SECRET (and NOT SO SECRET) MENAGERIES
Animal Hoarding Is a Unique Mental Disorder, Researchers Say
by Charles Choi / September 18, 2017
“The ‘cat lady’ may be more than just a stereotype. After investigating roughly 30 people who collected nearly 1,400 animals total in southern Brazil, researchers now suggest that such men and women are afflicted with what they called animal hoarding disorder—not to be lumped in with object hoarding. The first scientific reports of people living with an excessive number of animals first appeared in 1981. Animal hoarding is currently thought of a variant of hoarding disorder, in which people have both the compulsive urge to acquire unusually large amounts of possessions and difficulty in disposing of them, regardless of their value.
However, animal hoarding should be recognized its own unique mental disorder, separate from object hoarding, say psychologist Elisa Arrienti Ferreira at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil and her colleagues. They base their argument on their investigation of 33 people who amassed 915 dogs, 382 cats and 50 ducks in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. “The most animals I saw at one house probably had 170 dogs and maybe 20 or 30 cats,” Ferreira said. Local authorities reached out to the scientists because of problems that people had with the noises and smells from the animal hoarder homes. On average, each hoarder had roughly 41 animals.
The animal hoarders did not merely have a lot of animals. They also usually failed to provide these animals with minimum standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care. “With animal hoarders, when you have a lot of animals, you start to lose your capacity to know them and really care about them,” Ferreira said. “We saw animals that were starving or injured or sick. Fights and cannibalism happened among the animals. Animals died and the hoarders didn’t bury them. It was really sad.”
Nearly 73 percent of these animal hoarders were women. On average, the animal hoarders were about 61 years old, and had hoarded a large number of animals for about 23 years. “We can speculate that gender or age plays a role in the disorder, but we don’t know for sure yet what that role might be, if any,” Ferreira said. “We have to do more profound research to understand the causes or to even start thinking about specific treatment protocols.”
Nearly 90 percent of the animal hoarders lived alone. “They used to have families, but their families abandoned them,” Ferreira said. “Their families may have tried a lot of things to help, to take them to psychologists or physicians or social workers, but nothing helped. The conditions for the animals is bad, but the conditions for the people are as well — they don’t shower or brush their teeth or cut their nails, because they don’t have a place to do it. Everything is so sad. “Some people did tell us that they started to collect animals, say, ‘When my son died,’ or ‘When I suffered an accident and couldn’t work anymore,’” Ferreira noted. “So for at least some of these people, they had trauma and then they started to hoard animals.”
The scientists want to distinguish animal hoarding from object hoarding because they are marked by significantly different attitudes and behaviors, Ferreira said. “When you talk with object hoarders, they talk about hoarding objects because they might need them some day — say, they might read those magazines,” she explained. “But with animal hoarders, you hear, ‘They need me, and I need them. They are important to me; I can’t imagine how my life would be if they didn’t exist. I am on a mission; I was born to do this.’” Another big difference between animal hoarders and object hoarders “is that animal hoarders have poor or no insight on their condition,” Ferreira said.
“The animals are in really poor conditions, but the animal hoarders think everything is okay. They don’t realize they have this serious disorder. They don’t accept help.” The fact that animal hoarders largely do not want to accept help made it difficult for the researchers to even talk with them. The scientists could not reach 37 of the 75 suspected animal hoarders they investigated. “They are really suspicious — they keep thinking you are there to steal the animals,” Ferreira said. “So it’s really complicated to approach them — you have to establish trust with them, and that takes time, and I think it will be very difficult.” In the future, Ferreira aims to design a treatment for animal hoarders based on a form of psychotherapy known as schema therapy. The scientists detailed their findings online August 18 in the journal Psychiatry Research.”
MING of HARLEM
The Trouble with Tigers
by Ravi Somaiya / 7/28/10
“There are only 3,000 tigers left in the wild. There are at least 7,000 in the United States. A few hundred of America’s tigers are in established zoos, but the rest live in suburban homes and urban apartments. They decorate Las Vegas casinos, prowl the estates of celebrities—glimpsed on MTV’s “Cribs”—and perform in circuses, magic shows and animal parks. Some are even employed as guards or punishers. Police in Atlanta recently found a tiger (along with a lion and a bear) when they arrested a local drug dealer. Another was found patrolling a crystal meth lab in San Antonio.
