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ACT Newsletter – Animal Hoarding

Humane Society of Southern Arizona

Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona’s Newsletter for Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice and Animal Protection Professionals

Volume 1, Number 2
Spring 2001

ACT Newsletter – Animal Hoarding



hoard (hord), n. 1. a supply which is hidden or carefully guarded for future use. -.v.t, v.i.   2. to accumulate or hoard (of). -hoard’er, n.
animal hoarder, n. someone who collects animals beyond their ability to appropriately provide for the animals’ needs.

”To an Animal Control Officer, this is an all too familiar situation.  Each one is as overwhelming as the next and every scene is a repeat.  There has been a shift in terminology over the last few years from “collector” to “hoarder.”  Their modus operandi usually consists of accumulating large quantities of animals, normally dogs and cats…  Current research designates animal collecting / hoarding as a psychological disorder.” –Sgt. Dennis Downing, Pima Animal Control Center

ANIMAL HOARDING: An Under-Recognized Public Health Problem in a Difficult to Study Population

by Gary Patronek, VMD, Ph.D

An animal hoarder is defined as “someone who accumulates a large number of animals; fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care; and fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death) or the environment (severely overcrowded and unsanitary conditions), or the negative impact of the collection on their own health and well-being.”
  • Three quarters of reported hoarders were female.
  •  Nearly half of all hoarders were 60 years or older, 37% were between 40 and 59 years old.
  •  Almost three-quarters of the hoarders were single, divorced, or widowed; just over half lived alone.
  •  Cats were involved in 65% or cases, dogs in 60%, farm animals in 11%, and birds in 11%.  An average of 39 animals were involved in each case, but many cases involved more than 100 animals.
  •  In 80% of the cases, some animals were found dead or in a severe condition; yet in nearly 60% of the cases, the hoarder would not acknowledge the problem.
  •  In 69% of cases, animal feces and urine accumulated in living areas, and over one-quarter of the hoarders’ beds were soiled with feces or urine.
  •  Cases are often protracted and difficult to resolve; even after removal of the animals, resumption of hoarding was common – 60% of hoarders studied were repeat offenders.
  •  There are an estimated 700 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States.

(This information was originally published in Public Health Report, 114(1): 81-87)



There are some characteristics that seem to be shared by hoarders of all kinds, including: emotional attachments to whatever they are hoarding; difficulty making decisions; erroneous beliefs about the nature of that which they hoard; and the avoidance of common behaviors that might expose the hoarder, such as inviting guests into the home.  However, while behavior may be similar, the motivations behind these behaviors vary widely and are addressed by several proposed behavioral and psychological models.  While all of these models address aspects of a collector’s behavior, keep in mind that collectors vary widely in their attitudes, behavior and symptoms.  It’s also important to remember that these models are not mutually exclusive – several may apply to a single case or individual.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Model – The impulse to amass a large collection of some item or items simply for the sake of collecting it, can be symptomatic of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  People with this syndrome appear to experience an overwhelming sense of responsibility for preventing imagined harm to animals and they engage in unrealistic steps to fulfill this responsibility.  In addition, over 80% of animal hoarders also hoard inanimate objects, a symptom present in 20-30% of OCD patients.

Addiction Model – This model is based on similarities to substance abuse, with signs including a preoccupation with animals, denial of a problem, excuses for the behavior, isolation from society, claims of persecution, neglect of personal and environmental conditions and repetition of the addictive behavior.

Attachment Model – An individual suffers from early developmental deprivation of parental attachment and is unable to establish close human relationships in adulthood.  This could result in the desire for unconditional love from animals which many hoarders display.

Zoophilia Model – This model applies to a small number of hoarding situations, in which animal serve as sexual gratification.  Overall, there is little evidence to support this model as a major determinant of this behavior.  Some cases involving male hoarders have been associated with large collections of pornographic materials.

Need for Power or Control – Most cases of outright animal abuse seem to be motivated by a need to exert power over something on the part of an individual who is often otherwise lacking in skills or abilities that might allow him or her to exert power through more normal channels.

