KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In 2002, animal control officers went to a mobile home park on a report of hoarding.
They found 94 cats, four dogs, a rabbit and a ferret in a woman's trailer. An officer, learning one of the dogs was diabetic, opened the refrigerator to check for insulin.
It was filled with dead cats, some in Tupperware containers.
This week, officers carried more than 100 cats out of a woman's house and found 50 or so dead and frozen in a deep freeze, tagged like hamburger.
Delores Metcalf, 56, seems to be a serial cat hoarder.
"She needed help back then, and she didn't get it, and now she's done it again," a woman familiar with the Liberty case said this week.
Perhaps that's because animal hoarding has only recently been looked upon as a mental disorder. It is relatively new to psychological research, and experts struggle to nail it down.
Some researchers link hoarding to childhood trauma. Others say it's an addiction, such as to drugs. Attachment disorder? Obsessive-compulsive disorder? Safety and security issues? Loneliness?
"We're trying to play catch-up," said Ken Weiss, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.The problem is that hoarders typically don't seek treatment. They think nothing is wrong with themselves. The first contact with outsiders is usually with law enforcement.
"So the process has been a legal one, not one of mental health," Weiss said.
But things are changing. They have to, because researchers now say 2 to 5 percent of the population exhibits some signs of hoarding one thing or another.
Gary Patronek of the Animal Rescue League of Boston said the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders — essentially the bible of the American Psychiatric Association — is expected for the first time to include hoarding as a disorder.