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Cat Hoarding Case Study

The ASPCA defines cat hoarding (or animal hoarding, in general) by three criteria:

  • possessing more than the “typical” number of companion animals
  • inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition,sanitation, shelter and veterinary care
  • being in denial of the inability to provide the care (and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and themselves)

These symptoms and the triggering factors are much the same as other types of hoarding, though the physical situation may be quite different and the harm to the animals adds an additional twist.

cat hoarding: group of cats

Cat Hoarding Case

This wealthy, elderly gentleman in Tampa was being treated for cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center. The social worker had referred him to home health for some home services while he waited for treatment. The home health agency had contacted Department of Children and Families (DCF) when they saw the condition of the home and feared for his safety; DCF had referred him to Aging Wisely care management.

The client’s home was sparsely furnished.  The house was full of cats, with dozens of litter boxes buried in cat feces. Cat feces and urine stained the floors and carpets (piles of cat feces 6-8 inches thick in parts of the living room and dining room). The client’s room was cluttered with trash, soiled clothing and old papers. The plumbing was not working in the bathroom which he continued to use, so the bathroom was completely unsanitary and unsafe.

DCF Referral to Aging Wisely

This gentleman was scheduled for surgery at Moffitt, but needed a stable place to go to recuperate.  He had no family or friends. The social worker was not aware of his home situation. The home health agency pulled out when they saw the home situation and contacted DCF. He did not have dementia and DCF was not equipped to deal with him. His assurances that he would clean up his house allowed him several chances. There was food in the refrigerator, the cats were fed and had water. Cat hoarding (or other animal hoarding) is never an easy situation, and it is not clear why animal control was never called.

The client had to agree to assistance from an agency to avoid being removed from his home by DCF. He was referred to Aging Wisely. Care manager Julie Scott shares more about her work on this case.

What approach was used for this case?

The referral started with a home evaluation, during which I quickly determined the scope of the problems. I contacted the Moffitt social worker to get him admitted to the hospital. I then pulled in a company that specializes in this type of work, to do the initial cleaning. I engaged a home health company to clean the kitchen, restock the pantry and refrigerator, and to work with the cleaning company on the organizational tasks.

What happened with this case of cat hoarding?

The biggest challenge is that we were really limited in fixing this up in a “short intervention”. There was going to be no ongoing care management/oversight once he returned home. We were able to resolve the immediate problems: getting the client admitted and quickly getting house cleaned, plumbing fixed and purchasing a new bed and some furnishings. The client returned home after surgery with home health and private caregivers coming in 2-3 times a week to cook, clean, and declutter. Unfortunately, the client eventually had to move from his home to a skilled nursing facility. The cats were taken to a local shelter.

What are the important take-away lessons from this case?

Cat hoarding/animal hoarding is a nightmare. Not only is the person at risk, but so are the animals. The relationship between the client and their animals is distorted, with the overall neglect that these animals are actually experiencing despite the meaning they hold to the person.  It becomes difficult to focus on the needs of the person because the animal neglect is overwhelming. While this man thought he was giving these animals good food and access to water (and he was), he was not able to keep up with the litter boxes, or their shots/veterinary care.  He would bring in a stray, a cat would have kittens, and the cycle would repeat.  He loved these cats; he had no family or friends.

When loneliness starts, the opportunity for intervention needs to be acted on as soon as possible. Though healthcare professionals are subject to mandatory reporting of abuse and neglect, this case shows just how widely that can be interpreted (and therefore ignored) and how cat hoarding and other types of hoarding can manage to stay hidden or not addressed for so many years.

Resources for cat hoarding cases:

Animal control/advocacy: Visit Pinellas County animal services and Hillsborough County, for information in the Tampa Bay area. The SPCA of Tampa Bay takes reports of animal cruelty and receives animal surrenders.

Cleaning companies: Look for companies that specialize in hoarding or crime scene cleanups (if you can’t find them online, funeral homes and local police may be able to give you a resource). Spaulding Decon is one of the companies we have used in Tampa, with multiple locations.

Home health agencies/caregivers: In these cases, someone is often needed to help with organizational tasks, working with the cleaning company and doing follow up after the “big clean”. Also, of equal importance, having ongoing support is going to be vital to ensuring continued upkeep and supervision. Regular caregivers in the home can also reduce the loneliness and troubleshoot as problems arise.

Aging Wisely’s care management team is here to help you and your family with hoarding situations or home safety concerns. If you have concerns about a situation, we highly recommend you reach out to us sooner than later. Just talking to one of our advocates can be quite a relief and get your pointed in the right direction for help. Call us any time at 727-447-5845.

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