Animals in bondage: the hoarding mind

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:

LYLES, Tenn.; ANAMOSA,
Iowa; SALT LAKE CITY, Utah– – Near
Lyles, Tennessee, the shelterless Hickman
County Humane Society just before Christmas
1998 seized 299 dogs, 38 horses, and various
cats from an alleged puppy mill reportedly
owned by one Patricia Adkisson.
The site was littered, rescuers said,
with the remains of dead dogs.
On January 1, 1999, hoping to keep
a developing neglect case from becoming selfperpetuating,
Florida Humane Society volunteers
cleaned the home of widower Terry
Ruppel, 70, of Lighthouse Point, who surrendered
37 cats after neighbors complained
about filth and stench. Ruppel and his wife of
47 years exhausted their savings trying to fix
up an old house, Fort Lauderdale SunSentinel
staff writer Robert George explained.
Then Ruppel had a stroke, skin cancer, and
kidney cancer, and in August 1998 his wife
died of a sudden heart attack.


“Ruppel sold his truck so he could
fly her home to Illinois for a funeral among
family,” George reported. “Then he retreated
into his home and turned to his cats to soothe
the loneliness that settled upon him. He let
them climb in his bed so they could purr him
to sleep. They crawled over him as he sat,
hour after hour, in front of the television. He
was too tired to clean up after them. ‘I didn’t
have the gumption,’ Ruppel said.”
Because Ruppel accepted help and
gave up the animals, observers think he may
keep a pledge to avoid repeating the situation.
District judge L. Vern Robinson of
Jones County, Iowa, on December 4, 1998
ordered the immediate slaughter of 315 starving
pigs who were seized from Piggy Bar
Farms, near Wyoming, Iowa, on October 30.
Owner Daryl Larson, 46, of Delmar, Iowa,
was previously in trouble for starving as many
as 3,000 pigs in 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1997
at other locations in both Iowa and Missouri.
Fined $16,311 for the 1995 Missouri case,
Larson in February 1998 sought to avoid payment
by declaring bankruptcy. This time
Larson was charged only with misdemeanor
neglect, carrying a maximum penalty of a
year in jail and a fine of $1,500.
The Arizona Humane Society in
mid-November euthanized 160 cats and filed
201 misdemeanor cruelty counts against
Charlotte Brees, 56, who ran the Arizona Cat
Rescue Association, incorporated in 1984,
from her home. Hired two weeks earlier,
cleaning person Rosalie Thurston reportedly
called humane authorities upon becoming
aware that the mess she confronted was not
just the result of a short-term crisis.
Robert Mock, of Junglesong Cattery
in Rochester, Washington, in a history of the
short-legged Munchkin variant of the ocelotmarked
“ocicat,” credits Laurie Bobskill of
West Springfield, Massachusetts, as one of
the “notable breeders” who established
Munchkins on the show circuit.
But Bobskill, 47, a longtime
reporter for the Springfield Union-News, and
single parent of a 17-year-old son, turned
from breeding to cat rescue circa 1992. She
called ANIMAL PEOPLE occasionally to
request information about cat-related matters,
including how to tell animal hoarders from
rescuers, and sometimes distributed free samples
of ANIMAL PEOPLE at cat shows.
“We thought of her as a reporter
who was animal-friendly and wanted to help
cats,” said Massachusetts SPCA vice president
Carter Luke.
In July 1996, however, Bobskill
surrendered 126 cats to the MSPCA and
cleaned her home at town request. The incident
was not publicized. Then, on October
23, 1998, police and the Baystate Gas
Company came to shut off Bobskill’s gas line
due to unpaid bills. Finding “feces piled
against the doorway,” wrote Bobskill’s
U n i o n – N e w s colleague Natasha Gural, the
police called the MSPCA and city health
director Albert Laboranti, who placarded the
site as unfit for habitation. The MSPCA took
out 58 live cats, three dead cats, and a dog.
