In addition, Patronek (1999) indicated that over 80% of animal hoarders also hoarded inanimate objects. Similar data come from Worth and Beck (1981) and from our HARC pilot study. Hoarding of possessions occurs in 20% to 30% of OCD patients (Frost et al., 1996), although it is a symptom that is somewhat distinct from other symptoms of OCD (Summerfeldt et al., 1999). The substantial overlap of possession hoarding and animal hoarding suggests that an OCD model may be useful. Hoarding of inanimate objects has received some attention in the scientific literature recently and may guide development of a conceptual model of animal hoarding.
Models for Hoarding of Objects and Animals
Frost and Gross (1993) define hoarding as "the acquisition of, and failure to discard, possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value." For this behavior to pose a clinically significant problem, Frost and Hartl (1996) suggested that living spaces have to be "sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed," and the hoarding must create significant distress or impairment.
Hoarding of possessions involves three classes of problematic behaviors: acquisition, saving and disorganization. In most, if not all, cases of compulsive hoarding, compulsive acquisition (buying or collecting free things) plays a major part (Frost et al., 1998; Winsberg et al., 1999). People who hoard possessions score significantly higher on measures of compulsive buying and compulsive acquisition of free things (Frost et al., 1998). Recent data from our laboratory suggest that people who identify themselves as having problems with compulsive buying also tend to have problems with hoarding behavior (Frost et al., 1999). Central to this phenomenon is the inability to resist the urge to acquire an object, even though acquiring or possessing the object may create problems (e.g., financial, clutter and so on). People who hoard animals experience similar urges when seeing or hearing about an animal in need of a home.
The classic picture of the compulsive hoarder is the individual who saves everything and can throw nothing away. According to Frost and Gross (1993) possessions may be saved by both hoarders and non-hoarders for several different reasons. These include their sentimental value (emotional reasons or reminders of important life events), instrumental value (potential usefulness) or intrinsic value (beauty or attractiveness). The difference between people who hoard possessions and those who do not is that hoarders judge more possessions to have these values. This may also be true for people who hoard animals. Their attachment to animals is, in all likelihood, similar to other people's attachment, but it is applied to a much larger number or wider array of animals.
People who hoard possessions also have significant problems with organizing and maintaining their possessions (Frost and Steketee, 1998; Frost et al., 1995). This may be the most problematic feature of hoarding and the one responsible for the excessive clutter and chaos in the homes of people with this problem. Our experience suggests that this manifestation of hoarding must be addressed in any attempt to treat this problem. Anecdotal information about people who hoard animals suggests that their homes are typically in disrepair and apparent chaos. Similar problems with organization may prove evident among this group.
A recently developed cognitive-behavioral model describes compulsive hoarding as a multifaceted problem that stems from several deficits or difficulties (Frost and Hartl, 1996). These include information-processing problems, problems with emotional attachments to possessions and distorted beliefs about possessions. Avoidance of each of these problems leads to the chaos and clutter.
Information-processing deficits include problems with decision making that may result, in part, from difficulties in attending to, organizing and weighing relevant information. In particular, people who hoard seem to have difficulty with the process of categorization, which is necessary for organizing possessions. While there is no direct evidence that this applies to people who hoard animals, Patronek's study (1999) suggests animal hoarders have considerable difficulty maintaining a fully functioning home. This may reflect an inability to organize information, time and resources to complete basic tasks.
People who hoard possessions frequently identify their possessions as central to their identity so that losing (i.e., discarding) a possession often produces a grief-like reaction and sense of loss of part of themselves. Preliminary data from the HARC study suggest a similar phenomenon with respect to animals, even when the animals are not longtime pets. It may be that the mere sight of an animal in need of a home prompts an emotional attachment so powerful that the animal must be acquired. Once acquired, the animal receives very little attention to its basic needs yet cannot be given away.