Sunday, June 21, 2009

Too Many Pets

When Animal Lovers Turn into Hoarders


For those who don’t work in the animal welfare industry, the term “animal hoarder” may be foreign. For those of us who have dealt with animal hoarders, the scene is horrifying.

An animal hoarder is defined as someone who owns more than the typical number of companion animals. They have a compulsion to bring more and more into their home. Hoarders have an inability to provide even minimal care for the animals and they generally will deny that there is a problem, even when there are clear signs of illness in the animals. The result is squalid conditions where animals are ill, starving, and sometimes already deceased.

According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, many hoarder dwellings have been condemned as unfit for human habitation. The air is so polluted from the high levels of ammonia that people can’t enter the home without respiratory masks. In the major hoarding case I was involved with at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, the resident was living in his garage, while his 300 cats had taken over his 800-square-foot home. We had to wear hazardous material suits and breathing apparatus to rescue the cats. Even with those precautions, we could only operate at 15 minute intervals due to the unbearable air quality. Unfortunately, most of these cats were wild and suffering from illnesses and had to be humanely euthanized. This situation was filmed and televised on Animal Planet in an episode of Animal Cops Detroit entitled “House of Cats.”

Animal hoarders may start out with good intentions. They think they are “saving” these animals, but they get in way over their heads and fail to ask for help. In most of the cases, the hoarders not only fall short of providing for the animals in their care, but they fail to provide for themselves. Recent research proves there is a direct correlation between psychological problems and the tendency to hoard. According to Randall Lockwood, vice president of Research and Educational Outreach at the Humane Society of the United States, “Hoarding is very often a symptom of a greater mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. For most hoarders, it is likely that their actions are the result of a true pathology, even though they are still usually able to function quite well in society.”

Animal hoarders often appear to lead normal lives. At first glance, it may be difficult to recognize when a person’s fixation with animals has gotten out of control. Many times it’s a neighbor who reports an animal hoarder due to the overwhelming smell that starts to seep from their homes. Community members can help animal hoarders get the aid they need, while also rescuing animals by notifying authorities as soon as possible if they suspect a hoarder. In the cases I’ve worked with, animal hoarders tend to have all their windows closed and the blinds drawn at all times and they won’t allow even their closest friends in their home. Even if you only suspect an animal hoarding case, notify Animal Control immediately.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stresses that not everyone who has multiple animals should be considered an animal hoarder. If someone owns many animals that are all spayed and neutered and they provide the essentials for the animals as well as veterinary care, they would not be considered an animal hoarder.

Recently, there was an animal hoarder case in Mojave, California. This case involved a repeat offender. According to Jill Anderson, Director of Development and Communications for Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Sanctuary, 100 dogs were seized from filthy conditions back in 2006. It took three years for the court case to resolve, meanwhile these dogs sat in shelters. This same person was recently convicted when 300 more animals were found living in the same squalid conditions. Anderson said that the animal rescue community is industriously working to get these animals into loving homes. According to Last Chance for Animals, there are approximately 35 dogs that still need homes. If you can’t offer a permanent home, there is also a need for fostering, donations, boarding, food, or transportation. For more information on the Mojave hoarder case, visit: