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CNN Today

Tufts University Begins Study on Animal Hoarders

Aired January 25, 2001 - 2:21 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we've all heard tales about so- called neighborhood cat ladies who have dozens, even hundreds of animals in their homes. Yes, we said hundreds. And these people live with the smells and the squalor.

Well, for the first time, the medical community is starting to study these people and their apparent psychological disorder. CNN science correspondent Ann Kellan has been looking into this and Ann how did, first of all, did they decide this something that's big enough of a problem they need to look into it.

ANN KELLAN, CNN SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically animal control people were going into these houses, thousands every year, and the term is call animal collecting or animal hoarding. And what they were seeing was an incredible problem. There were seeing houses filled with stench and animals and filth. But what was really unusual is that the people living in these conditions felt everything was normal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLAN (voice-over): On this Saturday, Jennifer Schmidt (ph) of the North Georgia Humane Society is on a mission...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cute, cute, cute.

KELLAN: ...find these unwanted animals homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know what it feels like to be unwanted. As a child, I felt very orphaned, and these animals are orphaned, you know.

KELLAN: Today, she'll take these animals to a nearby pet store, where she holds adoptions. But a year ago, she wasn't doing this. Instead, she was collecting animals nobody wanted at her home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you kiss? You do?

KELLAN: At one point, she had as many as 120 cats and 30 dogs.

(on camera): Researchers at Tufts University have started studying people who collect or hoard animals, ending up with more than they can care for. DR. GARY PATRONEK, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: The classic case of animal hoarding is a single, middle-aged to elderly woman living alone in often a small house, apartment or trailer, surrounded by dozens to sometimes hundreds of animals, both living and dead. The living conditions are often such that there will often be piles of feces on the floor.

KELLAN (voice-over): Jennifer doesn't consider herself a hoarder because unlike hoarders, she was able to euthanize her animals when necessary. But she admits they filled an emotional void.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My guess is that that's true of a lot of people who end up hoarding animals, is that they, like me, couldn't do a real intimate contact with a human being, and it's easier to switch to animals. Animals are less, you know, painful.

KELLAN: Is animal hoarding an obsessive compulsion, similar to people who hoard junk, or is it an addictive behavior? There might be a link, researchers say.

Jennifer says she's reformed, after her animals were seized back in 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, it was horrible to watch my animals being carted away.

KELLAN: And at the end of the adoption day, the animals she doesn't find homes for go back to the shelter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KELLAN: So, it's a terrible, terrible problem and the medical community is now trying to figure out how to help these people.

ALLEN: But is there any kind of treatment? It seems like a very new study, something they're just starting to look out.

KELLAN: The thing that's interesting is that they look at it and they say these people actually deny that there's a problem, like an anorexic will deny being too thin. And that's one similarity. But they really haven't really nailed down what the similarity is to know how to treat this problem. It's just the beginning, and it's interesting this has going on for years but the medical community is just now starting to study it.

ALLEN: And it does seem like it affects women more than men.

KELLAN: It affects a lot of different people as well. They say generally women, but they say some people lead double lives. That there are professionals, teachers, lawyers, accountants all kind of people that will appear very respected in the community, and then they'll go to their homes and find this incredible situation. Interesting.

ALLEN: All right, something we'll be hearing more about. Ann Kellan, thanks, Ann. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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