IT SEEMS THERE are two sorts of people who are called "cat collectors." The first type collects all things bearing the likenesses of household cats: pictures, jewelry, crockery, bedspreads, sculpture, clothing, Egyptian steles, whiskey bottles in feline shapes. The second kind collects, well, cats -- in large numbers, but without the room or resources to care for them properly.

Such people usually mean well; it's just that they try to take on every stray or suffering cat that comes to their attention. The cats in turn multiply, and in time a situation develops such as that of the 82-year-old Fairfax County woman whose family owns two houses from which nearly 500 cats were removed this week, many dead, most of the rest so sick or feral that they had to be euthanized. "I know I'm the villain," the woman, who has been charged with cruelty to animals and other offenses, told Post reporter Leef Smith. "But if they're saying I'm cruel to animals, that's just not right. . . . They're dear cats. I love them." She does not sound like a villain, but the circumstances are sad and unpleasant.

"There's no such thing as too many cats," said a county police officer, but he was speaking in terms of legal limitations. Neighbors go more by smell and other fairly obvious indexes, and many of them will tell you that there is such a thing as too many cats. John Yetman, chairman of the county's Hoarding Task Force, said "collectors" often don't quite realize how out of hand things have gotten. "There's a point in time when their reason and decision-making alter and they start making bad choices."

Did you know that Fairfax County had a Hoarding Task Force? It deals mostly with things other than animals -- newspapers, magazines, containers, trash, rotting food -- which accumulate to the point where there is no room in a particular dwelling to actually dwell and a genuine hazard exists both for the hoarder and his or her neighbors. The task force offers suggestions for spotting a hoarding situation, but the truth is that we, as a people, generally leave one another to our messes, until moved to action by structural collapse . . . or the desperate wails of hundreds of cats.