The smell must be horrible again and again. When veterinarians open the doors, when the ammonia bites their nose and it whimpers at them, when there is rustling from one corner of the often stuffy and cramped apartment and barking from the other. It happens again and again that large numbers of cats or dogs, birds, rabbits and even horses have to be rescued from completely overwhelmed owners, from cluttered apartments or from muddy paddocks.
The cases of pathological hoarding of animals - mostly due to a misunderstood love of animals, excessive demands or greed for profit - are increasing year after year. According to the German Animal Welfare Association, it is becoming apparent that more apartments and houses were cleared out last year than ever before.
According to association figures, a high of 73 cases had already been reached the previous year. There are no official statistics. But the number of unreported cases is also huge because the owners are withdrawing. The remedies against the sick animal hoarders? Extremely poor. The offers of help for the often morbidly addicted animal collectors? Also.
Up to 1500 colored rats
Cases always make headlines: In Wissen in the Westerwald, up to 1,500 colored rats are taken out of a house over several days. According to the Animal Welfare Association, the animal shelter in Giessen had to help out ten times more last year, including with more than a dozen French bulldogs and mixed breeds, some of which were kept in wooden boxes without blankets in a horse stable. More than 80 cats and two rabbits were confiscated in southern Hesse. And in January alone, animal rights activists from Germany's oldest animal shelter in Stuttgart responded to four major emergency calls.
Most recently, in mid-January, the Stuttgart discovery of 68 Chihuahua pedigree dogs from an overwhelmed breeder caused a stir, most of them crammed into a small space, some in stacked transport boxes. “There was a pungent smell of urine, the claws were much too long, some of the animals were apathetic,” says Petra Veiel from the Stuttgart animal shelter. A few weeks earlier, more than 70 cats were rescued from a cluttered apartment in Freiburg. The animals were not castrated and they reacted in panic. Many of the extremely shy cats carry the herpes virus. According to the animal shelter, they will be difficult to adopt.
This is not the case with the Stuttgart Chihuahuas. “There are currently 15 to 20 interested parties for each dog,” says Veiel. One or two little four-legged friends can still see what they might have been through. One of them crouches furtively in the corner, the other cuddles up to a tattered toy doll, and a third has overgrown googly eyes that almost seem to pop out of his skull, which is much too small.
“Pure stress” for the animals
“Such situations are of course pure stress for the animals,” said Thomas Stegmanns, the head of the Stuttgart veterinary office. Pet owners are increasingly overwhelmed after spontaneously purchasing a dog or cat. "Many people simply have no idea what they have to do." The situation affects authorities that are understaffed. “We only do firefighting here,” says Stegmanns.
If a cat in the living room turns 60 at some point, then it's usually not just about animal protection, says Nina Brakebusch, expert for animal hoarding at the German Animal Welfare Association. "In today's world, people become lonely and lose their connection to other people." Often a personal stroke of fate such as a divorce or the loss of a job can turn the situation around. In addition to the idea of breeding, some hoarders also believe they are animal rescuers and - especially in the case of cats - attract strays with food.
Lack of insight
But what's missing is the insight: "Animal hoarders suppress the fact that the animals are doing poorly," says Baden-Württemberg state animal protection officer Julia Stubenbord. They trivialize and play a game of cat and mouse with the authorities to prevent the court order and access to the apartment.
Animal hoarders rarely seek treatment; in almost all cases, according to the Animal Welfare Association, they become repeat offenders. “If a district imposes a ban on keeping animals, the animal hoarder can move and start over,” criticizes Veiel from the Stuttgart animal shelter. A frequently requested database for bans on keeping animals or a central register does not yet exist, and animal hoarding is still not a recognized medical condition. The health insurance companies do not finance therapy for the mentally ill collectors.
From the point of view of the state animal protection officer Stubenbord, it is all the more important to keep an attentive eye in such cases: "You rarely go into the apartment of an animal hoarder, so it becomes difficult. But one or two things can also be seen from the outside," she says. “If you notice the smell of feces or persistent loud barking, perhaps in many voices, or if you see emaciated animals, then you can report this to the veterinary office.”