Last week Lydia Price, a resident of Berwyn IL., was arrested after her home was found to be occupied by nearly 200 animals including cats, monkeys, skunks, birds, dogs, a raccoon and squirrels. The animals were living in deplorable conditions most of which were covered with feces and cockroaches. The animals were reported to be dehydrated and confined to small cages with the carcasses of other dead animals. More than 100 cats were euthanized due to carrying various diseases...And that's not the only heartbreaking aspect of this story.

Police were initially called to the house after Price discovered her 14-year-old disabled son was dead. In an attempt to conceal the hundreds of animals in her home, Price pulled her son to the back of the property and laid him on the grass. Law enforcement eventually entered the home and found three siblings, ages 12 to 17 "extremely dirty with their feet being caked with feces and dirt, and also having numerous scratches and with what appeared to be numerous animal bites on their arms, legs, and other body areas."

Lydia Price has been charged with two felony counts of criminal abuse and neglect of a disabled person and is facing three misdemeanor counts of child endangerment.

Sadly, this all-too-often tragic outcome of animal hoarding is a rapidly growing public health and community concern. Animal hoarding is a pervasive problem often affecting many facets of life.

As the number of animals increase in a household it becomes more difficult to properly care for each individual animal. Starvation, build up of urine and feces, lack of neutering/spading, failure to get necessary vaccines, and deprivation of love and attention contribute to the decline in the animal's physical and psychological well-being.

Issues of neglect are not limited to the animals. Often, animal hoarders will disregard their health and the health of loved ones. Family members are subjected to serious health risks such as high ammonia levels resulting from the accumulation of animal waste. Contracting animal-related diseases and infections such as external parasites, rabies, and ringworm are also threats to health. Furthermore, the poor home conditions increase the risk of insect and rodent infestation, odor and noise.

Tragically, it is often the deteriorating health or death of a person which prompts authorities to investigate the unsanitary and dangerous conditions of a hoarder's home. Given that animal hoarding is an understudied mental health issue a call to action is necessary. To combat the pervasive damaging effects of animal hoarding appropriate attention, education, and interventions are needed. While prevention is often impossible, awareness of the problem and education about early intervention strategies may help to reduce tragic outcomes.

How you can help

  • You can opt to support your local organization, legislation, and programs that focus on animal hoarding assistance and research.
  • You can work to educate others about issues related to animal hoarding. Animal care and control agencies and mental health professionals must strive to educate the public about animal hoarding.
  • You can provide encouragement and assistance to a loved one or a neighbor you suspect is an animal hoarder by reassuring the person it is okay to accept help and contacting other social service agencies such as Adult Protective Services, the Health Department, Mental Health professionals, law enforcement, and animal welfare agencies. It is important to get the person connected to other agencies and not to attempt to resolve the situation alone.

About the Authors

D.J. Moran

D.J. Moran, Ph.D., is a psychologist with expertise in compulsive behaviors.

Jennifer L. Patterson

Jennifer Patterson is a psychologist with expertise in compulsive behaviors.

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