A very serious sub-category of neglect is animal hoarding. This is something called “accidental neglect.” This term refers to people who collect animals with good intentions. They mean well, meaning to give these animals a home and get them out of shelters or off the streets. Often times they do not realize how many animals they have at one time. Many animals get overlooked and forgotten about. They are not properly cared for because of this and may lack food or water, vet care, or proper grooming. Unfortunately many animals die in these situations.
It is important to remember that hoarding is a mental illness. Though these situations can be extremely frustrating, they need to be handled with care. As much as you want to blame the person hoarding them, it will not help the situation, as that person doesn’t have complete control. Simply taking all the animals from the home will not fix the problem. Hoarders need to work with social workers and psychologists to overcome their disease. If you just take the animals and throw away all the trash, they will still continue their habits, and will be in the situation in no time.
Animal hoarding is a complex and intricate public health and community issue.
Are you an animal hoarder?
Many people have a number of pets and are not considered hoarders. If you are providing proper care to each animal, you are not a hoarder. Proper care includes: food, water, shelter, vet care, grooming, and sanitary living conditions. If you feel you may have too many animals to properly care for, contact your local shelter about turning animals in for adoption.
Here are some signs of animal hoarding:
- A person has more than the typical number of companion animals.
- They usually don’t know the exact number of animals they have.
- Their home will be deteriorated.
- Their home will be filled with clutter.
- There will be animal feces and dander everywhere.
- It will smell of urine.
- There are usually empty pet food containers everywhere.
- Hoarders are unable to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death.
- The person hoarding will show denial of the inability to provide this minimum care.
- They will deny the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling.
- Animal hoarders range in age, and can be men or women of any race or ethnic group.
- Elderly people tend to be more at risk due to their own deteriorating health and isolation from community and social groups.
- One commonality between all hoarders is a failure to grasp the severity of their situation. Their illness lets them completely oversee or smell the filth.
- The individual will insist all animals are happy and healthy—even when there are clear signs of distress and illness.
It has been estimated that there are 900 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States, with a quarter million animals falling victim. Animals collected range from cats and dogs to reptiles, rodents, birds, exotics and even farm animals.
There are many different types of hoarding. Whether a person is hoarding animals, or is hoarding items and happens to have pets, all animals are in danger in these homes.
Effects on animals in animal hoarding situations:
- Animals live in filth.
- They begin to live in their own feces and urine.
- They live among garbage, dander, litter, etc.
- They are more likely to become ill because of that.
- Animals are extremely likely to get lost in the clutter.
- They can get injured by debris.
- They can get stuck in tight spots.
- They are often left without enough food or water for all animals in home.
- Many become emaciated.
- Many animals are often found dead.
- Some can be found frozen in freezers or burnt in ovens.
- Some become mummified because they have been deceased for so long.
Is animal hoarding illegal?
Animal hoarding is covered under every state’s animal cruelty laws, which typically requires caretakers to provide sufficient food and water, vet care, and a sanitary environment for them to be sheltered. The only states that have specific laws on hoarding are Illinois and Hawaii.
What can you do?
- Pick up the phone and call your local humane law enforcement department, police department, animal shelter, animal welfare group or veterinarian to initiate the process. You may not want to get the person “in trouble,” but a phone call may be the first step to get them and the animals the help they need.
- Educate others about the misery involved in a hoarding situation. Society often jokes about “crazy cat ladies.” Educate people on the severity of the issues.
- Contact social service groups and ask them to get involved. Animal hoarding is not just about the animals. Your local department of the aging, adult protective services, health departments and other mental health agencies may be able to provide services or links to services. It’s important to get the animal hoarder connected to the right services.
- Reassure the animal hoarder that it’s okay to accept help. Animal hoarders are usually worried that their animals will be killed or that they will never see them again. Regardless of the outcome, assure them that the animals need urgent care and that immediate action is necessary.
- Volunteer your time. With the removal of so many animals from a hoarding situation, the burden on local shelters can be staggering. Volunteer your time to help clean cages, socialize animals, walk dogs and perform other such necessary duties.
- Keep in touch. In many cases the animals are too unsociable or too old and sick to be considered adoptable. However, it may be appropriate for the animals to be spayed and neutered and returned to the home if the animal hoarder can provide—or can be aided in providing—care.
- Under the guidance of an organization, help the individual with daily animal care chores. And if the individual acquires new animals, help ensure that they are spayed/neutered and vaccinated.
- Support local legislation. Laws that recognize hoarding as unlawful with appropriate punishment and mandatory treatment are necessary. Even though hoarding cases exhibit typical characteristics of animal abuse, they are rarely prosecuted because they fail to show the individual’s intent to harm.
**None of these pictures belong to the shelter, none of these animals are in our care.**