August 18, 2015
The Hoarding Animals Research Consortium defines animal hoarding as having more than the typical number of companion animals; an inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death for companion animals; and the denial of both the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and the human occupants of the home.
Nearly 250,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding each year. Unlike other types of animal cruelty, the perpetrators don't always accept or recognize the cruelty animal hoarding inflicts on their animals — rather, animal hoarders often believe they are saving or rescuing the animals they imprison.
Victims of animal hoarding
How does it cause animal suffering?
Animals in hoarding conditions often suffer extreme neglect, including lack of food, proper veterinary care and sanitary conditions. Officers investigating hoarding situations often find floors, furniture and counters covered with animal feces and urine, as well as insect and rodent infestations. In extreme cases, decaying animal carcasses are found among the living animals.
Are there other concerns?
Aside from animal suffering, animal hoarding presents serious health hazards for the human occupants of the home. The unsanitary conditions present in hoarding situations can attract insects and rodents, which threatens neighboring households.
Animal hoarding can also place a tremendous strain on overburdened animal shelters, which lack the space or resources to deal with an influx of animal hoarding victims, many of whom are in dire need of medical attention. Holding these animals pending the outcome of a court case might displace otherwise adoptable animals and lead to euthanasia.
Addressing the issues
There is a general consensus that hoarding disorders are a result of psychological and neurological conditions which may involve dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Treatment is often difficult and typically includes a combination of cognitive-behavioral and drug therapies.
Removing animals from a hoarding situation can temporarily help solve the problem, but without long-term intervention, animal hoarding has a nearly 100 percent recidivism rate. It is recommended that animal control, social service agencies and health and housing agencies work together to treat each animal hoarding situation as a long-term project. Intervention should also involve the family of the hoarder and members of the community.
The animal cruelty laws of all states have provisions stipulating minimum care standards for animals. Legislation has been enacted in a few states to specifically address animal hoarding. If an animal hoarder is unwilling to accept help and the animals' conditions do not warrant animal cruelty charges, non-animal agencies can try to force change. For example, fire departments can cite hoarders for fire code violations, health departments can intervene where there are disease issues and housing code violations and county zoning boards can step in when there are local ordinances regarding the number of animals a person can house.
The HSUS recommends that convicted animal hoarders be sentenced to psychological evaluation and treatment and that they be restricted to keeping a small number of animals — two is reasonable. A lengthy probation period, during which the hoarder must agree to periodic, unannounced visits from animal control to ensure compliance, is vital to preventing a relapse of prior conditions.
In cases where animal suffering is extreme, we favor punitive measures which align with the psychological capacity of the animal hoarder, up to and including jail time. It is crucial that those engaged in hoarding understand the serious nature of their actions to ensure that the cycle of suffering ends.
Read "Rescued from Squalor," from All Animals magazine, July/August 2010.
Watch our free webinar "The Tipping Point: Spotting an Animal Hoarder" and see how to tell a rescue from a hoarder.