Delusional Model – People who hoard animals often suffer from a highly focused form of delusional disorder.  For example, hoarders often believe they have a special ability to communicate with their animals and also that the animals are actually healthy and well-cared for.  This may be difficult to use in prevention, as many of these people appear normal and healthy outside of their relationship to their animals.


How many hoarders call themselves “rescue groups” to disguise their cruelty and neglect

by Marsh Myers, Director of Education
Humane Society of Southern Arizona, Tucson

In Pima County, it’s happened twice in the last six months.  It will happen again.  During this period, individuals exhibiting the classic signs of animal hoarding have been raided by the authorities and hundreds of animals rescued from filthy, disease-ridden conditions.  In itself, this is not an unusual story.  But then you add a twist: the hoarders attempted to legitimize themselves under the guise of a “rescue group.”In the world of animal welfare, it is frequently a challenge for authorities to identify the different “players” in their community.  Determining which of these groups are legitimate rescue organizations and which are the creations of mentally or emotionally ill persons is an even larger challenge.  In some cases, authorities or local humane organizations may actually use these hoarders’ “services,” unaware that they are placing their animals with a person financially, emotionally and physically incapable of caring for the new arrivals.Fortunately, there are telltale signs that police and animal control can look for that may indicate that the “rescue group” is anything but.  For example:

  •  The “rescue group” is not incorporated as a 501(3)(c) non-profit organization.  Most legitimate rescue organizations will be non-profits and will target specific species or breeds.  If they are a non-profit, their status and policies are a matter of public record and should be produced upon request.  If the group is not an incorporated non-profit organization and will take virtually any kind of animal, a hoarding mentality may be present.
  •  The “rescue group” does not have a Board of Directors, members or staff.  Legitimate non-profit rescue groups are mandated to have a Board of Directors and officers.  Ask for a listing of these individuals, and be wary if the list contains nothing but personal friends and relatives of the group’s administrator.
  •  The facilities of the rescue group are housed on the property or in the house of the “owner” or “administrator.”  Legitimate rescue groups will typically have separate accommodations for their animals, away from human living space.  This is for practical reasons relating to safety and disease control.  If the rescue group’s facilities include cages stacked floor to ceiling in their house or yard – watch out!
  •  The rescue group does not have a veterinarian on contract to assist with medical needs.  Legitimate rescue groups provide excellent medical care.  Hoarders disguising themselves as rescue groups will eschew the involvement of veterinarians, in fear that their animals’ true conditions will be ascertained and their operation shut down.  In some cases, the group’s “administrator” may feel he or she knows how to treat the animal more effectively than a vet does.
  •  The rescue group does not adopt out animals; or their adoptions are so low as be to “tokens.”  The primary goal of legitimate rescue organizations is to find homes for their targeted species or breeds.  If the rescue group is simply stockpiling the animals, then it is by definition a hoarder.
  •  The rescue group does not spay or neuter their animals.  Legitimate rescue groups exist partially to help eliminate the overpopulation problem that makes them necessary in the first place.  If the group does not sterilize its animals, ask why not?
  •  The rescue group practices a very strict “no-kill” policy toward its animals, even terminally ill or severely injured animals.  Although many legitimate rescue groups are no-kill, they will usually make exceptions if the animal cannot be saved or is suffering acutely.  Since hoarders frequently feel they are “saving” animals from shelters that euthanize, the idea of putting down an animal (even for humane reasons) may be repellent to them.
  •  Finally, the rescue group “administrator” and facilities show all the classic signs of a hoarder.  Is the “administrator” of the rescue group prone to paranoia or self-righteousness?  Do the facilities indicate that there are too many animals on the property with little or no care?  Does the “administrator” exhibit an inability to care for himself or herself in terms of personal hygiene, nutrition, finances, etc.?  Are the facilities located in an area zoned for that type of operation? Are human beings living in the same areas and under the same conditions as the animals?

Individually, none of these signs are proof of a hoarding mentality, together they may flag authorities to a potential problem.  Don’t be fooled by the cute names or altruistic statements of these “rescue-hoarders.”  Animals will continue to suffer as long as their façade remains intact.