They make bad pets. Americans die or are severely injured in tiger attacks almost every year. The biggest subspecies, the Siberian, can be almost four feet tall at the shoulders, nine feet long, weigh more than 650 pounds, and live longer than 20 years. In the wild they kill prey, including bears and leopards, by stalking through dense jungles. They target the head and neck, with jaws designed to macerate living bone. But, says Beth Preiss, who tracks the cats and other animals for the Humane Society of the United States, they are appealing precisely because they are so dangerous. “We want,” she says, “what we can’t have.”
The American tiger has had some stellar endorsements too. Martin Van Buren, the eighth president (1837 to 1841), was given two cubs by the Sultan of Oman. In December 1960, the first white tiger in the U.S.—a tigress with ice-blue eyes named Mohini of Rewa—was presented to President Eisenhower on the White House lawn, a gift of Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation.
The market for pet tigers swelled between the 1980s and early 2000s, say those who work with big cats. Many cite the influence of the movie “Scarface,” in which Al Pacino’s drug baron Tony Montana keeps tigers, and of Michael Jackson who posed with a 6-week-old cub on the cover of his “Thriller” album. Jackson also kept two of the animals, Thriller and Sabu, on his Neverland ranch.
They were later adopted by the actress Tippi Hedren. In the early 1990s, Mike Tyson claimed he sparred with his two white female Bengal tigers, Kenya and Storm, and a golden male named Boris, at his Texas home. A few years later Paris Hilton celebrated a $5,000 win in Las Vegas by buying her own tiger, which roamed her family’s land in Nevada. Last year the rapper Akon unveiled his own white tiger, Simba, kept in a small glass cage, on the MTV show “Cribs.”
And Antoine Yates kept a tiger in Apartment 5E of the Drew Hamilton Houses in uptown Manhattan. In early 2000 Yates climbed into his new Ford Explorer to begin the long drive to Bearcat Hollow animal park in Racine, Minn. Yates was excited. He was about to collect an 8-week old tiger cub named Ming. Wiry, in his early 30s, with a drawling voice, shaved head and a diamond stud in one ear, Yates had saved tens of thousands of dollars to buy and keep the cub. He would not say how he came by the money, “because that’s a different part of my life. I’m a different person now.”
He was more eager to talk about the love for exotic animals that he had harbored since childhood. It began at 11, he says, with several capuchin and squirrel monkeys and two chimpanzees. Yates kept them, under the indulgent eye of his mother, Martha, in an apartment on Troy Avenue in Brooklyn. When a monkey escaped and caused havoc in the rental office, the family reluctantly shed their menagerie and moved.
By 2000, through contacts with exotic-animal dealers and breeders, Yates had accumulated a lion cub, two pythons and an alligator named Al. But he craved a tiger. “They are beautiful,” he says, recalling his longing. “They are dangerous. They are mystical.” He had bought land, he says, to start a sanctuary upstate.
But until it was ready he had no qualms about keeping Ming in the projects. “It is not my fault I was born and raised in that environment,” he says, before pausing. “I suppose things might have worked out better in the end if God hadn’t put a person with a beautiful heart for animals in the middle of Harlem.”
Ming, then a mewing, 20-pound ball of fur, rode back quietly in the Explorer and moved in with little fuss. His only bad habit was chewing shoes. Every night Yates lay in bed and watched movies on TV. Ming would slink in languidly next to him, and man and tiger would fall asleep together. “But real fast, before you know, it he’s 200 pounds,” says Yates, who fed Ming 15 to 20 pounds of meat, offal, bones and supplements daily, bought by the straining bagful from a local grocery store.
The big cat soon grew to about 400 pounds—nine feet if he stood on his hind legs, which he could barely do in the apartment. Eventually, Yates had to load his now-grown lion and his Burmese and reticulated pythons into the Ford, and drive them thousands of miles to safe homes in Pennsylvania and Texas. “I just had to pray I didn’t get stopped,” he recalls.
