Animal Hoarding Is A Complex, Difficult Issue

March 9, 2019

When I was a child, we had a neighbor who reportedly harbored many animals in her home. I never saw any, however. There were many dogs and cats behind those walls who never saw the light of day. When the woman passed away, many animals were seized. I was horrified to learn that there were also deceased animals that had not been properly disposed of. It was a horrific mess. I also knew a woman who had many, many dogs. More than she could properly care for. The dogs were kept in crates and would potty on her outside deck. It was no life for a dog. The woman was reported and eventually the dogs were seized and relocated. It was a very sad and tragic situation. Defining hoarding Animal hoarding is a complex and intricate issue with far-reaching effects that encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns. Animals “collected” by hoarders range in species from cats and dogs to reptiles, rodents, birds, exotics and even farm animals. The following criteria are used to define animal hoarding: — An individual possesses more than the typical number of companion animals. — The individual is unable to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death. — The individual is in denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling. This definition comes from the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, an independent group of academic researchers based in Massachusetts. The full definition and more info can be found at vet.tufts.edu/hoarding. Why it happens It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Early research pointed toward a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorders, but newer studies and theories lead toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression, or other mental illnesses. Some animal hoarders began collecting after a traumatic event or loss, while others see themselves as “rescuers” who save animals from lives on the street or euthanasia in shelters. How to tell Animal hoarders often appear intelligent and clearly believe they are helping their animals. In addition, many hoarders possess the ability to garner sympathy and to deceive others into thinking their situation is under control. They often are blind to the fact that their animals are suffering under their care, or lack therof. Animal hoarders range in age, and can be men or women of any race or ethnic group. Elderly people may be more at risk, due to their own deteriorating health and isolation from community and social groups. One commonality between all hoarders is a failure to grasp the severity of their situation and be willing to change. Signs that may indicate someone is an animal hoarder: — They have numerous animals and may not even know the total number of animals in their care. — Their home is deteriorated (i.e., dirty windows, broken furniture, holes in wall and floor, extreme clutter). — There is a strong smell of ammonia, and floors may be covered with dried feces, urine, vomit, etc. — Animals are emaciated, lethargic and not well socialized. — Fleas and vermin are present. — Individual is isolated from community and appears to be in neglect of himself/herself. — Individual insists all animals are happy and healthy, even when there are clear signs of distress, illness, and neglect. Masquerading as a rescue group Research shows many hoarders are beginning to set themselves up as “rescue shelters,” complete with non-profit status. They may appear to be sensible people, persuasively conveying their love for animals and readiness to take those who are sick and with special needs. Here are several signs that a rescue group or shelter may involve a hoarder: — The group is unwilling to let visitors see the location where animals are kept. — The group will not disclose the number of animals in its care, and makes little effort to adopt animals out. — More animals are continually taken in, despite the poor condition of existing animals. — Legitimate shelters and rescue organizations are viewed as the enemy. Animals may be received at a remote location (parking lot, street corner, etc.) rather than at the group’s facilities. Legal outcomes Criminal prosecution of animal hoarding can be a difficult process and may not be the most effective route. Such cases are difficult to successfully prosecute and, once litigation ends, the hoarder is likely to resume collecting an excessive number of animals unless closely monitored. Some say prosecution isn’t the answer because hoarders are often emotionally troubled rather than criminally inclined. In some cases, judges can impose conditions that actually help the hoarder, such as by requiring counseling, or by prohibiting the person from having animals. Hoarding legislation Animal hoarding is covered implicitly under every state’s animal cruelty statute, which typically requires caretakers to provide sufficient food, water and veterinary care. Only two states, Illinois and Hawaii, currently have statutory language specifically addressing animal hoarding. How you can help Not everyone who has multiple animals is an animal hoarder. However, if you think someone you know is struggling with animal hoarding, here are some ways you can help: Call your local humane law enforcement department, police department, animal welfare organization or veterinarian to initiate the process. Contact social service groups. They may be able to provide services or links to services. Reassure the animal hoarder that it’s OK to accept help. Animal hoarders are usually worried that their animals will be killed or that they will never see them again. Regardless of the outcome, assure them that the animals need urgent care and that immediate action is necessary. Volunteer your time. With the removal of so many animals from a hoarding situation, the burden on local shelters can be staggering. Volunteer your time to help clean cages, socialize animals, walk dogs and perform other such necessary duties. Do not be judgmental of the alleged violator. Instead be pro-active and move forward, helping both the individual and the animals in need. Dog bless. Resource: www.aspca.org Judy Endo writes about pets. Contact her at judyendo@outlook.com.