“Shedding Some Light on Animal Hoarders.”  Animal Sheltering, July-August 1999.

Frost, Robert.  “People Who Hoard Animals.”  Psychiatric Times, April 2000.  Vol. XVII, Issue 4.

Handy Geoffrey.  “Handling Animal Collectors:  Interventions That Work.”   Shelter Sense, May-June 1994.

Handy, Geoffrey.  “Handling Animal Collectors:  Managing a Large-Scale Rescue Operation.”  Shelter Sense, July 1994.

Perry, Tina.  “Loving Animals to Death.”  Animal Issues, Summer 1999.  Vol. 30, No. 2.




Intervention vs. Prosecution:  “All collectors need intervention; all collectors do not necessarily need to be criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”  There are different possible resolutions for animal hoarding situations and none of these solutions will apply across the board.  It is important to understand the profile of the individual collector when deciding how to approach the case.  In many cases, once the animals are removed from the home, future monitoring or the situation as well as assistance from mental health and adult protection professionals may be the best prevention of a future situation.  In other situations, jail time, fines and probation may all be appropriate, as well as legally prohibiting the collector from owning any animals.

Multi-agency approach:
Approach cases in tandem with Adult Protective Services, Health Department, Law Enforcement, and Animal Welfare Agencies.  Belinda Lewis, Director of Animal Control for Ft. Wayne, Indiana:  “I think it’s vital that animal care agencies approach collectors as a mental health problem with assistance from other agencies and not attempt to resolve the cases alone.”

Media Relations: It is very difficult to educate the media to portray collectors not as caring animal “saviors” but as people who, for reasons that may or may not be worth of compassion, cause suffering for tens or even hundreds of animals.  Animal care and control agencies must strive to educate the media about the animals’ actual conditions.  More importantly, they must supply the media with information about animal collectors and their psychology, so that the media can report on cases accurately to help the public understand the phenomenon.  “It’s usually helpful for the agency to assign one reliable person to handle media inquiries about collector cases,” says Shannon Mullen for the New York State Humane Association.

Prevention: It is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent situations that have not already been brought to the attention of the authorities.  Although labor intensive, to lower recidivism rates continual monitoring is usually necessary to prevent the collector from starting the collection anew.  Developing a cooperative relationship with the collector can be particularly helpful in monitoring the individual’s behavior.  Take responsible action when a known collector moves: notify counterparts in the area of the collector’s new address so that regular monitoring can continue.


The Tools of Animal Cruelty Investigation – A repeat of our popular training held last November, this event has been expanded to 3 days and will take place in August in Tucson (the best place to be in August!).  This seminar will include information on the laws in Arizona regarding animal cruelty, how to identify animal cruelty from a number of professional perspectives and the steps in successfully investigating and prosecuting these types of cases.  Press releases and registration information will be forthcoming.  For registration information, please contact Jami McDowell at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona: (520) 321-3704, Ext. 141.

October 2001: Animal Cruelty Awareness and Prevention events – In conjunction with local domestic violence agencies, ACT will be supporting October “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” by sponsoring a seminar focusing on the connections between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence, especially domestic violence.  ACT will also be issuing press releases each week during the month of October, promoting awareness of animal-related cruelty issues.  These topics include:

  •  The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Interpersonal Violence
  • Children and Animal Cruelty
  •  Animals and Violence in the Home
  •  Ritualistic Abuse of Animals

The seminar will be on October 10th.  For more information on any of these topics or to register for the seminar, please contact Jami McDowell at 321-3704, Ext. 141.

Remember, there’s always more information about training and educational opportunities for law enforcement on the ACT website at

Additional training on animal cruelty and related subjects are available through the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s Cruelty in Common program, Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Arizona Department of Agriculture.


Programs are designed for Animal Control Officers at the federal, state, and local levels; Police officers and Sheriff’s deputies responsible for animal control and all of its many facets.  Topics to be covered include: laws and legal proceedings, evidence collection, courtroom testimony and crisis intervention / officer safety.

