Monday, December 6, 2010

Social workers turn attention to animal hoarders

Dealing with animal hoarding should be about helping the hoarders as well as the animals, according to social workers who consult on such cases.

Social workers increasingly are tending to the human issues that arise in human-animal relationships (see story, page 1346). Just a few social workers have focused specifically on animal hoarding, however.

"Without counseling, you're going to see recidivism," said Jane N. Nathanson, a Boston social worker in private practice who counsels animal hoarders. "You're not addressing the needs of the person."

In some cases, Nathanson said, the animals might need immediate rescue. In other cases, she said, local authorities or humane organizations might try to gain the cooperation of the hoarder.

Jennifer A. Coffey is a social worker in New York City who has conducted hands-on intervention in cases of animal hoarding. A few years ago, she consulted on animal hoarding full time for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as part of a project in collaboration with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Coffey and an ASPCA representative assessed hoarding cases in terms of human and animal welfare. The project interceded in cases of "overwhelmed caregivers" rather than cases of "exploitive hoarders," Coffey said, and participation was voluntary.

The first step was to stop the animals from reproducing, so the ASPCA would send a veterinarian in a mobile clinic to provide free sterilization services. The veterinarian also was able to provide vaccinations and assess the health of the animals.

The next step was to convince the hoarder to reduce the animal population over a period of time..." More

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