How Can I Help My Friend and Her 73 Cats?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My friend and I haven’t got much in common: I’m a college student; she’s twice my age and works as a legal secretary. I’m single; she has a family. I’m living below the poverty line; she’s got a big house in the country. But we bonded over our mutual love of cats. I have two cats; she has–at last count–73.

She has enough money to feed the cats and keep them neutered and vaccinated, but the house is dirty and getting gradually worse; and she has a lot of extra stuff she never uses, which makes the situation worse. I’ve helped her keep a database of the cats’ vaccinations (which is how I know the exact number), and helped clean occasionally. They all get basic vet care–she does their vaccinations herself, and if a cat is sick, she has the money to take it to a vet. Many of the cats have minor respiratory problems, though, because of how the house smells of ammonia and it irritates their lungs.

Recently I moved away, so that I only keep in touch by e-mail; I can’t help her anymore, and that worries me.

I know some people who have as many as a dozen cats and who keep them all healthy, happy, and well-socialized in a clean house. But my friend has many more than that, and she’s getting overwhelmed. The trouble is that she has nowhere to put all of those cats. One of my two cats used to be one of hers; I adopted her because she was so very stressed there that she spent all day hiding in a litter box. But I can’t adopt more, and it’s slow going trying to find homes for so many. If they go to the county shelter, it’ll be overwhelmed and most of the cats would be put to sleep, something that I know neither of us wants.

We’re both cat ladies; but she’s… well, she’s got a lot more cats, and a lot more trouble saying no to new ones, than I do. Is there a way I can help her and her many cats? She’s a very compassionate person, and truly loves her cats. Effectively, she’s running a shelter in her house–but there are too many, and she’s just so overwhelmed.

A. Animal hoarding is not a well understood phenomenon. Generally, an animal hoarder is an individual who, like your friend, begins adopting many pets. They soon can no longer say no. They are often motivated by their love of animals. They don’t want to see them suffer but before they realize it, they have adopted too many pets and are overwhelmed.

Others are motivated by loneliness. It may be that some people have difficulty connecting with others but find it easy to bond with animals. The reasons behind animal hoarding can vary greatly.

The main problem with animal hoarding is that it can and often does inadvertently lead to the suffering of animals. The Humane Society of the United States considers animal hoarding to be inhumane and cruel.

Your friend can no longer properly care for the cats. As you mentioned, you re-adopted your cat to end his or her suffering. If your cat was suffering, then in all likelihood so were the others.

In addition to the animals suffering, your friend’s health is likely being compromised. If the ammonia smell is causing respiratory problems in the cats, then in all likelihood it is harming her as well. It is a dangerous health hazard for all occupants of the home.

You wish to personally intervene in this situation but that may be difficult. There are several strategies that you could try but denial may be your biggest obstacle. Denial is a common reaction among individuals in these situations. It is important to keep that in mind.

You could start by being honest with her about why you took your cat out of her home. She may be shocked to hear the truth.

Another approach is to discuss your concerns with her friends or family. They probably are concerned as well. Having others supporting your point of view will strengthen your argument.

You can also suggest that she call the local animal shelter. She can ask for their advice about how to handle the situation. I understand her reluctance to call the animal shelter but it may be her only option at this time. It would be the most humane option.

If she refuses to call the animal shelter, then you can call. They may have suggestions for how you can effectively intervene. You can also call the local police department. Many police departments are familiar with the public health hazards associated with animal hoarding.

Finally, you can read more about animal boarding on the Animal Planet website. Animal Planet produces a show called Confessions: Animal Hoarding. Their website provides information about animal hoarding. The website also allows concerned individuals to submit a story about someone they believe is in immediate need of help. In addition, the find help tab at the top of this page can help you find a mental health specialist in hoarding.

There is no easy way to handle this situation. It is a sad state of affairs for both your friend and the suffering animals. I hope something can be done. I wish you and your friend the best of luck.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Nov 2011

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2011). How Can I Help My Friend and Her 73 Cats?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/11/13/how-can-i-help-my-friend-and-her-73-cats/