For registration materials or additional information, please contact Michael Gillingham, Program Coordinator, at 1-800-825-6505 or (573) 882-6021.

  • Cruelty, Level III – Boston MA – April 30-May 4
  •  Cruelty, Level II – Columbia, MO – Sept 24-28
  •  Cruelty, Level I – Columbus, OH – Oct 8-12
  •  Cruelty, Level II – Denver, CO – Nov 5-9



Arkow, Phil.  Breaking the Cycles of Violence: A Practical Guide. Alameda, California: Latham Foundation, 1995.
A guide to exploring the link between animal cruelty, child abuse and domestic violence.

Ascione, Frank R. and Phil Arkow. Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1999.
An interdisciplinary sourcebook of original essays which examine the relations between animal maltreatment and human interpersonal violence.

Cuhulain, Kerr.  The Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca, 3rd ed.  Victoria, British Columbia: Horned Owl Publishing, 1997.
Written by a law enforcement professional for law enforcement professionals, this manual provides a clear and concise examination of the religion of Wicca (Witchcraft), including the often misunderstood Wiccan views on animals.

Lewchanin, Shari and Ellen Zimmerman. Clinical Assessment of Juvenile Animal Cruelty. Brunswick, Maine: Biddle Publishing Company, 2000.
A groundbreaking monograph for practitioners and researchers who confront the challenges of assessing the significance of animal abuse by juveniles.

Community Intervention in Juvenile Animal Cruelty.  Brunswick, Maine: Biddle Publishing Company, 2000.
A tool to facilitate risk assessment and effective early identification/intervention with youth at risk to commit school violence.

Recognizing and Reporting Animal Abuse: A Veterinarian’s Guide.  Englewood, Colorado: American Humane Association, 1998.
A collection of articles directed to the veterinary professional by the leaders in the field of animal cruelty.

The following resources are listed as a public educational service. Their inclusion here does not constitute an endorsement of their content or message by the Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona.

Emergency Animal Care:

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona and the American Red Cross now offer Pet First Aid courses to the public. For information on these courses, contact Tracy Charles at (520) 321-3704, Ext. 168.

Resources on this topic:

Heath, Sebastian E. and Andrea O’Shea. Rescuing Rover: A First Aid and Disaster Guide for Dog Owners. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1999.

Mammato, Bobbie. Pet First Aid. Boston, Massachusetts: Stay Well Publishing, in cooperation with the American Red Cross and the Humane Society of the United States, 1997.

Pet Emergency First Aid: Cats (video). Produced by Apogee Entertainment, Boulder, Colorado, 1998.  Running time: 34 minutes.

Pet Emergency First Aid: Dogs (video). Produced by Apogee Entertainment, Boulder, Colorado, 1998.  Running time: 41 minutes.


The Down Side of Livestock Marketing. Produced by the Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York, 1991. Running time: 18 minutes.
An investigation into the animal care practices of stockyards, slaughterhouses and production farms across the United States.

Visual Assessment of Physical Child Abuse. Produced by the American Humane Association, Englewood, Colorado, 1996.  Running time: 26.30 minutes.
Accompanied by a written manual, this video is designed to help professionals identify the telltale signs that a child may be physically abused.


Detective Mike Duffey, Co-Chair
Pima County Sheriff’s Department
1750 E Benson Highway
Tucson AZ 85714
(520) 741-4751   FAX:  (520) 741-4886

Michael Lent, DVM, Co-Chair
Pantano Animal Clinic
8333 E 22nd St
Tucson AZ 85710
(520) 885-3594   FAX:  (520) 885-3531

Tracy Charles, Co-Secretary
Humane Society of Southern Arizona
3450 N Kelvin Blvd
Tucson AZ 85716
(520) 321-3704, Ext. 168

Jami McDowell, Co-Secretary
Humane Society of Southern Arizona
3450 N Kelvin Blvd
Tucson AZ 85716
(520) 321-3704, Ext. 141

Courtesy of
3450 N Kelvin Blvd.
Tucson, Arizona 85716
Shelter Phone: (520) 327-6088

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