By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — In the last four months, animal control officers have made some of the largest pet rescues in the city’s history.
From only three houses, authorities have removed more than 325 cats and dogs, alive and dead.
The rash of large-scale animal rescues began in June when 51 cats were found living in a west-side house. A little more than a month later, authorities happened upon the residence of Kenneth Lang Jr., who drew national media attention for the 105 live and 151 dead Chihuahuas living inside his filthy-on-the-interior but immaculate-on-the-exterior bungalow.
And on Aug. 25, animal control officers removed another 25 cats from a vacant house on Roosevelt that reportedly only was occupied by the former tenants, which included a 7-year-old girl, for about a month.
And yet despite living conditions that were unsanitary by any ordinary measure, officials said the pets’ owners seemingly were unfazed.
A small, yet growing body of research on animal hoarding has begun to break down and analyze what makes such people tick. According to the Humane Society of the United States, animal hoarding is identified by an apparent need to have many animals, as well as many inanimate objects.
Hoarders generally live a clandestine lifestyle marked by a stark contrast between their public and private personas. They have a tendency to deny reality, often manifesting itself by insisting that ill animals are healthy or that overcrowded animals are comfortable. And they have a history of recidivism.
Attorney James Schmier, who is representing Lang on two counts of animal cruelty, attributes his client’s situation to a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which researchers believe to be a cause of animal hoarding. Schmier says Lang thought he was caring for the dogs and was incapable of seeing the neglect they endured.
“He still cares for these dogs,” Schmier said at Lang’s arraignment on Thursday. “In fact, on the way down here he told me he dreams about them and he misses them.”
But one of the pioneers in the study of animal hoarding, Tufts University professor Gary Patronek, said obsessive-compulsive disorder doesn’t explain sufferers’ inability to see the deteriorating conditions around them.
“Those abuses go far beyond OCD,” Patronek said in what peers call a landmark study published in 1999.
He also has said that much like the pathology associated with sex offenders and other addictive personality disorders, hoarders are very likely to return to their activities once the social ramifications are no longer eminently present.
“The adage is, ‘Most hoarders will pick up another animal on the way home from the courtroom,’” Patronek said.
Because researchers are just beginning to understand the causes behind animal hoarding, a consensus has yet to be reached on how best to address the matter. One common-sense step that is mentioned in most circles is for local authorities to enact ordinances that discourage the behavior and make sure it is policed thoroughly.
But that can be easier said than done. Animal control officers are stretched thin as it is and can act only on what is immediately visible when they visit a house.
Getting inside a house – often the only place that the hoarding is apparent – requires a search warrant.