1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: When love for animals becomes a nightmare

  1. Closed captioning of: When love for animals becomes a nightmare

    anncr: lighter.

    >>> back at 7:42. what happens when the desire to rescue animals becomes more of a compulsion than a good deed? how many cats would be too many? five? ten? how about 260? a special series premiering this week on animal planet takes viewers inside the world of animal hoarding .

    >> they mean more to me than any human could.

    >> in six months, maybe not even that long, you'll see my name in the obituary because i can't live like this.

    >> i'm not going to be able to keep doing this.

    >> you spend more time with the dogs than you do with your grandkids.

    >> if i had to choose between my animals and my husband, i would pick the animals.

    >> my cats are healthy and content with their life.

    >> i don't know how you can come home every single night and say this is my clean room .

    >> i would lose my wife. i would lose my house. i would lose everything if i went to jail over this.

    >> i think you have 150 too many cats.

    >> i don't have any desire to give up any of my animals.

    >> you don't care about yourself and i'm afraid you're going to die.

    >> robin , who was in that piece, is a recovering animal hoarder . dr. karen cassidy is a clinical sipsychologist specializing in hoard i hoarding and has been part of robin 's treatment team. doctor and robin , good morning to you. i think people are going to look that, robin , and say, first of all, not only why but how? how do you live with so many pets inside your home? how do you explain that?

    >> for me it's probably an issue of coming from a large family and so there was always chaos and, you know, disruption everywhere in our home when we were growing up. so the animals to me were part of that. they're part of the family to me.

    >> when people rescue animals, often you hear others say what a great thing you're doing. aren't you a wonderful person? is it a situation where you develop a need for that positive reinforcement and that's why you just keep going?

    >> partly. partly it is. for me and i'm sure a lot of other animal hoarders it comes down to an issue of feeling needed, wanted, loved. sometimes there are situation that is go on in your life that you don't feel you're getting that from your human companions.

    >> and yet when it gets out of hand, did you have a turning point? did you have a moment where you looked around the house and said, wait a second, this is no longer a good thing?

    >> no, i didn't. i didn't until the show came in and i realized at that point.

    >> so they were tipped off to you by someone else .

    >> by me.

    >> by you. so you went and said to them i have x number --

    >> no, no, when i contacted the show, i thought it was going to be a different vein. i thought it was going to show me in a different light that, wow, i am this wonderful person who can handle all of this. and it turned into a different situation for me.

    >> dr. cassidy , where do you start with someone like robin ? how do you point out this has crossed a line?

    >> the difficulty for all animal hoarders they have wonderful intentions. they are wonderful people and it's gone awry. and you want to help them understand that there's a big gap between their intention to love these animals and their ability to fulfill that love. and to help point out in a gentle way that actually they're harming the animals and they're harming their human relationships .

    >> you can't go into a home like robin 's home or that gentleman in the piece and clear the pets out. you just can't say, okay, all of these animals are gone. so how do you start? is it a one step at a time program?

    >> well, you start one step at a time. the first thing is to help the person understand how actually they are harmful to the animals and harmful to their family relationships and it shows them the avenue to really care and love these animals is to adopt them out and to have a small reasonable number that they really can care for well.

    >> robin , when you hear, and you've heard about this, this couple that was living with 260 cats, now you shake your head. so you can't imagine prior to contacting this show that you could have ever gotten that far down the road with something like this.

    >> no, i would not have been allowed to. my family would have put a stop to it way before that would have happened.

    >> can you imagine the stench?

    >> oh, i know. we like cats but imagine walking into a home where there are 260 cats living.

    >> not even just that. it's like there's no surface for human contact. there's no safety for your food. there's no way to make a meal and not be sure there's going to be something in it other than what's supposed to be in there.

    >> you mentioned your family a second ago. what was their reaction when you were getting up in numbers with the pets you had? you had 20? 15, 16, your family was still okay with it?

    >> no, but i'm a stubborn animal rescuer, if you want to call it that and you saw in the piece they asked me would i get rid of the animals or my husband first and my logic was if my husband was thrown out or left, he could handle himself but my animals needed me.

    >> dr. cassidy , do people like robin , even as she is recovering, often have setbacks much like an alcoholic would?

    >> right. unfortunately without treatment, 100% of animal hoarders relapse. and it's necessary to get treatment, to not just bring them to the attention of the criminal system but to understand they're people with needs. most hoarders have been through traumatic life disorders, initiated or exacerbated their hoarding issues.

    >> robin , you brought in a new dog recently, didn't you.

    >> yes, for four days.

    >> and?

    >> he was brought in with the intention of finding him a home and we did. it happened. he's gone to, i hope, a loving home.

    >> so what's your goal? how many pets?

    >> the ones we have now.

    >> which is what number?

    >> we have four cats and three dogs.

    >> and that would be fine, cap it at that?

    >> yeah. i'm okay.

    >> good. and i appreciate you sharing your story. i know it can't be all that ease easy.

    >> no.

    >> robin, thanks very much. thank you very much to you as well. > and animal hoarding premieres on animal planet

By
TODAY contributor
updated 7/20/2010 10:36:42 AM ET 2010-07-20T14:36:42

It was sometime after she said on camera that her animals were more important to her than her husband that the woman identified only as “Robin” began to realize she had a problem.

  1. Stories from
    1. 12-Year-Old with Rare Always-Hungry Condition Lands Back in Hospital
    2. Who Still Makes Jamie Foxx Starstruck?
    3. Ginnifer Goodwin's Romantic Monique Lhuillier Wedding Gown: See a Sketch!
    4. Three Books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez That You Must Read
    5. Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo Shine in The Normal Heart Trailer

“If I’m going to choose between my animals and my husband, I would pick the animals,” Robin told a film crew from Animal Planet that came to record her life for a new series called “Animal Hoarders.” Although she had 21 animals — dogs, cats and even birds — and just one husband, Robin didn’t see this as a problem.

