Lindsay R. Mehrkam, Ph.D., BCBA-D, associate professor of psychology and principal investigator of the Human-Animal Wellness Collaboratory, was recently interviewed by the “Asbury Park Press” to discuss the psychology of animal hoarding.
Mehrkam was contacted because Monmouth County and surrounding areas have witnessed an increase in cases of animal hoarding in recent years. Animal hoarding, according to the ASPCA, is the “inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care—often resulting in over-breeding of animals, animal starvation, illness and even death.”
While for a long time hoarding was thought to be related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Mehrkam said the most recent Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) recognized it as its own separate category. The difference comes from the fact that OCD involves more intrusive, compulsive thoughts, whereas hoarding may typically bring the person positive emotions.
Animal hoarding can often lead to charges of animal cruelty toward the person responsible for the care of the animals, and put enormous pressure on local animal shelters and other organizations in the event that the animals need to be removed from the home and be provided with veterinary care or euthanized. Additionally, Mehrkam said that the recidivism rate – the likelihood that someone will engage in the behavior again – is very high.
“Unlike with object hoarding, where you can gradually declutter things, you can’t always do that with animals,” she said. “If you have animals suffering, you need to intervene right away, and a lot of times that means the death of animals, and you don’t have that [risk] with objects.”
This brings its own trauma, leading to the high recidivism rate if people don’t have help or support, she said. Mehrkam said along with therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), making sure that patients are not too socially isolated is important, too.
The full text of the article, “Why do People Hoard Animals? Psychologists Weigh In” is available to subscribers of the “Asbury Park Press.”