Misguided animal collectors create terrible environments for pets, people

Most animal lovers have at least one friend who has several animals. When you walk into their home, your nose tells you that more than one or two cats are present. It may even be you who struggles with or worries about pet odors in the home.

But now imagine walking into the home of a person who had more than 50 cats. Your nose might sting and your eyes could water. “How could anyone live like this?” you might think, as you look around and see animals, their fur or their feces, everywhere.

When people take responsibility for more animals than they can reasonably provide care for, that is called animal collecting. It’s kind of like not being able to resist bringing one more African violet home – except that these are living, breathing, eating and defecating creatures who require far more love and attention than a plant.

Another problem with owning too many animals is that the vet costs become impossible to pay, and owners begin to let spaying and neutering, routine vaccination and health checks slide. More animals are produced, making the problem worse and worse.

In most cases, collectors believe that they are doing a good thing by keeping the animals from a possible death or a home where the animals will be “mistreated.” They don’t realize the conditions that they are keeping their animals in consitutes neglect.

“I remember one house I went to, someone commented, ‘Isn’t this better than the cats being dead?’ After all, they had food,” said Lisa Wathne, regional director for the Humane Society of the United States, who has visited the homes of several animal collectors. “My response is ‘No.’

“In this particular house, there was no fresh air. The ammonia smells were terrible. There was not one soft, clean spot where a cat could sleep. That can’t be considered humane – there’s more to life than having food to eat.”

Some collectors consider themselves to be rescuers, providing homes to animals that might otherwise be killed or injured outdoors or euthanized at a shelter. Legitimate rescuers, however, are always able to provide care for the animals in their home. There may be minor odors, but each animal receives fresh food and clean water and has urine and feces removed on a daily basis. Rescuers seek and pay for veterinary care, and all their pets are spayed or neutered or separated by gender. They also try to find permanent homes for the animals they are caring for.

Collectors are often too overwhelmed to provide this minimum level of care, cannot afford veterinary care and do not advertise the animals for adoption. These collectors can be a problem for neighbors, who notice odors and animals wandering the area.

Last week in Corvallis, after neighbor complaints resulted in city inspectors, animal control and the police visiting a suspected collector situation, 52 cats were surrendered by one owner to Heartland Humane Society. Ammonia odors in the home made it impossible for anyone but the woman herself to enter the house, and she helped animal control officials by catching and crating the cats for their journey to the shelter. The owner also relinquished her ownership of the cats without a legal battle, making it easier for the shelter to begin finding homes for the animals immediately.

“In our 37 years of operation, we have never had such a large case,” said Kerry Mullin, Heartland’s Executive Director. “The good news is that the cats are officially ours and most of them are relatively healthy. Our goal is to get them placed into new homes as quickly as possible.”

The incoming cats doubled the number of felines in the shelter. That means that space and shelter resources are being stretched to the limit to cover the influx.

“When all is said and done we will spend thousands of dollars providing these cats with medical testing, vaccinations, flea treatments, etc.,” Mullin said.

Heartland is accepting donations to help in this case and is also urging people interested in adopting a cat to visit the shelter and choose from some of the more than 50 cats already in residence when these new cats arrived.

“Any adoption that takes place now will help, whether it is one of the cats from the case, or one of the other fabulous felines who are waiting for their forever homes,” Mullin said.

Donations can be sent to Heartland Humane Society, P.O. Box 1184, Corvallis, OR 97339, or visit the shelter’s Web site at www.heartlandhumane.org for more information or to see photos of the cats for adoption.