Right now, animal care professionals across Texoma are bracing for the next animal hoarding call. Humane Society leaders say the situations place a burden on their ability to help pets in need. Just one year ago a woman went to court in Young County after officials found dozens of animals living in these conditions. There was filth all over, and several animals had to be put down.
Hoarding situations are hard and draining. "We've had several situations in the last year and half and it is a huge drain on our budget, thousands and thousands of dollars," said Kim Baxter, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Young County.
Baxter says the hoarders start out with a good heart and an open door. "People that are hoarding animals truly believe they are doing the best thing for the animals. They think that no one else can take care of the animals like they are," she said.
Rarely is that the case. "Generally they are living in filthy, horrible conditions; feces and urine caked everywhere on the animals. It's just horrible. A lot of them are malnourished, a lot of times you will find deceased animals in the house that are just left wherever they passed away," said Baxter.
The conditions inside a Newcastle home one year ago on an animal hoarder call were more than bad. "You go in and you find horrible conditions," said Baxter. She and her team raided the home, and found dozens of animals living in filth. Working with the Young County Sheriff's Office, the animals were seized. A judge upheld the seizure.
Among the animals seized from the house was a very special Cocker Spaniel. "Cinco is definitely a special story. He was severely neglected, severely matted. He had fur missing; literally ripped out of his skin," said Baxter.
When animals are in that shape they can be hard to deal with. "He was in so much pain he was aggressive, he did not want us near him," she said.
Baxter said the dogs owner was an animal hoarder, and she's not alone in the problem. "We're seeing more and more situations of hoarding. Generally they start out meaning well, taking in a couple strays trying to help out they become overwhelmed. They start out with just a couple and end up with hundreds. These animals are not in good condition generally," she said.
Each hoarding situation can take dozens of people hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to handle. "It is generally a very large drain on our resources," said Baxter. The HSYC relies on donations, and money is limited. When they get a hoarding call, they have no choice but to spend a lot of what they have. "One hoarding situation is thousands of dollars. It's man time, people forget were here overtime, that means electricity is running and water. Cleaning these animals up takes hours on each animal generally, hours! Most of the animals come in severely matted, missing fur," she said.
When Cinco came to the HSYC, he needed a lot of care, but his suffering made him a bit hard to handle. "He came from a very bad situation, Cinco wanted to eat us for lunch," Baxter exclaimed.
Still crews worked to cut his mattes, heal his wounds, and lift his spirits. The transformation they saw was profound. "Underneath all that anger and aggression that he had was one of the sweetest dogs I've ever had to deal with, it was amazing," said a beaming Baxter.
For every happy ending like Cinco, there are many more animals who are suffering. It takes a toll on the professionals who have to deal with it first hand. "When we have to go into those situations, we see things that change us, that touch our hearts," she said.
Baxter feels there is an end to the hoarding problem, but its more complicated than just taking animals away. "People need to understand is hoarding is a mental illness. Serving time in jail is not always the best option for a hoarder getting them professional help is what they need," she said.
Baxter feels the psychological community may need to gain a better understanding of the problem to be able to effectively handle and help hoarders. "Its not a matter of just taking their animals, we need to make sure these people have follow up through professional help or they are going to continue to do this," she said.
Baxter says everyone needs to keep an eye out for signs of hoarding. "Be aware of what your neighbor is doing, you're hearing a lot of barking, you're seeing a hundred cats outside. Something's not right," she said.
She says to call the authorities if you think something is not right. So animals like Cinco can escape the hell of hoarding and have another shot at life. " He is an amazing dog and has an amazing home that loves him and takes care of him. That's the best reward," she said, smiling.
If you or someone you know is in over your head with animals, there is help available. Call your local Humane Society, they are there to help.