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The Humane Society of the United States

What is animal hoarding?

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 usually ardently believe they are saving or rescuing the animals they imprison.

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.

Watch our video on Lola, a rescued victim of animal hoarding, to learn more about how animal hoarding causes animal suffering.

Are there other concerns?

Aside from animal suffering, animal hoarding presents health hazards for the human occupants of the home. The filthy conditions under which animal hoarders live attract insects and rodents, which can threaten neighboring households.

Animal hoarding can also place a tremendous strain on already-overburdened animal shelters, which lack the space or resources to deal with an influx of hundreds of rescued 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.

Treatment options

There is a general consensus that animal hoarding is a symptom of psychological and neurological malfunctioning, which might involve dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Treatment is difficult and has a low rate of success. Typically, experts recommend a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychopharmacological intervention.

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 also should involve the family of the hoarder and members of the community.

Charging options

The animal cruelty laws of all states have provisions stipulating minimal care standards for animals. Legislation has been enacted in a few states specifically addressing 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.

Sentencing options

The HSUS recommends that convicted animal hoarders be sentenced to mandatory psychological evaluation and treatment and that they be restricted to owning 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. Depending on the psychological capacity of the animal hoarder, in cases where animal suffering is extreme, we favor jail time--both as a punitive measure and a way to help hoarders understand the serious nature of their actions.

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