ANIMAL PEOPLE learned of the
incidents when Bobskill called on November
12, 1998, to allege MSPCA persecution.
In Walpole, Massachusetts,
Edmund Burke, 48, was on December 10
charged with fatally stabbing Irene Kennedy,
75, nine days earlier in a public park. Police
said a bite mark on Kennedy’s body matched
dental impressions from Burke, who pleaded
innocent. Fire chief Ken Erickson declared the
debris-strewn Burke home a fire hazard.
Burke’s mother, Annette Burke, 88, was
removed to a motel. Animal control officer
John Spillane took custody of 25 cats.
From September 19 through midOctober,
the Salt Lake Tribune and the rival
Deseret News carried daily updates on the
plight of 21-month-old David Fink, allegedly
kidnapped from the Primary Children’s
Medical Center in Salt Lake City by his father
and mother, purported religious fanatics
Christopher and Kyndra Fink, both 23.
Hospitalized for malnutrition by
Kyndra Fink’s family, David Fink reportedly
weighed just 16 pounds. Police said he had
apparently endured months on a diet of lettuce
and watermelon juice, intended to keep him
“pure.” He was down to 15 pounds when the
Finks surrendered in the Beartooth Mountains
of Montana, after 16 days of flight.
Kyndra Fink, who gave birth to
another son while dodging the law, said she
herself hadn’t eaten in several days.
The Finks were found, wrote Ray
Rivera of the Salt Lake Tribune, when customers
at both a McDonald’s restaurant and a
roadside saloon recognized Christopher Fink
from newspaper photos as he ate a hamburger
and fries, then “quaffed a few cold ones”
before attempting to hitchhike back to the Fink
camp with a sack of wheat flour.

COMMONALITIES
Alleged puppy miller, widower,
farmer, rescuer, show breeder/rescuer,
alleged real-life Norman Bates, or alleged
messianic survivalist, the alleged perpetrators
in all seven pending cases appear to have in
common that they exemplify traits which seem
to be shared by most persons who are accused
of animal hoarding, according to A N I M A L
P E O P L E findings in an analysis of media
reports on 688 recent U.S. alleged hoarding
cases, involving 661 individuals.
The commonalities are not unique to
animal hoarders, however. They also seem to
be shared by others who hoard or neglect
either individual nonhuman animals or dependent
humans, or just obsessively gather trash.
The term “animal hoarder” is a
recent modification of the more familiar term
“animal collector.” Noticing that people who
hoard animals tend to share quirks with trash
hoarders, Tufts University Center for Animals
and Public Policy director Gary Patronak recommends
that “animal hoarder” be used
instead of “animal collector” to help distinguish
the hoarding pathology from the often
equally obsessive but harmless quests of people
who merely collect objects as a hobby,
and/or have many healthy pets.
Since well before Charles Dickens
created Scrooge, the archetypal Victorian
miser, artists and writers have described the
hoarding syndrome. Hoarders stereotypically
fear poverty. Many of note in recent years
grew up in dire want, during the Great
Depression or in war-ravaged foreign nations
––or, if well-off, were terrified by what they
saw of deprivation from a distance.
Animal hoarders, like the haunted
Scrooge, suffer an obsessive fear of death,
Perdue University professor of animal ecology
Alan Beck and colleague Dooley Worth
hypothesized in a 1981 study of 31 cases handled
by the American SPCA and the New
York City Bureau of Animal Affairs.
Beck and Worth found that 23 of the
34 people involved in these cases were female,
and 24 were unmarried.
Most began acquiring unusual numbers
of pets after leaving their parents’ home at
a normal age, in their teens or twenties.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that
females were the alleged perpetrators of 450
incidents (59%), and males of 338 (41%).
