over the place?”
The house has been deemed uninhabitable, and the owner is now living elsewhere, said Constable MacDonald. Citing privacy reasons, he said he cannot comment on her whereabouts or mental health, only that she is receiving support from various community and provincial services.
According to Vancouver psychologist Joti Samra, people who hoard make up less than 1 per cent of the population in North America. Animal hoarding is even rarer. This situation is a “classic case of animal hoarding” because the pet owner was not caring for her animals properly, her physical health was at risk, and she appears to have been socially isolated.
“For many individuals who hoard, particularly those who hoard animals, they have higher rates of traumatic experiences like physical, sexual or emotional abuse than the general population,” Dr. Samra said. “Often individuals will, at a very young age, find themselves getting very strongly attached to animals. They may think people can’t be trusted or that getting too close to people is harmful, so the animals will become a source of what they perceive to be unconditional support, love and acceptance.”
Dr. Samra said simply removing individuals from their homes and their belongings is not a solution. They must get help from family and friends, mental-health workers and community agencies as well.
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