By October 1, 2003, only Ming and Al the alligator remained, along with a stray black cat Yates had found on his doorstep. That morning, Ming watched the smaller cat carefully as it stretched in the apartment’s cramped hallway. The tiger tensed and shifted, stalking. Then he leaped. Yates saw the attack out of the corner of his eye and moved to stop it, pulling at Ming’s fur. The animal mauled his knee and right arm, leaving large gashes. The smaller cat was unscathed. Yates went to hospital, where he claimed he’d been attacked by a pit bull.
Days later, police were tipped off that a very large animal might have bitten someone in Harlem. Their investigations led them to Yates. A downstairs neighbor told them Yates was keeping a tiger, and even complained that urine had seeped through her ceiling. Cutting into Yates’ door, they “saw the large tiger pass by the open hole,” according to comments made at the time by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Officers rappelled down the building and shot Ming with a tranquilizer dart—the tiger broke a window charging at the dangling marksmen. Ming and Al were sent to sanctuaries. Yates spent five months in jail for reckless endangerment. “Nothing any tiger could do compares to what the system done to me,” he says. The owner of Bearcat Hollow, where Yates bought his big cats, pleaded guilty in 2005 to seven federal counts connected with illegal trading in wild animals.
Because moving tigers across state lines is now illegal much of the trade is underground, or at least conducted quietly. So it is difficult to obtain a precise figure for the number of tiger breeders in the U.S. Several alleged breeders contacted by Newsweek refused to be interviewed. Those who rescue unwanted or mistreated tigers suggest the number must be in the hundreds. Until recently, the absence of strict federal and state laws meant “tigers were selling for thousands,” says Emily McCormack, a zoologist at Turpentine Creek, a refuge in Arkansas which rescues big cats, “One breeder told me that if his tigers had two broods of three or four cubs a year, he was already earning more than the average American.”
Among the most highly prized are perfect white tigers which reportedly sell for more than $20,000. White tigers are a genetic mutation of the Bengal subspecies that are almost non-existent in the wild. Those found in America are the results of extensive inbreeding, a laborious process. For every fluffy white cub, says a former breeder who did not want to be named discussing such a sensitive topic, several are born the wrong color, or deformed. Mating fathers with daughters and brothers with sisters can result in problems like shrunken hearts, shortened tendons, club feet, kidney ailments, malformed backbones and twisted necks. Turpentine Creek has rescued several malformed tigers.
Yates, who now lives in Las Vegas, has re-stocked his menagerie. He now has two white tigers, one tabby and one orange among 22 big cats. After he was released from jail his story came to the attention of Michael Jackson, Jackson’s brother Jermaine, and former Kool and the Gang keyboardist Amir Bayyan who helped him financially. Yates’ Facebook profile name is “Antoine Tigermann Yates.” He sometimes wears tiger-eye contact lenses and says he is not afraid of being attacked again—he still plays with his tigers.
McCormack is more cautious, saying she would never enter a tiger cage, let alone cavort with one of the cats. “Their play is enough to kill you,” she says. “It’s instinct with them, even if they’re hand-reared. If you turn your back they immediately go into stalking mode—they may not intend to eat you, but they can kill you by accident. Keeping a tiger in your house is like giving a child a loaded gun. At some point, unless you’re very lucky, it will go off and someone will die or be severely injured.”
Around lunchtime on August 4, 2008, 16-year-old Dakoda Wood, an employee at a roadside zoo called Predator World in Branson West, Mo., entered a tiger cage to take a picture for some tourists. He tripped, according to reports at the time, and three tigers set upon him. He was seized by the throat and dragged into a nearby pool of water. Colleagues pulled Wood from the cage, and he was airlifted to an area hospital. “I hit a bump in the rode [sic] of life,” Wood writes on his MySpace page, “u should know I am now paralized [sic] but, there is hope for full recovery.” His version of events differs from the news reports. “I tripped while in with 3 tigers and hit my head knocked myself out fell with my head under water,” he writes, “and one of the tigers saved my life by grabbing me by my neck and pulled me out of the water, but she broke my neck. I was very active and adventurous person, the main things I liked to do is scuba and ride my dirt bike.” The day before Wood was attacked, a tiger at nearby Wesa-A-Geh-Ya animal farm in Warrenton, Mo., leaped a 10-foot gate and mauled a 26-year-old volunteer who was trying to clean a cage. The farm’s owners took the man to hospital for leg surgery. They claimed he had been bitten by a pit bull.
