It’s a disturbing and apparently a growing problem in the Garden State: animal hoarding that spirals out of control.

Earlier this week animal cruelty charges were filed against a Hopatcong man after 47 dogs were discovered in his home, living in their own filth, severely dehydrated, many with puncture wounds from fighting.

Last week a Howell couple was charged with more than 550 counts of animal cruelty after 276 dogs were found in their house living in what were described as inhumane living conditions, and we also learned about 28 dogs living in their own feces, urine and dirt in two separate homes in Jackson Township.

Other shocking animal hoarding cases have also been in the news in recent months, including the story of 19 cats found living in squalor right before Christmas, some burrowing through the walls of the West New York home where they were rescued by officials wearing protective environmental suits because the stink and stench was so bad.

So what in the world is going on here?

According to psychologist Dr. Steven Tobias, the director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown, many times hoarders will gradually collect more and more animals because of some unfulfilled emotional need.

“Obviously it’s not rational what they’re doing, it’s not in the animal’s best interest, it’s certainly not in their owners best interest,” he said.

Tobias explained that irrational beliefs may be a part of the mix in many instances.

“Whether it’s an obsessive kind of thing, whether they have a need to feel loved, to have things, and that’s why they’re collecting these animals, they’re not trying to hurt anyone, but ultimately, obviously that’s what happens," he said.

“The individuals involved are not able to see what they’re doing, and I don’t think I would doubt their love for the animals, an emotional connection to the animals. But the problem is obviously that what they’re doing ultimately isn’t good for the animals or good for them,” he said. “It’s really shocking as to the degree to which human beings can engage in denial and not see what it is that they’re actually doing.”

Tobias added animal hoarding can begin quite innocently.

“You know, kind of like you have a couple and you think it’s cute and sweet and whatever, and then you keep getting more and more until you’re overwhelmed but you’re not able to see it or deal with it,” he said. “Clearly it’s not behavior that’s within the normal range.”

He said in many cases, the hoarder can no longer perceive the reality of their situation in a rational manner.

“That’s what feelings do, feelings interfere with thinking, and the more intense the emotion the harder it is to sometimes deal with reality, and to think about solving a situation or a problem in a productive manner,” he said.

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