Compulsive Hoarding
Kathryn is a high school social studies teacher, has a 13-year-old daughter and a fiancé. Her life looks put together, but behind closed doors, things are out of control.

With 81 cats and six dogs, her pets are taking over her life. The stench of more than 30 litter boxes permeates the house. And Kathryn spends more than $200 a week on the cats, buying 18 pounds of food every two days and six boxes of cat litter a week.

Kathryn's animal hoarding problem started to develop 10 years ago when she was a single mother and thought she would be alone for the rest of her life. She says the cats gave her a sense of purpose and filled a void in her life. "I'm attached to every cat," she says. "All of my animals are named...I don't want to part with any of them really."

But Kathryn knows she is in "heavy denial."

"I thought I was going to be able to handle so many animals, but obviously it's not working out," she says. "I'm maybe not in control of my life."
Kathryn and her family
Kathryn's animal hoarding is hurting her daughter, Margie, and affecting her relationship with her fiancé, Ron. Margie has lived with the cats all of her life, but says Ron knows it's not normal. Although he met Kathryn after the hoarding began, he "just thought this would be an issue that we would have to work on," he says.

Margie: I don't really have a lot of friends over because I am embarrassed to have 81 cats and six dogs.

Ron: Having so many animals has put a hold on us getting married. I know it's going to hurt her to give a lot of them up. They have been her babies. But it's time for a change.

Kathryn: The reality is I don't want to live like this anymore. I'm hoping that I'll be able to part with them. I don't know how I got here. What the heck was I thinking? Jeez.
Dr. Sheldon Rubin
Dr. Sheldon Rubin is veterinarian to Oprah's two pups. According to Dr. Rubin, two or three animals is the maximum number of pets to have in a small home in order to take care of them properly.

"When you take that many cats and put them into that small of a square-footage area, there are going to be problems," Dr. Rubin says. "They are really very territorial and they have this zone around them that's very, very important to make a good social environment."

Dr. Rubin says it would be much better to leave that animal as a homeless animal outside than putting it into a stressful environment where it will not get the attention it needs.

"One person can't take care of 81 cats and give that kind of [individual] time," Dr. Rubin says. "That cat will always be shy and will live under a piece of furniture or under somebody's bed for [its] entire life."
Dr. David Tolin
Dr. David Tolin is the director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at The Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital. Dr. Tolin says that although Kathryn is a typical animal hoarder, he points out she still has fewer pets than many other animal hoarders do. Also, he sees hope because the cats appear to be in somewhat good health, which is also a little different from a lot of animal hoarders. All of her cats have been spayed, neutered and tested for feline leukemia, and are legally adoptable.

Dr. Tolin: Kathryn's got...people around her who want to help. But at the same time, you've got to look at what it is that you're doing. You're pushing those people away and drawing yourself into that cat world which is only going to get worse...I hope that you are at the point where you're recognizing that the cats have got to go.

Oprah: Look at what you're doing to your daughter.

Kathryn: That's the killer. Definitely. I have come to the realization that this has to happen, as painful as it might be.

And because Kathryn's local animal shelter can only place a limited number of animals up for adoption, we've arranged for the Oregon Humane Society ( to take in all of her cats! They are a no-kill shelter and will find all the cats good homes.
Krista in her home
Krista's secret life is hidden behind the red brick façade of a four-bedroom house on a tidy suburban street. Her living room is piled high and used as storage, and two brand new sofas are covered with clothes. Her formal dining room table is completely covered. What was supposed to be the family's game room has been taken over by junk.

"I can't live like this anymore," Krista says. "I can't get rid of stuff. I'm trying. I don't understand it. And it's so frustrating. I just want to be normal. There are so many days, Oprah, I don't even get out of bed. It's so overwhelming."

Krista's children are embarrassed, her friends have abandoned her and her marriage is about to fall apart. "It's almost like I've created a cocoon that the things surrounding me make me feel safe," she explains. "If my husband went and got a dumpster and I came home to an empty house, I honestly would probably kill myself. It's that deep."

Krista knows if she doesn't get help, her life, like her house, will remain in shambles.
Bruce, Krista and Oprah
Krista first realized her need to hoard was out of control about five years ago. Although Krista did hoard before she and Bruce were married, it wasn't a major problem until they moved into a bigger house.

"I thought [a bigger house] would help, [give her] some more space; help Krista feel good about her have some time to hopefully go through things," Bruce says.

Krista even stopped working to stay at home with the children, believing that being near the clutter would encourage her to clean up.

"I was hopeful that [staying at home] would help, but it really hasn't," Bruce says. "Even with her staying home and having time."
Dr. David Tolin
Dr. Tolin says hoarding is a disorder akin to emotional eating or taking drugs. "It's similar, particularly in the sense that it builds up so slowly that you don't even notice," he says. Compulsive hoarding "builds up slowly and you don't notice it at first and you go, 'Well, it's a little messy' and the next thing you know it's out of control."

Dr. Tolin says he will go to Krista's home to help her get started on cleaning.

"The idea is it gets the ball rolling," he says. "I think that Krista...has really taken a good first step here acknowledging that she has a problem and needs help. That's more than a lot of people with hoarding ever do. But then once we've done that, then you've got to keep the ball rolling. This is a lifetime of work that you're setting yourself up for. And you never reach a point where you say 'I'm done'."

More from Dr. Tolin: