Some days at work are more difficult than others, but whenever I’m confronted with a case of hoarding, I know that the suffering I will see will remain imprinted in my memory.
As I arrive in front of an apartment, an odor immediately invades my nostrils, and it’s not a pleasant one; a mix of feces, ammonia and mold. The type of stench that lingers in the nose, itches the throat and remains trapped in my clothing all day long.
I knock at the door and an elderly man comes to greet me. He seems very kind and is clearly surprised by the presence of a SPCA inspector, dressed in uniform with latex gloves and boot covers.
I explain my work and that a worrisome report had been made concerning the cats in his home. The man welcomes me inside and tells me, on numerous occasions, that his cats aren’t mistreated and he would never cause them any harm.
The conditions inside the dwelling are horrific: overflowing litter boxes, feces on the floor and furniture, as well as walls marked by claws and traces of urine all over the moldings. There are dozens of cats everywhere! On the table, the bed, the counters, and I notice several others hidden under the furniture. I estimate over 30 cats in the small three-bedroom apartment, but it’s impossible to count them precisely.
Loss of control
The man is quick to show me the food he buys for his animals and all the water bowls available to them, as he explains that he’s doing everything possible to care for them. He becomes emotional as he tells me that it all started when he welcomed in a pregnant stray cat several years ago, because he was afraid that she would freeze in the harsh winter. He had rescued others during the following winters and does not know exactly how many he has today.
Throughout our discussion, I discover that the man is very lonely; no family, no friends, no social services support. All he has are his cats.
The man no longer notices the smell and the uncleanliness of his home. The only thing that matters to him are his cats.
He even sleeps in a bed soaked with cat urine. He doesn’t want to shut the door of the room to keep the cats out because he knows that this is his “babies”” favorite spot.
He refuses to see that several cats are emaciated and insistently repeats that he saved them, and thus would never hurt them.
The elderly man is surprised when I tell him that his kittens are very ill and are experiencing respiratory problems. He says he would like to go to the vet, but he doesn’t have enough money.
Obviously, my heart is heavy when I witness animals living in such deplorable conditions, but I’m also sensitive to the plight of this man, who also desperately needs help.
A misunderstood mental health problem
Unfortunately, hoarding is a misunderstood mental health problem in our society. It’s a dream of saving lives that turns into a nightmare. It’s the loneliness that drives someone to shut themselves into a world where the love of animals makes them forget about the horrors that surround them.
The reality is grim. As there are very few resources available to help people with this syndrome, I sometimes have no choice but to seize their animals when they refuse to give them up or are unable to improve the situation on their own. In fact, current Quebec legislation doesn’t provide any mechanisms for deeming an individual unfit to possess animals due to mental health reasons, unlike other provinces such as Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. These legislative loopholes sometimes force me to lay charges against these people, in order to help them.
Serious consequences for animals
Animals seized under these conditions are often sick, malnourished and poorly socialized. They require a lot of time and love before being placed into homes and many remain scarred by their past.
Fortunately, in this particular case, there is a somewhat happy ending. After a few visits and several long discussions, I managed to convince the man to transfer the animals to the Montreal SPCA so that they could receive the care they required, and ultimately find adoptive families. The man will be able to keep three cats, who will all be sterilized by the Mittens-Montreal SPCA Targeted Permanent Sterilization Clinic.
Help the Montreal SPCA rescue these animals
By donating to the Montreal SPCA, you are enabling us to deploy resources to help animals in distress. Through my work and that of my colleagues, hundreds of animals are saved each year and are enjoying a new life. Thank you for your compassion!
In 2011, Amélie Martel got involved with the Montreal SPCA as a volunteer dog walker. During her undergraduate studies at the Université de Montréal’s faculty of law, Amélie also studied animal behavior. Armed with this knowledge, she created and led the SPCA’s Canine Enrichment team. Following the completion of her internship for the Barreau du Québec and several months of practicing as a lawyer, Amélie paired her legal education with her passion for animals by joining the Montreal SPCA’s Investigations and Inspections’ team. She has also adopted two dogs and fostered over a dozen animals since the beginning of her journey at the SPCA. (© Photo : Marilou Photographe)