A cat rescued from Erlandsson's home. The health issues caused by the house are evident in the cat's swollen eyes.
Dr. Peggy Larson and Sue Skaskiw.
A room inside Erlandsson's home that Skaskiw says is an example of typical hoarding behavior.
Another room inside Erlandsson's home.
St. Johnsbury, Vermont - April 26, 2011
Animal hoarding is a tragic practice and one that's very common.
"They don't see these animals as suffering. They see these animals as things to collect," says Dr. Peggy Larson.
Larson is the former Vermont State Veterinarian. She's also a lawyer who's seen many animal hoarding and cruelty cases cross her desk.
"The hoarder becomes consumed with the animals they're collecting. You can't make them stop. It's a repetitive behavior. They'll collect and collect," she says.
Hoarding of any kind is described as a compulsive need to collect and accumulate things, be it objects or animals, and the inability to throw anything away. While there are different theories as to what causes people to become hoarders, Larson likens it to obsessive/compulsive disorder as well as drug addiction.
"They'll say smaller numbers than what they have, and they'll tell you anything they think they can get by with because they have to protect their addiction."
In the case of Cynthia Erlandsson, the 58-year-old woman who allegedly abandoned 42 cats in her South Ryegate home, Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals director Sue Skaskiw says the state of the house shows Erlandsson is a classic hoarder.
"It was surreal. In one room especially there was at least a foot of feces," Skaskiw says. She also describes rooms that rescuers were unable to enter because they were filled with junk.
However, Skaskiw says it wasn't just the state of the house but the amount of clutter and the fact that 42 cats and 5 dead ones were all inside the home.
"Most animal hoarders will defend their animals to the end. In their mind they're doing the best, that nobody else can provide for the animals," she says. "It's a mental illness." However she points out that Erlandsson doesn't quite fit into this category because she allegedly left the animals alone on purpose.
The animals in hoarding homes are usually suffering from poor nutrition, lack of veterinary care and often complete neglect. In the case of Erlandsson's cats, most are just now starting to warm up to humans despite being in rescue organizations for nearly six months.
However, Skaskiw says it's not just the animals who need help when dealing with this problem.
"Studies show 98 to 100 percent of hoarders never ever change their pattern of behavior unless they receive psychological help and only then do a very small percentage of these people ever change their pattern," she says.
Larson and Skaskiw say Vermont currently has no laws that allow the state to mandate treatment for people convicted in cases like Erlandsson's.
Larson says if you suspect animal hoarding is going on in your town you should first try to contact your area humane society. You should also contact the local animal control officer and possibly call police.