He bought just two of the furry critters. A year and a half later there were more than 90 of them, living in fishbowls and Tupperware containers, and causing him to starve himself to feed them.
A man from Lawrence, Mass., recently surrendered 94 hamsters to a local animal shelter which he had collected over a period of 18 months as they rapidly reproduced.
Much as with other animal hoarders, like the Florida couple who amassed 700 cats, the man had held onto his pets out of concern for their health, "where a sort of benign approach to dealing with" fast-breeding pets, "resulted in a catastrophic number of animals," said Mike Keiley, director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' care and adoption center in Methuen, Mass., the shelter that accepted the hamsters.
Until he surrendered the hairy rodents, the man reportedly had managed to provide them with good care. Aside from a few minor abrasions -- the result of crowded living conditions, Keiley said -- all of the hamsters were found to be in good health during triage by the MSPCA. In fact, the man, who is on welfare, was so committed to caring for his hamsters that he began to go hungry, spending what little money he had on their food, not his, Keiley said.
He sacrificed much of his apartment (pictured left) for them, too, storing the animals in an increasingly makeshift array of shelters including aquariums, fish bowls, buckets, Tupperware and a 10-gallon litter box. After realizing his situation was not sustainable, Keiley said, the man contacted the MSPCA, whose staff was stunned to hear the man say he wanted to surrender about 80 of the rodents.
Keiley says he and his staff are "glad that he came in and voluntarily addressed the issue." He also applauds the man's willingness to give up every last one of the pets, explaining that holding onto even a few can present a serious risk of relapsing into hoarding behavior.
Keiley said his shelter, which is one of the only "open admission" shelters in New England (it never refuses animals), has received relief from other shelters, who've taken about 40 of the homeless hamsters off the shelter's hands.
Curbing Pet Hoarding No Easy Task
The man's situation sheds light on the legal difficulties of pet hoarding. Sometimes town government determines the maximum number of pets a resident may own, while other times they don't, said MSPCA's director of advocacy, Kara Holmquist. And even if town leaders set such statutes, they typically only apply to dogs, and "it's often hard to come up with an absolute number over which a person is a responsible pet owner." Different owners are capable of owning different amounts of pets, she said.
What's more, the people who amass pets are often "loners," Keiley added. The problem can go unnoticed even if a person's lease prohibits, or stipulates limits, on pets, he said. To further complicate the issue, tenants are frequently reluctant to report their neighbors if they suspect a problem.