Welcome, Deborah Thompson!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Deborah Thompson, whose essay collection Animal Disorders will be published this fall. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 


The Author


Deborah Thompson is a Professor of English at Colorado State University, where teaches literature and creative nonfiction. She has published numerous creative and critical essays, and has won the Missouri Review and Iowa Review awards in creative nonfiction, as well as a Pushcart prize. She is the author of Pretzel, Houdini, and Olive: Essays on the Dogs of My Life, published by Red Hen Press, and is working on a nonfiction book on mythologies of dogs in American culture.


On Writing Animal Disorders


I wrote the essays in this book as a response to what I came to call “animal disorders”: the impossibly and irreconcilably contradictory relationships humans have with other (nonhuman) animals. Extreme forms are easily recognizable: A man cages lions and tigers in his backyard; a woman’s house teems with so many cats that she’s lost count and doesn’t even notice when one dies; a man longing to become one with bears gets devoured by one. But more mundane and plentiful contradictions often go unnoticed: people condemning cock-fighting as cruel might eat chicken raised cruelly on factory farms; we euthanize hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs every year while spending millions of dollars on a wanted few; researchers “sacrifice” one dog to save another; an animal rights advocate may condemn animal cruelty in research laboratories but receive radiation therapy treatments first tested out on beagles; a woman who considers herself a vegetarian feeds her dogs meat. 

Finding myself very much enmeshed in these contradictions—I am the vegetarian who feeds her dogs meat—I wrote this series of essays to try to make sense of my own disordered relationships with (nonhuman) animals. Alongside my own, I also try to think through other, related animal disorders I’ve seen over the past fifty odd years of my middle-class American culture. I lift the cover and peek into practices like pet-keeping, animal research, hoarding and rescuing, anthropomorphizing, and more. The essays that resulted deliver dispatches from one representative sufferer of animal disorders. 




Exotics animal ownership in the U.S. is far more common than you might think. There are more tigers in captivity in just the U.S. today than exist in the wild world-wide. Across this country, backyards and garages and basements hold exotics of all kinds: lions and tigers and bears, of course, but also giraffes, zebras, chimpanzees, hyenas, gazelles, lynx, kangaroos, and a surprising number of orangutans, lemurs, alligators, cobras, pythons, pangolins, and Komodo dragons. Just for starters. The breeding and trade of exotics is big business, and while it’s largely gone underground now due to increasing regulations, it’s still thriving. The animals, of course, rarely thrive. 

Now increasingly understood as a mental illness, exotic animal hoarding has been linked with other forms of hoarding. Hoarding Disorder (HD) is now an official diagnosis in the DSM-5. Although animal hoarding is not listed as a subtype, many mental health researchers find most cases of animal hoarding to fit well within this diagnostic classification, which also links it with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s not the number of animals kept that defines animal hoarding but their condition. Multiple animal ownership becomes hoarding when a person can no longer provide proper nutrition or sanitation. Usually, the hoarder fails to see the abuse caused by such conditions, even when animals are starving and disease-ridden, or even living among dead animals whose carcasses have not been removed. 

Statistically, hoarders of exotic animals are more likely to be male. They’re closely related, though, to the statistically female hoarders of domestic animals, most commonly dogs and cats. I get that chill of strange familiarity, similar to the one over the Zanesville incident, when I hear of the old widow found with dozens of malnourished cats in her house, the sting of ammonia in the air so pungent that Animal Control rescuers require gas masks. Or the woman whose private rescue shelter got out of hand and she could no longer keep up with the care and feeding of her fifteen dogs, but couldn’t bear to give any up, and had to be restrained while they were forcibly taken. Such hoarders love their animals beyond measure, beyond reason. Wrong as they are, they truly believe they are rescuers. 

I get hints of how they feel when, from time to time, I scan the websites of animal shelters to see what new dogs are up for adoption. Just to look. There are always more dogs than “forever homes,” and I understand the urge, deeper than hunger, to save them all.