What is Animal Hoarding?
Animal hoarding describes a situation in which an individual acquires more animals than can be adequately cared for in a safe environment.
Animal hoarding is defined by having the inability to adequately provide minimal standards of shelter, nutrition, veterinary care, and nutrition. Oftentimes, this results in illnesses, animal starvation, and death. In the majority of cases, these cases encompass public safety concerns, animal welfare, and mental health issues. Animal Hoarders believe they are helping all their animals by rescuing them and ultimately deny their inability to properly care for the pets.
How to Tell if Someone is an Animal Hoarder:
Just because someone may have several pets, does not mean they are animal hoarders. There are key signs that could indicate an animal hoarder:
- Animals are not well-socialized, lethargic, and emaciated
- The individual insists all the animals are healthy and happy – even though there are clear indications of illness and distress
- The owner has several animals and is unsure of how many pets they have in their care
- Fleas and vermin are present
- Their home is deteriorated (i.e. extreme clutter, broken furniture, holes in the wall, dirty windows)
Why Do People Hoard Animals?
Reasons that individuals hoard animals is not a very clearly studied or understood issue. 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. (https://www.aspca.org/helping-people-pets/animal-hoarding/closer-look-animal-hoarding)
Some research suggests that Hoarding animals can be compared to addictive behavior such as gambling and compulsive shopping, in which impulse control is impaired. The hoarders feel a need to get more animals even though they may recognize that it will cause financial, emotional, and physical stress; they are simply unable to control themselves. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583418/)
Why Don’t We Criminalize Animal Hoarders?
Prosecutors are often hesitant to pursue these time-consuming cases because they require finding care for living animals and filing separate charges for each animal victim. So, groups like THLN are trying to push for laws that could end hoarding in other ways.
Mental health agencies, social services, and public authorities are often unable or unwilling to assist in animal hoarding cases because the animal hoarder’s behavior is excused as simply a lifestyle choice and, therefore, not a public health issue. In other cases, mental incompetence had not been established and the social agencies did not pursue a goal of developing a manageable companion animal colony, despite clear risks associated with animal neglect, human injury due to falls, fire, self-neglect, poor nutrition, and poor sanitation. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583418/)
Are Puppy Mills and Animal Hoarding Related?
Animal hoarding and puppy mills are very different, professionals across industries dealing with both of these horrific circumstances believe that the 2 are not necessarily related.
Animal hoarding is typically associated with mentally ill individuals. An individual who hoards animals often appears to be intelligent and clearly believes that they are helping the animals in their care.
Puppy mills, on the other hand, are typically run by individuals who are large-scale breeding, taking advantage of, and knowingly putting animals’ lives at risk for monetary gain.
Read more about Puppy Mills here: https://texashumanenetwork.org/puppy-mills/
How can you help an Animal Hoarder?
The ASPCA gives great recommendations for what to do and how you can help someone you believe to have an animal hoarding problem.
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. A phone call may be the first step to getting hoarders and the animals the help they need.
- Contact social service groups. Your local department of the aging, adult protective services, health departments and other mental health agencies may be able to provide services or links to services.
- Reassure the animal hoarder that it’s okay 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.
- Keep in touch. It may be appropriate for animals to be spayed and neutered and returned to their home if an animal hoarder can provide—or can be aided in providing—care. Under the guidance of an organization, help the individual with daily animal care chores. And if the individual acquires new animals, help ensure that they are spayed/neutered and vaccinated.