Websters dictionary defines hoarding as "to gather or accumulate a hidden fund or supply stored for future use." A wonderful concept when storing food for the winter from a Fall harvest. But when a person begins hoarding animals - it's a recipe for cruelty.

My sister, Gracie, was rescued from a hoarder. It was the Winter of 2006 in Seymour, Indiana. A well meaning individual had accumulated over 70 dogs and was keeping them at her farm. Well meaning, turned into overwhelmed. She was unable to care for all of these dogs. Consequently, they were neglected with little or no human contact. They were starving, and badly in need of health care.

Thankfully these dogs where rescued. But sadly because of their living conditions, all of the 50 adult dogs where euthanized for extreme health issues and aggression. A kindly veterinarian agreed to take in the 20 puppies that were part of this large pack. The puppies were listed on Petfinder.com, and that's when Mum found Gracie.

Gracie has had and still has issues to overcome because of how she grew up in the horrific hoarding situation. Initially she was terrified of cars and trucks, had an aversion to men, was and still sometimes constantly searches the house and yard for food. She loves humans, but doesn't completely trust them and sometimes gets stressed around too many people.

It has taken her a long time to bond with my Mum. But she is doing very well after two years. She's healthy, happy, has no fear of men or machines, and is bonding more and more with Mum, everyday. Mum helps Gracie cope when around a large group of people.

Luckily, Gracie turned out to be the sweetest, most affectionate pup that Mum has ever known. She loves people and other dogs- from ages 2 to 92 - and loves showing them how much. Growing up in a large pack of dogs, Gracie has shown her expert abilities at dog inter-relationships. Mum and I learn about dog behavior from her everyday.

Not too long ago, Gracie performed at a children's birthday party, entertaining five year olds with her tricks, agility and water activities. And this weekend she will be competing in a USDAA agility trial, after a year hiatus to work through her stress from all the high level activity that exudes at trials!

According to the Randall Lockwood, the HSUS vice president for Research and Educational Outreach, "hoarding is very often a symptom of a greater mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. For most hoarders, it is likely that their actions are the result of a true pathology, even though they are still usually able to function quite well in society."

And Best Friend says, "some (hoarders) are kindly cat ladies who take in more strays than they can handle. Others see themselves as rescuers, the only ones who can save the animals from certain euthanasia. And some are sociopaths, people who have no empathy for animals, or other people for that matter; they are master manipulators with a need to control."

But one thing is certain, all hoarders have one thing in common, denial. And they need help.

Thankfully there are many rescue organizations like the Humane Society of the US and Best Friends who help rescue the hundreds of cats, dogs and other animals that are hoarded by individuals all over the country throughout the year. But there are thousands more animals that continue to be hoarded, neglected and live in horrific conditions.

Best Friends Sandy Miller says, "one thing all the hoarding experts agree on is that there must be an interdisciplinary approach to treating hoarders, in which animal protection agencies, social service agencies, therapists and the courts work together. You can’t just take the hoarder’s animals away and be done with it. You have to get to the root of the problem."

We agree.

For more information about hoarding, please visit these resources:

Behind Closed Doors: The Horrors of Animal Hoarding
The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium