Monday, November 12, 2012

The Truth Behind Animal Hoarding

We've all seen the photos on the news: dogs covered in feces-filled dreadlocks, cats coated in filth, piles of waste and trash filling the home. Hoarding is a problem that has been brought to the forefront of America's consciousness by shows like Hoarders and Confessions: Animal Hoarding. But unfortunately, animal hoarding is much more common than most people realize. 
So, what is an animal hoarder?Animal hoarding is an extremely complicated issue that effects entire communities because of the mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns involved. To be considered an animal hoarder, a group or individual must:
  1. Have more than the typical number of companion animals
  2. Be unable to provide even minimally acceptable standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and medical care. Often this inability results in starvation, illness and even death.
  3. Be in denial about their inability to provide the minimally acceptable standards of care and the impact it is having on their animals and themselves. 
Most animal lovers know someone who has multiple pets -- that does not make them an animal hoarder. It is crucial to realize it is not merely the number of animals involved that makes an individual a hoarder. In order to be a hoarder, an individual must meet all three criteria.

Why do people hoard animals?The results of animal hoarding can be horrific, but before you place judgement on the animals' owners, please understand that these individuals suffer from severe mental illness.  ASPCA writes the following: "It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Early research pointed toward a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorders but new studies and theories are leading toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression and other mental illnesses. Some animal hoarders began collecting after a traumatic event or loss, while others see themselves as 'rescuers' who save animals from a life on the street.
Animal hoarders may think they have good intentions, but their irrational behaviors cause significant suffering to the large numbers of animals in their care. The "hoarder" does not intend to inflict harm on the animals, and in most cases, the "hoarder" can no longer take care of himself, much less multiple animals."

How common is animal hoarding?There are approximately 3,500 cases reported and 250,000 animals that are effected each year in the United States alone. Thanks to increased awareness of animal hoarding, the number of cases being reported over the past four years have nearly doubled.

What you should do if you know of an animal hoarder?If you suspect that you know an animal hoarder, the best thing you can do is contact your local humane law enforcement department. While we do assist in animal hoarding cases, AHS does not have a law enforcement arm and therefore we cannot initially investigate these claims. In Travis County, please call 3-1-1 and they will put you in touch with the appropriate authorities. You may be scared of reporting someone you know, but the person and the animals both are in dire need of help, it is the best thing you can do for all parties involved!


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