Responsibility was shared between genders in
exactly 100 cases (15%). Nearly two-thirds of
the alleged perpetrators lived alone:
Lifestyles of alleged animal hoarders
F Norm M Norm
Living alone 62% 14% 58% 10%
With spouse 15% 52% 25% 56%
With relatives 24% 28% 17% 25%
The ANIMAL PEOPLE data also
found that male hoarders are almost twice as
likely as women to get into trouble for hoarding
animals early in life:
Ages of alleged animal hoarders
Female Male
Under 30 8% 15%
30 to 39 12% 14%
40 to 49 27% 27%
50 to 59 26% 16%
60 to 69 15% 16%
70 and up 16% 12%
But the different pretexts that
alleged hoarders have for keeping animals
must be considered.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that
among 158 alleged hoarders (24%) who were
identified as either pet breeders or former
breeders, 55% were female.
Among 156 alleged hoarders (also
24%) who claimed to be animal rescuers,
77% were female.
By contrast, gender was evenly
divided among 24 alleged hoarders who
owned pet stores (4%), while among 125
alleged hoarders (19%) who claimed to be
farmers, 65% were male.
Of the 307 alleged hoarders who
kept animals for an economic pretext, 173
(55%) were male.
Since about 80% of all farmers are
male, females might still appear disproportionately
likely to hoard.
But the differing age skews by gender
are also suggestive of the earlier average
male age of death, especially among single
people and depressive personalities.
It may be that fewer men are caught
hoarding animals after age 50 only because
fewer of those who might do so are still alive.
One might also speculate that
women are better animal caretakers at most
ages, tending to falter later, perhaps coinciding
with the onset of physical and emotional
stresses which afflict men sooner.
Finally, many female farmer/hoarders
were either widows or daughters of
deceased or incapacitated male farmers. Some
defended themselves against allegations of
neglect by asserting that they did their best,
but were unable to keep up with heavy chores.

CATS AND DOGS
Beck and Worth found that hoarders
tended to have either many cats or many dogs,
with only a few of the other. The average
numbers of the most numerous species were
34 cats or 20 dogs. But they only studied
urban hoarders, and did not look at people
who purportedly kept animals to make money.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found 620
cases in which an animal count was available.
Dogs were the most-hoarded
species: 319 people (48%) kept an average of
54 apiece. Cats turned up in 219 cases (33%),
involving an average of 48 apiece.
The ratios of dog and cat owners are
somewhat comparable to the U.S. norms, in
that 53% of pet-owning households keep dogs,
according to American Veterinary Medical
Association data, while 46% keep cats––but
the mean number of dogs per dog-owning
household is 1.7, and the mean number of cats
per cat-owning household is 2.2.
Equines were hoarded in 125 cases
(19%), involving an average of 19 apiece.
Just 4% of pet-owning households keep
equines. The mean number of equines per
household that owns any is 2.7.
As dogs, cats, and horses all are
kept chiefly as companions, one may infer
that how often hoarders get into trouble with
each reflects the species’ difficulty of care. It
is easier to keep or neglect lots of cats without
attracting notice than to keep or neglect lots of
dogs, and easier to keep or neglect lots of
dogs than to keep or neglect horses, who tend
to live outside, more-or-less in public view.
Likewise, it is easier to hoard small
dogs than big dogs––as ANIMAL PEOPLE
reported in November 1993. Reviewing 49
cases, we found that 16 people caught
neglecting large dogs had an average of just 17
apiece, but 33 people caught neglecting small
dogs had an average of 49. Chihuahua hoarders
averaged 59; poodle hoarders averaged 72.
Small dogs, we theorized, are more
likely to be kept indoors; are more vulnerable
to neglect without physical risk to the abuser;
some hoarders seem to have a psychological
need for animals they call their “babies”; and
market demand is greater for small puppies.
Other quantifiable species found in
our sample of 688 hoarding cases were
bovines, kept by 41 alleged perpetrators (7%),
who had an average of 63 apiece, and pigs,
kept by 20 alleged perpetrators (3%), who had
an average of 181 each.
