What Is Hoarding?
Before the early 1990s, little was known about hoarding in general or animal hoarding in particular. Even today, the disease is still not well understood. Animal hoarding has been called the most egregious form of animal cruelty. Unlike a single act of animal cruelty, animal hoarding affects large numbers of animals for long periods of time. A single hoarder may have hundreds of animals in his or her care, all living in squalor for years. According to Randall Lockwood, PhD, senior vice president at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "In terms of the toll it takes, hoarders are a much more serious source of animal suffering.” Randall further states, “Being kept by a hoarder is a slow kind of death for the animal. Actually, it's a fate worse than death." Hoarders have a pathological need to obtain and control animals; however, they fail to recognize the suffering they are inflicting on the animals, on themselves, or on anyone who lives with them.
"Historically, collecting animals was viewed as an animal lover who gets in over his or her head, but the truth is that people who hoard are at a total loss of insight,” says Lockwood. “They have no real perception of the harm they're doing…."
Animal hoarding is often a symptom of greater mental illness. According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), “Because removing animals from a hoarder does not resolve the problem, mental health professionals must explore the relationship of the hoarder and the hoarded animals.” Also, according to the Consortium, “With recidivism close to 100%, animal hoarding has evidently not been mitigated by customary sentencing that is limited to fines, forfeiture of some or all of the animals, prohibiting future ownership, and (rarely) incarceration. …the motivation and perpetuation of animal hoarding has psychological underpinnings which are not lessened in their intensity by these sanctions alone.”
Researchers estimate between 3,000 and 7,000 new cases of animal hoarding occur yearly, accounting for the suffering and death of over 250,000 animals. Dr. Gary Patronek and his colleagues on the HARC identified four key characteristics of animal hoarders:
- Failure to provide minimal standards of sanitation, space, nutrition, and veterinary care for the animals
- Inability to recognize the effects of this failure on the welfare of the animals, human members of the household, and the environment
- Obsessive attempts to accumulate or maintain a collection of animals in the face of progressively deteriorating conditions
- Denial or minimization of problems and living conditions for people and animals