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Animal Home Makes Room For A Multitude Of Cats [11/11/2003]

Many of us have read or heard about cases of animal hoarding and been amazed at the figures of 20, 30 maybe 50 dogs or cats referred to. The Mayhew Animal Home has recently been involved with a case concerning a multi-cat household, which is believed to be the biggest, certainly in the Mayhew’s history of outreach welfare projects in the community, if not the largest multi-cat household ever reported in this country.

In October The Mayhew received a call to assist an elderly couple in desperate need of help because they had too many cats and were in danger of being evicted. They offered to help immediately. Little did they know that “too many cats” actually meant 150 in a small flat.

Over the next few days a heart-breaking story of grief, ignorance and isolation unravelled. The story began in 1989 when a well-meaning animal lover took in a couple of stray cats. Unfortunately neither was neutered and very soon their numbers grew out of control.

Unfortunately the causes of animal hoarding are many and varied and research on the subject is still in its infancy.

In this instance, it was an escalating spiral of grief, misunderstanding and isolation, worsened by ignorance and fear. Alienated from their neighbours, they were too frightened to go out themselves or get the cats to a rescue centre or animal hospital. It was the inevitable vicious circle, where isolation from society and claims of persecution lead to a deepening pre-occupation with the animals, a denial of any problems and a neglect of personal conditions. Hoarders love their animals intensely and believe that no-one else can take care of them. They also fear having their animals put to sleep.

After finally being taken to court and threatened with eviction, the owners contacted friends pleading for help in finding an animal charity, which would help them and guarantee not to put their animals to sleep.

Contact was established with the Mayhew Animal Home and following discussions with the Mayhew’s Outreach personnel, the owners were reassured that the cats would not be put to sleep and would all be well cared for before being found new homes. The Mayhew’s Animal Welfare Officers have now taken into The Mayhew Animal Home in Kensal Green, London, a total of 150 cats from this one household. The cats, which had never been let out, had virtually taken over the flat, overrunning the three bedrooms, while the other living space was cluttered with tins of cat food, cat litter and cleaning products.

At the Mayhew the cats have been given a thorough health check-up. Most of them are in good condition, although some are on the thin side and there are signs of too much interbreeding. However, once they have become accustomed to their new surroundings, the Mayhew believe that all these cats can be put up for re-homing. In accordance with their policy all the cats will be neutered.

As part of there outreach work in the community programme the Mayhew plan to keep in contact with the original owners of the cats and help them adjust as well. The collection of all these cats from their flat has meant a huge hole in their life and they are keen to know what will happen to the cats, who have been like surrogate children to them. They have been allowed to keep three of the cats, a situation we shall also monitor, but obviously their lifestyle will now completely change and for the better.

Animal hoarding is recognised as a psychological disorder in the USA and certainly, as we can see from the case above, the problem is not only one of animal welfare but a social welfare issue as well. The Mayhew hopes that the above story will help to highlight the issue of animal hoarding and illuminate the need for greater interaction between animal welfare charities and social services within the community.

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