The average numbers of cattle and
pigs parallel the typical populations on family
farms circa 1960, and may reflect the declining
viability of small-scale husbandry.
BRING OUT YOUR DEAD
Beck and Worth discovered that the
animal hoarders in their study tended to
become socially isolated because their animals
interfered with social relations. But they usually
coped with their situations for many years
before getting into trouble. When they did get
into trouble, it often involved hoarding dead
animals. Two of their study subjects were
even caught hoarding human corpses.
This syndrome too was known to literature.
William Faulkner described it in his
1930 short story “A Rose For Emily,” in
which a recently deceased spinster of considerable
inherited social stature is found to have
slept for half a century with the remains of an
unfaithful suitor she poisoned in her youth.
Among the 661 alleged hoarders,
115 (17%) kept dead animals.
But they didn’t just keep nonhuman
animals, either dead or alive.
Twenty-eight alleged hoarders (4%),
including about a third of the women under
age 40, kept a total of 44 children in approximately
the same conditions as the animals in
their custody––often caged, starved, in filth,
suffering from untreated illness and injury.
Eleven alleged hoarders (2%) kept a
total of 12 senior citizens in such conditions.
The human victim was in nine cases a parent.
One alleged male hoarder, who was
Caucasian, kept his Japanese-speaking wife
locked in a trailer with seven live cats, various
dead cats, and an accumulation of garbage.
She reportedly did not wish to press charges.
Except for the presence of animals,
ANIMAL PEOPLE noted no quantifiable difference
between these cases and others in
which parents confined and starved children,
or adult children confined and starved parents.
Likewise, except for the numbers of
animals involved, ANIMAL PEOPLE noted
little reported behavioral difference between
animal hoarders and individuals who confined
and starved one animal at a time. Social isolation,
troubled lives, and obsessive controlseeking
appear to be constants––along with
persistent failure by observers to recognize the
combination of control and neglect as the passive-aggressive
form of mayhem.

ENABLERS
Faulkner also described the enabling
syndrome, through which family, friends,
and even whole communities indirectly
encourage a hoarder to persist in the behavior,
rather than closely examine an uncomfortable
situation: when the spinster Emily’s house
stank, soon after the suitor disappeared, the
town council attributed the odor to hot weather
and animals, and a committee surreptitiously
spread lime around the foundation.
Samantha Mullen, formerly with the
New York State Humane Association, now
with HSUS, began recording characteristics of
animal hoarders during almost a decade of trying
to shut down the Animals Farm Home, at
Ellenville, along with several other notorious
upstate New York self-described “no-kill shelters”––not
to be confused with no-kill shelters
which adhere to accepted standards for
humane animal care and fiscal accountability.
The Animals Farm Home was run by
Justin McCarthy, age 68 in 1988, when
repeated NYSHA raids finally did close it.
Even after early closure attempts, McCarthy
was described by N e w s w e e k in 1984 as “St.
Francis of the Catskills,” and by R e a d e r ’ s
Digest in 1986 as “a real-life Dr. Doolittle.”
McCarthy, reported the New York
Times files, had actually been convicted of six
armed robberies, and later did public relations
work for Cubans opposed to Fidel Castro. He
allegedly took in more than 1,000 dogs, 70
cats, and various other animals between 1981
and 1987, plus $500,000 in cash––but the
money apparently vanished while most of the
animals starved.
Of approximately 475 animals
Mullen and colleagues reportedly discovered
amid the remains of perhaps 200 more at the
Animals Farm Home in a November 1987
raid, about 175 were euthanized at the scene.
Mullen in February 1990 mailed to
numerous animal care agencies a summary of
her observations about hoarders.
“Offers of help, unless in the form
of monetary gifts, are generally rebuffed,”
Mullen wrote, as a hoarder resists any loss of
control over the animals he or she possesses.
