Animal Hoarders Fill Homes With Dozens of Pets

Animal Hoarders Fill Homes With Dozens of Pets

It's become a strange staple of the local news cycle. Men and women, young and old, with an addiction unlike any other.

They are people with an overwhelming need to collect, and even control, animals.

"I won't let them go outside and run and get hit by a car or maybe find something and get poisoned," said animal lover Bonnie, who requested that her last name not be used. "No. And if that's cruel, I am guilty."

Hidden World of Women Addicted to Cats

"I look at it and I think how did it get this way?" said Don, a cat lover who asked to be identified by his first name. "How did I let it get this way?"

Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

Watch "Confessions: Animal Hoarding" premiering on Animal Planet Wednesday, July 21 at 9 p.m. ET

The difference with animal hoarding is that this drug can love you back.

"They mean more to me than any human could," said Bonnie. "People stab you in the back, an animal won't."

At one time Bonnie had more than a hundred pets. Animal control took them all away -- and she immediately began acquiring more.

"I don't like to go shopping, unless it's a pet store," Bonnie said. "When I go into a pet store, it's like, I'm home. I don't care if I don't have a morsel to eat, my dogs will eat."

Hoarders Start Small

In any given year, thousands of Americans hoard more than a quarter of a million animals.

Animal lovers like Don. What started as a few cats for him soon became more than 30.

"One day you look down and you've got 30 pairs of eyes looking at you going, 'Are you goin to feed me?'" Don said.

He overcame an addiction to methamphetamines and has seemingly replaced one habit with another.

"The hardest thing to do is ask for help, because then you are saying whatever's happened in my life I'm out of control of, I can't deal with it on my own," he said.

His wife, just out of the hospital because of kidney disease, is at elevated risk of infection. Because of the kitty mess, she hasn't been home for six months.

"Junk. Everywhere," Don noted. "'Cause we just can't seem to clean it up. That's cat urine on the bottom of the refrigerator. That's the stove. There's cat urine on the wall. On our washer."

But among animal hoarders, it's Janice who takes the prize, with 97 dogs and 15 cats crowded into her tiny trailer.

Like Don, her relationship with her animals is threatening her marriage.

Animal Hoarders: 'My Dogs Are Like My Kids'

"I don't think you'd want to sleep with 20 dogs, 30 dogs and on a daily basis," said Janice's husband, who also is named Don. "And it just, you know, [I'm] tired of it. I slept in that camper to be able to get sleep."

Janice, who lives in Virginia, began breeding Yorkshire terriers, but she eventually added more breeds and stopped selling the puppies. She lived that way for 12 years.

"My dogs are like my kids," she said. "They're all sweet dogs. They're just incredible."

Caring for her "kids" is a full-time, exhausting job.

"It's constantly all day long that I have to just keep going behind them and, you know, and filling the water back up, picking the paper back up, you know putting new paper down," she said.

Still, the trailer is never clean or quiet.

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