Characteristics and Antecedents of People who Hoard Animals: An Exploratory Comparative Interview Study

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Currently, case studies and media reports provide the only descriptive information available to understand what distinguishes hoarding of animals from nonhoarding animal ownership. This poorly understood problem appears to be associated with substantial mental health difficulties. The present study investigated characteristics and antecedents that might explain hoarding behaviors. Sixteen people who fit criteria for hoarding of animals and 11 nonhoarding controls who owned large numbers of animals participated in semistructured interviews that were analyzed using somewhat atypical qualitative and quantitative methods. The interviews focused on demographic information, history of animal contact, social history, insight into physical and mental health issues, collecting behaviors, and beliefs and emotions associated with animals. Descriptive statistics and qualitative analyses were used to examine differences between hoarding and nonhoarding groups and to capture distinguishing themes and patterns. Both groups were well matched in demographic variables and were mainly White women of middle age; the average number of animals owned was 31. Thematic content common to both groups was stressful life events (both childhood and adult), strong emotional reactions to animal death, strong caretaking roles and attitudes toward animals, a tendency to rescue animals, and intense feelings of closeness or attachment to animals. Themes found significantly more often among animal hoarding participants than controls included problems with early attachment, chaotic childhood environments, significant mental health concerns, attribution of human characteristics to animals, and the presence of more dysfunctional current relationships. These themes are elaborated and discussed with regard to potential models for understanding hoarding of animals.