Special Report: What's behind animal hoarding?

Animal Hoarding Case In Monroe County

SOUTH ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WOLF) -- You could describe Chino as a 'boxer-lab mix'. Foster parent Chris Matthewson calls him a 'cuddle buddy'.

But the first night Chris met his cozy canine he looked very different.

"It was dark, we were in a very unfamiliar place. It was scary, to be honest with you. You pull up to this house and it sounds like there's 200 animals in the house," said Matthewson.

Chino was rescued in a case of animal hoarding. He and fourteen other dogs were found in a Scott Township home, invested with fleas.

"They're covered in bloody scabs, unfortunately, and they continue to itch and they will itch until they heal up," he said.

Leaving Chris wondering how could someone leave this loving pup in such loathsome conditions.

"We actually had to make two trips to pick up all the animals. It was crazy. It's something you never want to see," Matthewson shared.

But Chino is just one out of hundreds of pets in our area saved from hoarding situations. Not long ago, over sixty cats were rescued from a home in Monroe County.

Dr. Matthew Schaffer runs the psychological services center at Marywood University. He says animal hoarding is a diagnosed mental health condition.

"A difference between hoarding and animal hoarding is this delusional aspect because many individuals will believe that the animals are very well cared for when they're dead, dying and living in abject squaller," he said.

Schaffer adds that around half the people who hoard struggle with depression and may be more likely to be elderly.

"That's the theory right now - that they're not able to connect with people or that they have significant loss and have isolated themselves and they try to seek out this meaning and connectedness in their lives through their interactions with their animals."

He says many hoarders genuinely believe they're taking care of the animals - even if they're not at all.

"A lot of times the exterior of the home looks okay, and it's not until you've actually made entry that you can see, wow, clearly things have gotten out of control and away from the individual," said Todd Hevner, Executive Director of the SPCA of Luzerne County.

Hevner reinforces that most of the people who hoard don't do it with malicious intent.

"There are criminal concerns here when it comes to the level of care for an animal. There's also the other side of it is these individuals, again, need the appropriate level of counseling in order to help them deal with whatever issues they're dealing with internally to help them get on a more acceptable course," he says.

He also notes that hoarding is hard to define.

"People think well it's going to be a number of animals... and the reality is that it's not a number of animals, it really boils down to the level of care that an individual is able to supply to the animals they keep as pets."

Humane Officer Wayne Harvey gets 2-3 calls a month on average for animal hoarding cases.

"I go in because there's animal cruelty. I've been in situations where people have 15-20 cats, 25 cats, they're fine. Nothing wrong with them. I've gone into a situation with 10 or 12 cats and we've got a problem," he says.

The SPCA says some local ordinances cap the amount of animals that folks can own, but they're enforced by municipalities, not humane officers.

There are no hard and fast laws to address animal hoarding, but State Representative Eddie Pashinski is proposing a bill that hopes to be a first step in the right direction.

"My bill is requesting that an analysis be done from qualified psychiatrists, psychologists, to determine the condition of the individual," said Rep. Pashinski (D-Luzerne).

SPCA of Luzerne county says that without addressing the mental health side, people hoarding animals could likely return to those same behaviors.

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