Investigator: Animal hoarding often begins with rescuing

(Editor’s note: This report is a sidebar to a longer story on hoarding. Read more about the topic here.)

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Keith Streff, senior investigator for the Golden Valley-based Animal Humane Society, knows it when he sees it, he said.

“By the time I come across it, or people recognize it and report it, the problem is already acute. And in most cases, catastrophic,” Streff said of animal hoarding.

A former Coon Rapids couple got into legal difficulties in St. Anthony a number of years ago by hoarding more than 100 cats in their mobile home. According to media reports, the mobile home, later hauled away, had be to ventilated before the cats could be taken out. (Photos by the St. Anthony Police Department)

A former Coon Rapids couple got into legal difficulties in St. Anthony a number of years ago by hoarding more than 100 cats in their mobile home. According to media reports, the mobile home, later hauled away, had be to ventilated before the cats could be taken out. (Photos by the St. Anthony Police Department)

Although uncomfortable with the term “hoarding” — a recent catch-phrase, he believes — Streff sees powerful psychological forces activating serial animal collecting, an obsession sometimes praised and encouraged by a public and media that confuses excess with compassion.

Animal hoarding is something that builds over time, Streff said.

In a sense, it’s disguised. That is, hoarders often begin collecting animals in the spirit of rescuing them. They “rescue” one, then five, then 15, and so on. Problems build.

Streff compares it to alcoholism.

Sheer numbers in animal hoarding do not determine neglect, Streff explained. Rather, it’s a question of consistent care.

“They’re extremely difficult cases to prosecute,” Streff said. “One, your dealing with a mental stability issue, which creates a victim factor.

“But by the same token, people have to recognize they’re responsible for their own behavior and there’s consequences for violating the law,” Streff said.

Streff, with some 25 years on the job, views the public’s attitude toward animal hoarding as similar to attitudes about alcohol abuse decades ago. That is, a significant portion of the public is tolerant.

“‘Gee, they’re only animals,’” Streff said of the perceived attitude.

The number of animal hoarding incidents has gone up in recent years, though this could reflect a growing awareness more than an actual increase of cases, Streff explained.

About three-quarters of animal hoarding cases involve women, Streff said.

“I think that’s a genetic thing. They’re more passionate, more caregiving,” he said.

A certain human subjectivity exists in terms of animals, Streff explained. For instance, what might be considered acceptable treatment in Greater Minnesota may be viewed as substandard in the metro.

Perceptions differ.

“It’s still considered by a lot of teenage girls as an endearing pet,” Streff said of horses. However, a rancher could look at a horse as a four-legged pickup truck, said Streff, who grew up on a farm.

 

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

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