The two attacks, though unusually close together, were not rarities. The charity Big Cat Rescue estimates that since 1990 there have been 599 incidents of attacks by captive big cats in the U.S. Many involved tigers. The most high-profile incident came in 2003, when Roy Horn, one-half of the illusionist duo Siegfried & Roy, was mauled by a 7-year-old white tiger during a Las Vegas performance. The attack left him partially paralyzed, but Siegfried & Roy still keep dozens of tigers. Other incidents do not make international headlines. At Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska last year a veterinarian, Dr. Doug Armstrong, was treating a Malaysian tiger he thought was tranquilized. When he brushed its whiskers the cat reared up and bit him three times before he could react, leaving him in critical condition. In Ingram, Texas, a 300-pound tiger escaped its cage and sprawled in the yard of 79-year-old Mildred Crenshaw. “That’s a terrible feeling to wake up with police surrounding your house, with their lights on, and to look out your window and see a tiger standing there,” she told the San Antonio Express-News.
But Americans continue to buy tigers. The law on exotic animals is mostly administered state-by-state, in a messy and unpredictable patchwork. Though many states have tightened their rules, tiger cubs can still be purchased at exotic-animal auctions and through breeders. Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma still have few regulations on exotic pets, according to the Humane Society. And the market has shifted so tigers can cost considerably less than people pay for some fancy rabbits. McCormack says she has seen prices as low as $175.
Scrutiny of conditions tigers are kept in is also lax, or poorly enforced. McCormack says she has rescued tigers from boxes they could barely stand up in and basements filled with feces and rotting meat. Tigers, she says, attract “the same type of people that go for the breeds of dog that are the most aggressive. Maybe some people think they will finally tame the tiger. But they won’t.” Antoine Yates, whose tigers live in much better circumstances, will not discuss the morality behind keeping his deadly pets. “I can’t address that,” he says. “I just love them. That’s all.”
“Ming has been confined alone in a 15-by-15 foot chain-link enclosure in Ohio, Antoine Yates complained yesterday. “I have a picture of the cage, and it’s not nearly as big as my apartment is,” he said. “In Harlem, he had five bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and a living room,” Yates said as he left Manhattan Supreme Court.”
APARTMENTS LARGER than CAGES
Animal Planet: OK, let’s begin with some “fill-in-the-blanks” about the episode. Your brother mentioned that in your letters to him, you would write what he described as your own version of scripture. Can you talk a little bit about what that was, and what compelled you to write in that way?
Antoine Yates: Yeah basically, what I have been doing is I became autodidactic. I started educating myself from a young age. And you know, I started to take notes and write about different things that interest me in life. I started to reflect on some of the things that were happening in life. So, as far as my scripture writing was concerned, it was not mimicking the Bible whatsoever, but it was actually trying to create an existent place within what I was living and dealing with already. You know, like the poverty, the crime, the underprivileged, lack-of-education. So it was sort of me writing a blueprint for the change that I’d like to see take place in a lot of these urban areas.
APL: In the episode, when talking about your plans for the zoo, it says that your mother and sister decided not to go ahead with the idea. Why is that?
Antoine Yates: A lot of people, and I have learned this throughout my journey in life, sometimes people do not have enough strength or faith to continue on any type of mission or goals that they set out to do. So, what I was doing was trying to do things the most logical way, and that was going to family for support. This was not having the knowledge that I have now to attain and go look for investors and so forth. So they kind of believed that it wouldn’t have happened, they saw it as too far-fetched a dream to ever accomplish. Like Disney, when he decided to build Disneyland, a lot of people didn’t believe in that concept. But, he kept it moving forward until he accomplished his vision. And ironically, speaking of the zoo plans, that’s about to happen as we speak. I’m actually working with investors now. I have two site locations. One will be in Las Vegas, the other will be in North Carolina. So I have some major investors and supporters that are actually on board, and I educated myself in the business aspect of the zoological world, and finally it’s going to happen.
