SMH; AMANDA WOODS; May 18, 2009
Aaron Schleicher with his adopted kitten, Socks. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
Animal “hoarding” is costing the RSPCA up to $1 million a year.
About 15 per cent of the group’s anti-cruelty enforcement budget now goes towards fighting legal challenges from accused hoarders who accumulate an average of 30 animals in their homes.
One case involved the discovery of 270 cats in one Sydney house.
In some cases animals never leave the house or are kept in cages in a home, resulting in a build-up of faeces and carcasses.
About 200 hoarding cases have been uncovered in the past year. It is believed that 20,000 animals are kept in hoarding conditions in NSW.
Despite dead animals being in her bath, the woman who owned the 270 cats still believed she was doing the right thing.
NSW chief executive of the RSPCA Steve Coleman said hoarders needed to be treated for mental health problems in an effort to prevent repeat offences.
“As an inspector, I’ve removed 50 or 60 animals from a place only to have to do the same thing six months later because we weren’t treating the actual issue, and that is the person instead of the animals,” Mr Coleman said.
Some puppy farm owners and people who claim to be running animal shelters have also been found to be hoarders.
There is no typical social or economic profile for animal hoarders.
Mr Coleman said hoarders often appeared intelligent and some had professional backgrounds.
Sometimes they began collecting animals with the intention of rescuing them, only to accumulate so many that they could no longer care adequately for them.
“You may well be living next to somebody who has 50 or 60 animals inside their house,” he said.
“What we’ve learnt over the years is some of these people are very skilled at being able to keep that sort of an issue out of sight of the general public.”
Mr Coleman said one of the most obvious indicators of an animal hoarder was the smell due to the build-up of animal waste, which could lead to toxic ammonia levels.
He encouraged people to speak out if they suspected a problem. “Even if you’re just concerned and you’re not quite sure . . . just ring us and let one of our inspectors go out and make that determination.”
The State Government contributes about $460,000 a year to the RSPCA, but it is keen to receive public donations to bolster its budget.
Cute kitten given new life
About half the animals saved from hoarders have such severe health or behavioural problems they have to be put down.
But one cute kitten, rescued from a house in western Sydney, has a new life in Enmore with Aaron Schleicher, 33.
Mr Schleicher fell for the tortoiseshell moggy while his flatmate was fostering two kittens for the Cat Protection Society. When it nearly came time to give them back, he adopted Socks.
The other kitten, which had health problems as a result of inbreeding, was not so lucky.
The kittens had been living in a small house with 30 other cats before being surrendered to a local vet when their owner became seriously ill. An entire litter from the same home had to be euthanised – they were so inbred they were unable to breathe properly.
The cats were petrified when they were first rescued but Mr Schleicher said his cat has not shown any behavioural problems.
“She’s a typical kitten. She usually wakes up [about] five in the morning and wants to play and keeps tapping me in the head until I wake up. She’s very affectionate and likes cuddles when she’s not running amok.
“It feels good to know that she’s going to have a good home. I sometimes wonder what happened to the other kittens, but unfortunately you can’t save [all of them].”