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From crisis to care: How animal hoarding is straining Minnesota shelters and spotlighting mental health

a group of cats lay on a bed
The Bond Between helped rescue about 50 cats from a home in the Iron Range Thursday.
Courtesy of The Bond Between

Three cases of animal hoarding in Minnesota since late February are filling up shelters and drawing attention to the mental health struggles that often lead to the problem.

On Thursday, The Bond Between, an animal rescue service, took in about 50 rescue cats from a home in the Iron Range.

“With the help of our fosters and volunteers, we can offer them the chance they deserve for a better life,” Jennifer Schroeder, director of rescue operations, said in a statement.

Another case involves a Crystal woman with 124 cats in her home, who was charged with several counts of cruelty in Hennepin County Court on Monday. The Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley is caring for the surviving cats. The third case, in Crosby, involved more than 100 cats rescued by Minnesota Federated Humane Societies investigators and law enforcement. Most went to the Tri-County Humane Society in St. Cloud.

Marit Ortega, executive director of Tri-County, said they received more cats than expected.

“Getting them in, that process took five hours with about a dozen staff, two of the Minnesota Federated Humane Society agents who were on the case all day, and they stayed with us until the end. And it was a lot of work,” Ortega told MPR News on Thursday morning.

Intake at Tri-County involved scanning cats for microchips, administering vaccines and an examination — during which staff found all the cats had fleas, and many had upper respiratory infections and parasites — before getting the animals settled in with food, water, and a litter box. Next, all the cats will be spayed or neutered, microchipped and undergo further health testing. It all adds up to about $200 per animal.

“It isn’t a large expense all at once,” Ortega said. “But when this is said and done, it is a little bit of a strain.” Tri-County is actively fundraising and has received a lot of support from the community, she added.

Hoarding happens when someone has so many animals that they can no longer provide basic care, including food and water, sanitation, socialization, shelter and access to veterinary care, according to the Animal Humane Society. If the animals aren’t spayed or neutered, the situation can quickly worsen.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Federated Humane Societies told MPR News on Tuesday that one of the main reasons people hoard animals is mental health struggles, and that “not every case should be charged.” Their main goal is “getting animals and people the care they need,” including more mental health resources. Concerned parties can contact the Minnesota Hoarding Task Force; the group works to educate and connect people affected by hoarding with resources.

At the same time, seeing cases of animal cruelty or neglect can be tough for shelter staff and volunteers.

“Working at an animal shelter on a good day can take its toll on those of us who choose this profession,” Ortega said. “I can tell you in our 50 years of existence at Tri-County Humane Society, we’ve never taken this many in at once… But I would say I am completely impressed by how well our staff and volunteers have just stepped up to the plate.”

The first cat, Kraemer, from the Crosby hoarding case found a new home Wednesday.

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