APL: We’d like to backtrack a little bit here and talk some more about Ming. Take me through a typical day with Ming in your apartment.
Yates: First, let me say that it was a very emotional and compelling experience. But, our typical day would be 23 hours of the day that we’d be locked up in the house together. For that one hour early in the morning, let’s say between 6 and 7 a.m., I’d take an hour out. I might go outside and do a quick workout and go to the supermarket and buy most of the meat department out. Then I’d come back home. And I started to work with him on some enrichment programs that I created for him, to help stimulate his instinct; not try to take it away from him, but more to enhance it and have him indulge in his instincts. Our typical day would be practically a little interaction together. And normally big cats will sleep most of the day once they’re full, so he’d actually be asleep, and that’s when I could take care of a lot of work. But he’d be pinned right there to me. I could only leave a certain amount of space between us before he’d jump up and wake up. So it was like an attachment thing, a shadow. So I could get up and go, but we’d interact throughout the whole house, whether it was working, reading, watching TV, playing music or so forth. But we were always like night and day, always together.
APL: You mentioned creating enrichment activities for Ming. Can you tell us a bit more about what those were?
Yates: Some of the enrichment activities… What I wanted to do was, you know, there was no way possible I could’ve given him 100,000 acres to be an adult male tiger. So some of the enrichment programs I wanted to work with him on were on his senses. So what I would do would be to spread different fragrances on some of his favorite objects that he usually played with and hide them so he could search out and find them. Also, I created frozen liver dinners for him. I’d take a pan of liver, freeze it up, and throw a rubber mat down. He’d jump on that and play with it all day until it melted down. So there were various enrichment programs I worked with him on.
APL: You had Ming since he was a very young…
Yates: Yeah, since he was seven weeks.
APL: Was it easier or harder to take care of him as a baby? How did his habits change as he grew up?
Yates: I never found it difficult to raise him at all. Prior to raising Ming, I had raised over 400 other species of animals that I had… I wouldn’t say the same identical relationship with, but similar to. So I had lions and primates, and almost every childhood animal you could possibly think of. So it wasn’t like a first-time thing of me just going to get a tiger, you know. I’ve actually been doing this since I was three years old. It came naturally.
APL: How did Ming react to your brother, Aaron? How much interaction did he have with Ming?
Yates: He never was in the apartment during the beginning stages of our journey, me and Ming. He actually started coming into the apartment maybe 5 or 6 months prior to October 3rd, when the incident occurred. Ming rather took to other human beings. Not aggressively, but very passively. He wasn’t that fierce tiger, even though there always is a sense of danger with big cats. You have to respect what type of force that you’re dealing with. But I wouldn’t allow for Aaron or anybody else to really interact with Ming like that. As far as seeing Ming in the present, yeah, Aaron has seen him a few times up close, but never to where Aaron can sit down with Ming, lay down with him or anything like that. I wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to allow that to happen. I think it would be very irresponsible of me, because the slightest reaction from Aaron could cause Ming to really react to his response, and that is something I was not prepared for. (That is,) unless I would have worked with Aaron himself, and then I would feel a little bit more at ease to say well, OK, we can interact together with Ming.
APL: Speaking of bringing other people or animals into the situation, how quickly did you notice the dynamic change once you brought Shadow, the house cat, into the apartment?
Yates: OK, see, well that’s the weirdest thing ever, because a lot of people don’t really know the story about that. I’ve never really talked about it. I really just kept it real sealed up. Ming never reacted to Shadow, because he’d never seen Shadow until that very day. You see, I found the cat, or the cat found me. It’s ironic because here lies a sick cat on my doorstep when I leave at that 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning, that little break that I get. I’m walking out my door and there’s a cat on my door dying. And you know, I’d educated myself in veterinary medicine, so I was able to really respond to his illness with a few procedures with him being dehydrated and so forth. I got the cat back together and the cat was doing good. I decided to keep the cat, but I kept him isolated in a single room, because I had a five-bedroom apartment. My thing was that, OK, I can’t let this cat run around the house loose, because, mind you, I had a seven- or eight-foot alligator and I had a 500-pound tiger, you know what I mean?
