Animal hoarding in Tampa Bay - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Animal hoarding in Tampa Bay

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POLK COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

They are the stories that spark outrage in the community. They are the cases that consume countless law enforcement hours. They appear to most people in the Tampa Bay Area as nothing more than animal cruelty cases, but to mental health experts the stories look like something else altogether.

"These people are typically good people. They're trying," explains Dr. Daniel Weinberg a psychiatrist at Watson Clinic in Lakeland.

He says the reality of many animal cruelty cases, particularly those that involve dozens of animals in horrific conditions, is that the owners are really hoarders suffering from a mental illness that alters their ability to recognize how bad things are getting.

"You walk into an animal hoarder’s and you'll see three dead cats, and the patient, they won't even recognize they're dead," Weinberg said.

Dr. Kristi Weiner is a clinical psychologist in Tampa. She treats hoarders in her practice and says animal hoarding in particular is especially difficult to treat because the hoarders truly believe they're doing the right thing.

"People who are animal hoarders really do love animals. I mean they start off very much as wanting to help and save these animals," Weiner said.

The problem for hoarders is that their good intentions often spiral out of their control. That's when reclusiveness and isolation become a way of life.

Experts say hoarding can manifest in many ways, but animal hoarders in particular have difficulty maintaining the basic operation of their homes. Yards are often overgrown. Junk and debris frequently litter their property. The foul smell of animal urine and feces can often be detected outside the home.

"They see the greater good or they just see the animals, and after a while they become immune in a sense to their own environment," Weiner said.

Hillsborough County's Code Enforcement department says the problem of hoarding, not only animals but also personal items, has become such a serious problem in the Bay Area that Hillsborough County is now creating a hoarding task force.

That task force will include representatives from law enforcement, code enforcement, animal control, social services, and the mental health field. The group will meet for the first time May 27th.

In the meantime, experts agree friends, family and neighbors are the first line of defense for hoarders.

"The biggest hope for hoarders is a family support system, is having friends and family that can intervene and really be there every step of the way," Weinberg said.

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