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Social Worker to Appear on Animal Planet’s “Confessions: Animal Hoarding”

Carolyn, who appeared on the second season of Confessions: Animal Hoarding, collected 70 dogs although they hurt her husband. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

“Confessions: Animal Hoarding,” a popular Animal Planet documentary series that follows people who are obsessed with collecting dogs, cats and other animals, will feature a National Association of Social Workers member in at least three episodes that begin airing in August, executive producer Dan Jackson told us.

Mark Gaynor, MSW, ACSW, will be shown helping clients trying to overcome this compulsion, Jackson said. Gaynor is an individual and couple psychotherapist in New Haven, Conn., who specializes in weight control issues. Gaynor has also had several clients who hoarded objects or animals such as cats and ferrets.

“We met Mark and we liked him,” he said. “We felt he had a great energy and we felt his experience and knowledge was a good fit for the show.”

Gaynor, 61, said “Confessions: Animal Hoarding” staff located him through his involvement with the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. He said dealing with hoarding clients can be stressful for therapists and film crews working with the show due to the odor from so many animals in close quarters and the sight of sick animals.

However Gaynor, who has been a professional social worker for 35 years, said the experience is not so bad for him because he grew up in crowded New York City, visited gritty neighborhoods in the city, and worked with abused children as a paraprofessional.

“I guess there is not a whole lot out there that shocks me,” he said.

Mark Gaynor

Researchers believe animal hoarding can be reaction to some traumatic event in a person’s life. Gaynor agreed, but also said the condition could be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder or autism.

Those who hoard often keep animals in filthy surroundings, may be oblivious to the fact animals are poorly fed or sick, and are fiercely resistant to attempts to remove them.”When you deal with these people there is a boatload of other dysfunctional things going on,” Jackson said. “The animals are often a solution to a deeper problem.”

Researchers have been studying animal hoarding since at least 1981, according to The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, an organization dedicated to finding solutions to this poorly understood mental condition.

Now the issue is getting attention on the airwaves. A&E, Animal Planet and TLC all have reality programs that spotlight hoarding.

 Animal Planet approached GRB Entertainment about doing an animal hoarding show after seeing how well “Hoarders” was doing on A&E, said Jackson, who works for GRB.

GRB Entertainment specializes in reality programs and documentaries. Its  portfolio includes “Intervention” on A&E and “Untold Stories of the ER” on TLC and Discovery Fit and Health.

 “Confessions: Animal Hoarding” has performed well, attracting nearly a million viewers last January. Animal Planet ordered six initial shows to test the program, then 10 episodes, and now an additional dozen, Jackson said.

The hoarders shown on the program are not just the stereotypical elderly cat ladies, Jackson said. They come from all age groups and economic strata, he said.

In the new season Gaynor will be in scenes where he shown working with a California man with 13 dogs who must live in his truck because his house in uninhabitable; a Texas family struggling to cope with nine dogs and more than 30 cats; and a New Jersey couple with about 30 cats.

“Confessions: Animal Hoarding” staff try their best to help hoarders, Jackson said. Producers enlist therapists and social workers such as Gaynor to help hoarders understand and overcome their problem behavior.

Hoarders also fear their pets will be euthanized so the program works with reputable animal welfare organizations to find homes for the animals.”When you give them an out a lot of times they give up (the animals),” Jackson said.

Gaynor hopes his role on the program will promote the social work profession, give the public a better idea of the services social workers provide, educate the public about animal hoarders and make people more sympathetic to their plight.

“I feel for the people as well as the animals,” he said. “They are overwhelmed. They are living in an uncomfortable psychological and physical space.”

Social workers were some of the first professionals to recognize and study hoarding. Gail Steketee, dean of the Boston University School of Social Work, is one of the leading experts on the issue. Click here to read to read her article about hoarding on NASW’s “Help Starts Here” consumer Website. A good resource on hoarding for social workers and other mental health professionals as well as the public is “The Hoarding Handbook: A Guide for Human Service Professionals,” which was authored by Christiana Bratiotis, Gail Steketee and Cristina Sorrentino Schmalisch.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for bring this issue to our attention.

    I’m a researcher for the series Confessions: Animal Hoarding, currently airing on Animal Planet that tells the stories of people overwhelmed by the number of pets they own. The problem is on the rise and affect communities across America.

    If you are concerned about the health of animals in someone’s care and suspect they may be hoarding them, we might be able to help.

    I wanted to add that people can find out more about our show or submit someone they know by visiting http://www.animalhoardingproject.com Alternatively, contact us directly at help@animalhoardingproject.com or toll-free at 1 -877-698-7387.

    We will treat all submissions with confidentiality and respect.

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