Kindness Gone Bad

People who are tormented by the dog and cat overpopulation crisis sometimes try to help by keeping large numbers of animals in their homes or in so-called "no-kill shelters." However, all too often, though these people may begin with the best of intentions, many quickly find themselves overwhelmed with both work and expenses, and the situation for the animals they have taken in deteriorates, sometimes to a horrific degree.

For example, New York state investigators called to the Animals Farm Home found hundreds of starving, mange-infested dogs crowded into dark, unventilated barns. Fed only moldy bread and water, the dogs were cannibalizing each other out of hunger. More than 175 of the animals were too ill to be saved, and more than 200 required emergency veterinary care. (1)

There are countless cases of collectors keeping hundreds of animals in miserable conditions in the belief that the animals are better off alive (in even the most hellish conditions) than euthanized. But dogs and cats who live in small, filthy pens or cages without socialization suffer the same depression, loneliness, and abject misery as animals in laboratories. They are living proof that there really are fates worse than death.

Quantity Over Quality

Collectors may feel that they "love" animals, but they can be blind to the fact that they are not caring for them responsibly even in the face of starvation and death. Collectors are usually unable to bear the thought of euthanasia, but vast numbers of animals are "saved" only to languish in a squalid, crowded environment where they suffer from malnourishment, illness, inactivity, poor ventilation, and lack of human companionship. PETA has found dogs and cats kept in cages, crates, hutches, and even kitchen cabinets, some even being allowed to breed. Collectors usually can't afford to pay for all the spaying and neutering (not to mention the routine veterinary care) the animals need, so their collection grows until the filth, stench, and noise attract the attention of neighbors or health, sanitation, or humane officials.

PETA investigators found one woman living in a filthy trailer with close to 100 cats and dogs. Others were kept in pens outside. The temperature inside the trailer was in the 90s, and its floors were caked with excrement. Food and water bowls were contaminated with waste and cat litter. Some animals were hiding in cupboards, with trash for bedding. Most were emaciated and ill, some so weak they couldn't stand. There were 11 barely breathing kittens whose eyes were swollen shut with pus. Investigators described the scene as "a sea of miserable animals."

In another case, investigators found a New York couple living in a trailer with 100 emaciated, dehydrated cats. The cats were severely infested with fleas, ear mites, and other parasites and suffered from advanced stages of upper respiratory infections. Many were near death. The floor of the trailer had rotted from urine. The couple had started their collection by feeding, but not spaying or neutering, stray cats. What had begun as a bad situation for a few animals was made into a hellhole for many. (2)

Isolation and Illness

Many collectors allow animals to take over their homes and lives so completely that they lose contact with friends and family. Collectors often find themselves isolated and psychologically dependent on their animals, and they need and cling to them to the animals' detriment. (3) Some suffer from mental illness. Without psychiatric help, even collectors convicted of cruelty to animals almost always revert to collecting. (4)

Veterinarian Karen Kemper, who has studied animal addicts extensively, has found that their behavior parallels that of substance abusers. She lists the following traits collectors share with substance addicts: preoccupation with the addiction; repetition of the addictive behavior; alibis for their behavior; neglect of personal, physical, and environmental conditions; claims of persecution; presence of enablers who assist financially; denial that the addiction exists; isolation from the rest of society except for those who also deal in the addiction; and abuse of animals through neglect. (5)

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Dangerous Denial

Collectors also commonly display an abnormal fear of death and a denial of death as a natural part of life. A PETA investigator found dead cats in one collector's freezer. Another collector, also unable to accept the death of her cats, eviscerated their bodies and dried them on her fire escape, keeping their dried remains in cupboards. (6) Many collectors see themselves as the only person who can help animals, and they distrust other individuals or groups who offer assistance. When outsiders intervene, collectors may refuse to part with any of their animals, even through adoption or veterinary care for the sick. When one collector's dogs were seized, she fought to keep them from receiving heartworm treatment. (7)

Unwitting Accomplices

Unfortunately, the public often supports collectors' addictions with sympathy, money, and more animals, because it sounds ideal to "save" animals from being killed. The collector may become known as the neighborhood "cat person" or "dog person," collecting strays and taking in "drop-offs." Some have acquired nonprofit, tax-exempt status and call themselves shelters. (8)

Collectors' claims that they are "saving" animals often result in heartwarming news stories that stand in stark contrast to the negligent treatment the animals actually receive. If a cruelty investigation is undertaken, collectors attract sympathy from a public unaware that the "care" being provided is, in reality, unspeakable neglect and cruelty.

What You Can Do

Alert humane officials if animals are being neglected or abused by their caretakers; even those who are well-intentioned.

Promote legislation that requires licensing, inspection, and strict regulation of private and public animal shelters.

In a case where a humane society is confiscating a collector's animals, offer to help the shelter by walking or playing with the animals.

Investigate before you turn an animal over to any shelter, humane group, or "rescuer." Tour the facility yourself and accept no excuses for not being allowed inside. Ask lots of questions about animal care and adoption policies. You do not want to turn a vulnerable animal over to someone who collects a minor fee or none at all and then hands that animal over to anyone who comes through the door. These kinds of people are ideal prey for those seeking "bait" animals for fighting dogs, cats and dogs to sell to laboratories, or guard dogs to chain up and neglect. For more information, contact PETA's Literature Department for our free brochure "Finding the Right Home for Your Companion Animal."


*Lockwood, Randall and Barbara Cassidy, "Killing with Kindness?" Humane Society of the United States.

*Mullen, Samantha, "Too Many Cats," Cat Fancy, October 1993, p. 50.


*New York State Humane Association, "Fact Sheet: Animal Collectors."

*Mullen, p. 52.


*Luker, Kelly, "The Collector," Metro, July 3-10, 1996.

*Kalamazoo Humane Society, "Animal Collectors: Good Intentions Are Not Enough," Humane News & Views, October 1992, p. 1.