09/17/2011 04:14 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's Easy to Hate Animal Hoarders

This week's Animal Oddity is about a serious and troubling topic: animal hoarding.

The recent success of several television shows dealing with the issue of hoarding is, I think, due to what I call the train-wreck effect. Getting to go behind the veil into the homes of people with extreme hoarding behavior is like looking at a horrible accident: it's traumatizing to see but you just can't look away.

Animal hoarding adds the additional elements of animal waste and the emotional impact of seeing animals suffer. Those things combined with the eccentricities of the hoarders themselves (beyond their hoarding behavior) and their usual obliviousness to the severity of the situation seem to be the perfect recipe for an odd new television format: uncomfortable entertainment.

Here's one example of what I'm talking about:

When I watch these shows, I can't help but imagine myself living like that, in those dirty, overcrowded homes teeming with animals (sometimes not all still alive) and their waste. They always make a point to mention the horrible odors in the homes of animal hoarders. Having worked in zoos and nature centers with animal collections, I can tell you first hand how quickly animal waste odors can build up if not cleaned immediately and regularly.

And of course, it breaks my heart to see those poor animals crammed into tiny, overcrowded cages, living in their own waste, or suffering from untreated illness and wounds. With animal hoarding, it's easy to hate the hoarders for inflicting such conditions on innocent animals.

I always try to remind myself that these people have an illness, and that they need treatment, not judgment and hate. Ultimately, that's the only thing that is going to help them and their animals out of their desperate situations. If nothing else, shows like A&E's Hoarders and Animal Planet's Confessions: Animal Hoarding have raised the awareness of the general public about this illness and hopefully continue to encourage more people who suffer from it to get treatment.

Get the latest odd animal news, stories, videos and behaviors on my Animal Planet blog, Animal Oddities.