APL: You had an alligator at the same time you had Ming?
Yates: Oh yeah! And see that’s what a lot of people … it’s in the story, because when they took Ming out, they took out Al, and they were like, wow, look at the size of this alligator he has in there! So, you know, what Animal Planet just edited out, they never talked about Al. They just talked about Ming coming out, you know what I mean? So there was a relationship between me and Al as well that people don’t even know about. Those two [Ming and Al] used to get nose to nose and sort of interact as well. But Ming never got to see Shadow until that very day. When he saw Shadow, instantly, Shadow saw Ming and ran. And once he ran, it triggered off that instinct again, and Ming went to go after him. That’s when I jumped in the middle and I took the fierce force of whatever Ming dished out that day.
APL: In that moment, after you jumped in the middle, were you able to realize how exactly Ming was coming at you? Did you realize he was about to bite, or did it happen too quickly to know what was going on?
Yates: Oh yeah, I knew everything. I was actually conscious of everything that was going on. The only thing that I wasn’t conscious of was how it was going to turn out. Once he had my leg in his mouth — and you’re talking 3, 4, 5 minutes with my leg in his mouth — at that point, another the element of feeling that kicked in was, “How do I get my leg out of his mouth?” So that’s where my concentration went. What came to me was the instinct not to confuse Ming, and just tell him basically what he had been nurtured on, which was “No!” and enforce that. So, once he let my leg go, I told him to go into the bathroom, and that’s the way I was able to diffuse that situation. Him letting go of my leg, I think, is a remarkable thing, because when a big cat grabs a person, it’s almost impossible to get your leg, arm, neck, out of his mouth.
APL: What kind of state were you in when your brother came in, and how long did it take you to recover from the injury?
Yates: I recovered instantly. I had a big gash, a big hole in my leg, but my injury didn’t really come from Ming, and neither was it really a physical injury. I wasn’t ever really put into a situation where I had to recover from the injury physically. What I had to recover from was the lack of understanding from the general public. So that’s where most of the harm came into play. But physically, I was ok.
APL: Well, let’s move on to your future plans. In the episode, you mention several predators — lions, hyenas, bears, jaguars — that you’d like to keep in Nevada. Why so many predators? Is there something about those types of animals that particularly attracts you?
Yates: No, it’s just that I… I love all animals, from animals … The reason that I made so much a focus point on these predatory animals is because they’re misunderstood. More people are fascinated by these predatory animals, and there is a person like me who can come along and give people a better understanding, not just because it’s cool to have a tiger or it’s beautiful to have a tiger. You have a person who can say that there should be more educational programs, training courses and so forth for people that would love to have these animals but don’t know the proper way to take care of them. Also, there are maybe 80 percent of predatory animal species who are endangered, from the African cave dog to the Siberian tiger. You have three tiger subspecies that are already extinct, and the others are critically endangered. People are more afraid of predatory animals than other animals, so now you have poaching and so forth. So that’s why my issue is in trying to protect these predatory animals, but all animals, generally speaking.
APL: Let’s go back for a moment to the alligator, Al. Did Ming and Al interact?
Yates: When I bought Al, he was a hatchling, and his whole dependence was on the individual who feeds him. Even when you walk through the door you hear this, gnack, gnack, gnack sound, right? So what I had to do was watch him and start to understand the animal. Now, an alligator is not too hard to understand, a brain about the size of a dime. So, instead of trying to bond with him on the level that I would bond with any warm-blooded creature, I started to get into programming him, and this came through vibrations. So feeding time you would have two vibrations, two taps on his tank. And when it was time to clean his tank, it was three taps. So, as he started to age and get up in size, this program I created with him became much easier, and now you have this big alligator in the middle of the floor. But then you had Ming, who was very curious and would go straight up to the tank. Now, when they both got tired of each other, either Ming would walk away or Al would give him a big hissing sound and he’d go the opposite way. But it was very interesting watching the two predatory animals from completely opposite sides of the coin interact, and these are some of the things that took place inside of this apartment.”
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