In recent years, the issue of animal hoarding has been spotlighted in media, and awareness of this issue has increased. This complex behavior results from psychological and behavioral problems that may limit a person’s ability to care for themselves or others, notes the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, a multidisciplinary group of researchers.
The profile of who might become an animal hoarder, the consortium notes, is not easy to pinpoint. Hoarding knows no age, sex or socioeconomic boundaries. Hoarders do consistently demonstrate impaired judgment, and their actions, or failures to act, likely arise from psychological problems that can ultimately lead to inadequate care for the hoarded animals.
What Defines an Animal Hoarding Situation?
The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium notes the following criteria to define animal hoarding:
- Having more than the typical number of companion animals
- Failing to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in illness and death from starvation, spread of infectious disease, and untreated injury or medical condition
- 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
- Persistence, despite this failure, in accumulating and controlling animals
How Common is Animal Hoarding?
According to the Animal Legal Defense League’s (ALDF) records, in the last four years, the number of reported hoarding cases has more than doubled. The group estimates up to 250,000 animals per year are victims of hoarders. “Hoarding,” the ALDF says, “is the No. 1 animal cruelty crisis facing companion animals in communities throughout the country.”
Aren’t Hoarding Situations Unsanitary?
Yes, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. In addition to the suffering of the animals involved, sometimes a hoarder may also neglect others they are responsible for, including children or the elderly. “Animal hoarding can create severe hazards to the health of the hoarder, family members, and the animals involved,” says the AVMA.
Why Do People Hoard Animals?
Many animal hoarders lack sufficient or satisfactory human relationships, notes the AVMA. And the International OCD Foundation reports that animal hoarding can be compared to obsessive compulsive hoarding of inanimate objects. Recent theories point toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression and other mental illnesses.
In most cases, animal hoarders begin with the good intentions of saving animals. The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium notes that the needs of the animals become lost to the person’s need for control. “The resulting compulsive caregiving is pursued to fulfill unmet human needs, while the real needs of the animals are ignored or disregarded,” the consortium states.
What Can Be Done?
All states have animal cruelty laws that include minimal care standards. In a few states, legislation has been enacted to address animal hoarding. In communities that don’t have laws to help address hoarding, fire and health departments or county zoning boards may have cause to cite violations unrelated to animal cruelty but that can help redress the issue.
If you suspect someone of being an animal hoarder, the AVMA recommends calling your local humane law enforcement department, police department, animal shelter, animal welfare group or veterinarian to report your concerns.