“My logic was that if my husband was thrown out or left, he could handle himself, but my animals needed me,” Robin told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday in New York.

Robin was so unaware she had a problem, she revealed, that it was she who originally reached out to the show’s producers when she heard they were looking for people with large collections of pets. “When I contacted the show, I thought it was going to be a different vein,” she explained. “I thought it was going to show me in a different light; that, wow, I am this wonderful person that can handle all of this. And it turned into a different situation for me.”

TODAY
The hoarder identified only as Robin was living in the basement of her brother’s home with her family and 21 animals. She is currently down to seven pets.

Family intervention
The film crew found her, her husband, Pete, and two preteen daughters living in the basement of her brother’s house with the 21 animals. The living arrangements were necessitated after Pete lost his job and the family could not afford their rent. Three older children had moved out of the house, and Pete said that Robin was spending more money on food for her pets than for her family.

Overweight, diabetic and a breast cancer survivor, Robin could barely leave her home, but she kept on taking in animals. Feeling they needed to do something, her family staged an intervention, assisted by a therapist employed by Animal Planet to help the hoarders profiled in the series.

“No one wants to go to my mom's house. No one likes it. No one wants to be there,” her daughter Jill said. (No last names are used in the series to protect the identities of the hoarders.)

And Robin is by no means the worst of those profiled in the startling series. One animal hoarder had 260 cats when the film crew arrived. A man with 30 cats was found to have toxic levels of ammonia in the air in his house because of all the cat urine. Outtakes from the series showed homes overrun by animals, some with virtually every surface crawling with cats and dogs that urinate and defecate wherever they find themselves when nature calls.

How many hoard?
There are no firm statistics on animal hoarding, and no laws governing the number of pets a person can have in the United States. Those hoarders who end up in the criminal justice system are generally prosecuted for health violations or animal cruelty.

Animal Planet cites estimates of about 250,000 animals that are the victims of hoarders each year. The vast majority of hoarders are female, the show reports, and most also hoard other things.

“The difficulty for all animal hoarders is that they have wonderful intentions,” Dr. Karen Cassiday, a psychologist specializing in hoarding, told Lauer. “They’re wonderful people, and it’s gone awry. You want to help them understand that there’s a big gap between their intention to love these animals and their ability to fulfill that love, and to help point out in a gentle way that actually they’re harming the animals, and they’re harming their human relationships.”

Cassiday worked with Robin on the show and continues to help her as she attempts to cope with her hoarding.

“You start one step at a time,” Cassiday continued. “The first step is to help the person understand how actually they are harmful to the animals and they’re harmful to their family relationships and to show them that the avenue to really care for and love these animals is to adopt them out and to have a small, reasonable number that they really can care for well.”

TODAY
One of the hoarders profiled on Animal Planet had 260 cats.

Roots of the problem
Robin, 53, said that she believes her hoarding is rooted in growing up in a big, chaotic family. After getting married young, she had five children, but she became sterile after a battle with breast cancer when she was in her early 40s. Unable to have more children, she started taking in animals, her sense of self-worth wrapped up in her ability to play the role of a mother.

“For me, it’s probably an issue of coming from a large family, and so there was always chaos and destruction everywhere in our home when we were growing up,” Robin told Lauer. “The animals were part of the family to me. For me, and I’m sure for a lot of other animal hoarders, it comes down to an issue of feeling needed, wanted, loved. Sometimes there’s situations that go on in your life that you don’t feel that you’re getting that from your human companions.”

TODAY
Animal hoarders are always in danger of relapsing, said an expert in the field.

Cassiday said hoarders, like other addicts, are always in danger of relapsing.

“Unfortunately, without treatment, 100 percent of animal hoarders relapse,” the therapist said. “It’s necessary to get treatment, to not just bring them to the attention of the criminal system, but to understand they’re people with needs. Most hoarders have been through traumatic or distressing life experiences that initiated or exacerbated their hoarding, and we need to address those issues.”

Robin’s family already had a scare when, after cutting back to seven pets, she took in a homeless dog. She justified it by saying it was just for a few days until she found it a home.

“I brought in a dog for four days,” she admitted. “He was brought in with the intention of finding him a home, and we did.”

But she wanted Lauer to know it wasn’t a relapse, assuring him, “I’m OK.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

TODAY's Takeaway
  1. TODAY

    Savannah overshares; Billy Crystal brings ‘700 Sundays’ to TV

    4/18/2014 8:29:08 PM +00:00 2014-04-18T20:29:08
  1. Doomed South Korean ferry’s captain taken into custody

    The captain of the sunken ferry in South Korea was taken into custody Friday and is facing five charges, including criminal negligence.

    4/18/2014 8:35:55 PM +00:00 2014-04-18T20:35:55
  2. Did South Korea ferry’s sharp turn cause it to sink?
  3. Teen ferry survivors comforted in devastated town
  1. Courtesy of Shawn Stock

    'You helped me': After 23 years, Desert Storm veteran thanks pen pals

    4/18/2014 8:51:52 PM +00:00 2014-04-18T20:51:52
  1. Courtesy of Kristen Hazelwood Jo

    Kids scared of the Easter Bunny? Well, look at him!

    4/18/2014 7:18:23 PM +00:00 2014-04-18T19:18:23
  1. This weekend on TODAY: Apps to keep teens from texting and driving

    Janice Lieberman takes a look at three new apps that are designed to keep your teens safe behind the wheel. Also, Ed Weeks from “The Mindy Project," the right way to cook a perfect Easter ham and more.

    4/18/2014 4:41:45 PM +00:00 2014-04-18T16:41:45