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posted: 2/26/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Limit animal hoarding by sharing data

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The need to be loved and the desire to help others are two of humanity's most powerful guiding forces.

They are the inspiration of great literature; they help define our lives. Both can be greatly rewarding.

But if you look at your own life, odds are pretty good that the pursuit of one or both of these things has gotten you into a spot of bother.

Taken to the extreme, of course, they can take over your life.

Take the issue of animal hoarding. Staff writer Harry Hitzeman on Sunday explored how people who set out to help can become overwhelmed to the point that they harm the animals they sought to help and ruined their homes and in some cases their lives in the process.

It's easy for most of us to understand how a well-meaning person who sees an animal in distress, perhaps an animal who is likely to face euthanasia, to take the critter in.

Several years ago, Aurora resident David Skeberdis found two abandoned parakeets and decided to rescue them. A week later he took in a few birds from the cold.

Fast forward a few years and Skeberdis' passion for saving birds had clearly grown into a compulsion. In the end he had 378 birds in cages or flying freely in his house and another 120 dead. There was nary a sign of food and water.

He pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was sentenced to a year of probation.

Most of us feel we know the limits of our compassion -- or at least we know when enough is enough. But for extreme animal hoarders, there is a big disconnect.

California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund founder Joyce Tischler told Hitzeman that hoarders can't stop themselves. "They keep doing it and doing it until the smell gets out of hand or they get caught."

Tatiana Garrett, with the Anti-Cruelty Society, told Hitzeman that animal hoarding is a behavior pattern that mental health experts still are trying to figure out. And the recidivism rate, she said, is between 99 and 100 percent.

"People who hoard will move to another state or city and start all over," she said.

Illinois is ranked by the Animal Legal Defense Fund as having the strictest animal control laws. But one thing the organization recommends that Illinois doesn't already do is establish a database of convicted animal abusers (including hoarders) akin to the sex offender registry.

Animal hoarding doesn't present the clear and present danger that sex offenders do, so seeking to legislate a formal reporting process would be over the top.

But given the near guarantee that a hoarder will repeat his or her habits, it would be appropriate for law enforcement personnel to voluntarily keep tabs on convicted hoarders -- and share that information with other agencies -- to ensure the safety of both people and animals.

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