City of Houston veterinarian Karen
Kemper in 1991 published a list of 10 parallels
of behavior between “animal addicts,” as
Kemper called them, and substance abusers:
• Preoccupation with the addiction.
• Repetition of the addictive behavior.
• Neglect of self and surroundings.

• Alibis for behavior.
• Claims of persecution.
• Presence of enablers.
• Denial that addiction exists.
• Isolation from society, except for
enablers and fellow addicts.
• Abuse of animals through neglect.
• Institutionalized at least once; found sane.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that to
the extent Kemper’s parallels are quantifiable,
they stand up––not least because many animal
hoarders are substance abusers.
Further, as with alcoholics, society
itself may be the prime enabler. A N I M A L
P E O P L E found that of the 688 cases we
examined, only 178 (28%) were known to
have resulted in convictions of any kind. Yet
245 of the 661 alleged offenders (37%) were
previously convicted of similar offences.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE c r u e l t y
sentencing log, kept since 1991, records
details of the punishment for 138 of the 178
known convictions. The averages show rough
proportionality where pets are involved, but
farmers still tend to escape lightly, as did most
“rescuers” until recent years:
Sentencing norms, animal neglect
Cases Jail Susp. Fine Repay Srvc. Pbtn.
days days hrs days
Starving herds of farm animals
12 40 46 $ 451 $ 546 79 91
Pet shop, groomer, kennel
32 80 80 $1,089 $1,884 38 958
Other dog/cat hoarders
41 91 125 $ 919 $2,113 51 307
Single dog/cat neglect cases
52 19 10 $ 272 $ 101 25 242
Penalties for overt violence to animals
are also light, relative to those for harming
humans, but are notably heavier since
prosecutors and judges began to recognize in
the early 1990s that as Arnold Arluke of
Northeastern University and Carter Luke of the
MSPCA confirmed in August 1997, approximately
70% of violent animal abusers commit
other crimes within 10 years, and 38% commit
further violent crimes.
Animal killers and torturers sentenced
between May 1996 and May 1998,
according to the ANIMAL PEOPLE l o g ,
drew an average of 228 days for crimes against
dogs, 205 days for crimes against horses, and
108 days for crimes against cats.
The much lighter punishment of violent
crimes against cats is paradoxical, since
Cat Abuse and Torture Syndrome is a known
strong predictor of violence toward women.
However, much as the punishment of rapists
tends to depend upon the status of their victims,
with assaults on prostitutes and unmarried
women least likely to be prosecuted, the
punishment of violent cat abusers tends to
depend upon whether the victims are verifiably
someone else’s property.
Violence is an overt control mechanism.
As a display, it terrifies society as well
as the victims. Only recently, however, has
violent behavior toward either humans or animals
been recognized as an illegitimate bid for
dominance by people, usually male, who
either lack or reject use of the social skills
required to gain or keep status in more acceptable
ways. An appropriate societal response is
still just evolving.
Confinement and neglect are covert.
They are weapons of repressed rage, wielded
from behind shields of isolation and depression
which may help even the abuser to avoid
recognition of the aggression, directed as it
usually is against a helpless innocent victim.
As with overt violence, the covert
abuser may profess to love the victim. In any
event, the victim is seen as both a physical
and emotional burden, perhaps identified with
a lost or absent partner or parent. Yet the
abuser’s relationship with the victim is also
central to the abuser’s self-identity, whether as
pet breeder, rescuer, farmer, rider, spouse,
parent, or child.
Substance abuse is now widely recognized
as a form of slow suicide. Hoarding
animals or people has a suicidal aspect too,
with a surrogate victim. Neglecting the victim
to death is a way of dumping both a burden
and a source of self-hatred without admitting
responsibility: corpses need no further care.
Yet the lives of the hoarders go on,
still otherwise out of control, still unwilling to
take responsibility for failure to fulfill obligations.
More animals may be hoarded, or more
helpless people. Those who can control little
else may merely hoard the dead.

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