By Kathi Bliss
A critical case of animal hoarding came to a head on Monday morning, as the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office executed a warrant and eventually seized more than 430 animals from a residence on Misty Drive in Uhland.
Responding to complaints of animal cruelty, the Sheriff’s Office worked with the Dallas SPCA to remove a total of 431 animals, including dogs, goats, pigs, ferrets, skunks, rodents, birds and reptiles. Though Caldwell County generally maintains a relationship with regional shelters, the Dallas-based group was the only one in the state with the capacity to safely manage the hoard.
“Too often, we find that [so-called] animal hoarders have a childhood attachment trauma, that they don’t develop good relationship skills,” said Nicole Vykoukal, an Austin-based Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety and depression disorders, and who as an animal rescuer takes special interest in “animal hoarding” cases. “They think they’re on a mission to save those animals from a worse fate, and they think they are doing the right thing by these animals.”
A sense of denial, she said, often leads to hoarders not realizing that they are actually overwhelmed; they don’t realize that they are doing harm to the animals because they have taken care for more than they can possibly manage.
Animal hoarding, in itself, is not recognized as a mental disorder. In fact, it is lumped in with the broadly-defined “hoarding disorder,” which has only recently been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Version 5), the go-to text for the mental health community.
“Technically, animals are viewed as property,” she said. “[Hoarding] is something that we have only really started to look at in the last decade… there might be legal issues involved, if the DSM-5 recognizes hoarding of living being as different as property, because pets are recognized as property.”
Vykoukal expressed clearly that she had no intention of making a professional diagnosis of the property owner, having never met nor interviewed the subject(s). Still, she said she could speak in generalizations.
“It happens, though it’s extremely rare, that animal hoarders see their animals as possessions, and are intentionally abusive or neglectful,” she said. “Often, people are so deep in [their mental disease] that they cannot see, or lack the empathy to see that it’s a crisis situation, or that they are actually doing harm to the animals they keep.”
She also noted that “letting go” of animals can be traumatic; often, she said, that leads to situations such as Misty Lane, where corpses of animals are found within the hoard – the subjects simply aren’t willing to let go of their animal friends.
“They may be delusional about the fact that they’re actually doing harm,” she said. “And they don’t trust other people enough, because of their own trauma, to ask for help when [they’re over their heads] in taking care of these animals.”
The Misty Lane property owner, who at press time was yet unidentified, may face criminal charges for abuse and neglect of animals. Rightfully so, Vykoukal says. She expressed hope, though, that mental health service would be made available to the hoarder(s).
“Once you get past the hoarding itself, there’s the circumstances that triggered it,” she said. “It’s a conversation that needs to be had.”
No arrests had been made or charges filed in connection with the seizure of the animals at press time. It is unclear the nature of any criminal case that might be pursued.
Follow the Post-Register for updates on this developing case at www.post-register.com.