Tiger Ranch: Exhibit A for hoarding as a psychiatric disorder

Pennsylvania's most notorious animal abuser, Linda Bruno, is featured in a compelling Associated Press story examining the nexus between animal hoarders and "rescuers" and detailing efforts by researchers to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to include "hoarding" in its diagnostic list.

Readers may recall Bruno ran Tiger Ranch, a "no-kill" rescue known throughout the Eastern seaboard and as far west as Indiana as a safe haven for unwanted and feral cats.

Hardly. As the AP piece by Sue Manning notes, Tiger Ranch was in reality a feline death camp, that took in 7,000 cats over just one 14-month period and adopted out a grand total of 23.

It was only through the dogged work of the Pennsylvania SPCA under the leadership of then-chief executive Howard Nelson - who was castigated by Bruno supporters, who charged the PSPCA was engaged in a "witch hunt" - that nearly 400 cats - most of them suffering from painful diseases - were at last rescued from Bruno's filthy property outside Pittsburgh in 2008.

The article doesn't mention that Bruno is also a case study in the 100 percent recidivism rate that ensures even when a hoarder is caught and punished they will all but certainly hoard again. Bruno was thrown in jail last year after they found she was collecting cats again, violating terms of her probation -- chief among which was that she could have no cats.

Here's how the article opens:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Linda Bruno called her Pennsylvania cat rescue the land of milk and tuna. It thrived for years as people sent pets they couldn't care for from hundreds of miles away - unaware it was a death camp for cats.

Investigators who raided the place two years ago found killing rooms, mass graves so thick they couldn't take a step without walking on cat bones and a stunning statistic: Bruno had taken in over 7,000 cats in the previous 14 months, but only found homes for 23.

In doing so, she had become a statistic herself, one of an increasing number of self-proclaimed rescuers who have become animal hoarders running legal and often nonprofit charities.

Rescues and shelters now make up a quarter of the estimated 6,000 new hoarding cases reported in the U.S. each year, said Dr. Randall Lockwood, ASPCA's senior vice president of forensic sciences and anticruelty projects.

"When I first started looking into this 20 years ago, fewer than 5 percent would have fit that description," Lockwood said.

Hoarding itself is not a crime in most states, but cruelty is and both can start around the same time - when one more animal becomes one too many. Rescuers take in rejected, abandoned, abused or stray pets. Some come from municipal shelters as they are about to be euthanized.

It remains a mystery how someone goes from trying to rescue animals to stockpiling them in inhumane conditions without food, water or basic care. No single trigger has been found, but dementia, addiction, attachment disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other psychological problems are often blamed.

"The root of it is really nothing to do with animals. It's to do with people's heads and how they work," said Gregory Castle, co-founder and chief executive officer of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah.

The focus on hoarding of all kind has intensified in recent years due to widely publicized cases and television shows about it. The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University is urging the American Psychiatric Association to include animal hoarding in its next update to its diagnostic bible.