Written by Dotty Winters


“Am I an animal hoarder in waiting?”

How many pets is too many pets? “Good question,” mumbles veteran pet fanatic Dotty Winters from beneath a pile of cats, rabbits and legwarmer-wearing dogs.

One of Dotty’s cats and a hedgehog.

One of Dotty’s cats and a hedgehog.

This afternoon, I was napping on the sofa (shut up, I was working from home), and awoke to find a programme called Animal Hoarders on the telly. The programme was fascinating and appalling in equal measure, chronicling the very real struggles of people whose homes, lives and health have been taken over by too many pets.

The hoarding behaviour shown was compulsive and damaging both to the animals and their humans. Treatment is tricky and highly emotional, often links back to earlier life experiences, and frequently results in animals being removed, rehomed, or even put down.

As the programme ended I wonder how on earth things had got so far out of control for these people. I sat up, gently removed a sleeping bunny from my knee, stepped over a sprawled cat and reached around another cat to turn the telly off. When I sat back down the dog was looking at me, head tipped to one side, ears up. I hate it when the dog has a point.

Dotty’s dog. In legwarmers.

Dotty’s dog. In legwarmers.

I am very clear that the animals in my life aren’t having a negative impact on me, and that they are all content and in ruddy health. Our pets are treated like pets: the dog isn’t allowed on the sofa, none are spoken to in a baby voice and, much like the children, none regularly wear clothes. They are, however, much loved and very much part of our family life. I can’t really imagine us without them. But even that woman with 99 cats must have started somewhere. Am I an animal hoarder in waiting?

The current non-human residents of my house are:

• One elderly dog with dementia (mostly fine, but wanders a bit and can’t work dog-chews any more – she just barks at them and buries them in the dressing up box)
• Two cats. One good, one evil, like all twins
• One extremely assertive rabbit who refuses his hutch and lives between the house and garden using the cat flap.

This is not an overly excessive number, but it’s also not the most pets we’ve ever had. Over the last 15 years we’ve also had:

• A number of rabbits
• A pygmy hedgehog
• Four ducks (one of which also used the cat flap)
• Another cat
• Up to 14 large fish tanks
• One slightly brain-damaged squirrel with such severe vertigo that it couldn’t survive in the wild ‘cos it kept falling out of trees.

This list doesn’t include the endless stream of tadpoles, triops, caterpillars and other ‘experiments’ that have lived in our house.

“When we were at ‘Peak-Fishtank’, I regularly had to chase mudskippers across the garden to round them up. (Pro tip: If you want to keep fish, don’t choose fish that have teeth and can run faster than you.)”

At the moment I’m very aware that all our current pets are a bit ancient and have already started thinking about what we might ‘need’ next – I’ve been looking into adopting some rats, but the paperwork from the rescue centre is only slightly less complex than the forms I filled in to adopt a child.

Aside from a slight need to always know what our next pet will be, the only other evidence that I may have a hoarding predisposition is that when I go to the zoo I am less likely to say “Oooh, look at that” than “Ooooh, can I have one of those?”

A rabbit called Parsley.

A rabbit called Parsley.

Having animals in your life can be constraining, but also puts you in circumstances which you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience:

• When we were at ‘Peak-Fishtank’, I regularly had to chase mudskippers across the garden to round them up. (Pro tip: If you want to keep fish, don’t choose fish that have teeth and can run faster than you.)
• More than once I’ve reached into my handbag at work to get something and found a hedgehog in there (not since she died, obviously; that would be awful).
• Just about the most I’ve ever laughed was when the squirrel curled up on the dog’s head and made her look like Davy Crockett.

Would I have one hundred pets, if I had the time, money and space? Hell yeah. Do I have them yet? No sir. All my pets are well cared for, and unlike our esteemed Prime Minister I’ve never left any living thing I am responsible for in the pub by accident. I think I am safe for now, and anyway I haven’t got time to worry about it. I have rat admin to complete.


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.