What is an animal hoarder?
Animal hoarding is a complex and intricate public health and community issue. Its effects are far-reaching and encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns.
The following criteria are used to define animal hoarding:
- More than the typical number of companion animals
- Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death
- Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling
This definition comes from The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, an independent group of academic researchers based in Massachusetts. The full definition and more info can be found at http://vet.tufts.edu/hoarding/.
It's important to note that not everyone who has multiple animals is an animal hoarder. A person may have a dozen animals, and all are spayed and neutered and provided with regular vet care and a sanitary environment. This person would not be an animal hoarder. The common signs of an animal hoarder are deteriorating conditions and denial or lack of insight that there is a problem. Animal hoarders often insist that all their animals are happy and healthy when there are clear signs of illness.
Why do people hoard animals?
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.
Should I report this person for animal cruelty?
What is clear is that animal hoarders also tend to neglect themselves and are often elderly and isolated from the community. The fact is that they and their animals need help, and calling your local humane law enforcement department may be a way to initiate the process.
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.
Criminal prosecution of animal hoarding can be a difficult process and may not be the most effective route without other interventions. Such cases are difficult to successfully prosecute and, once released, the "hoarder" is likely to resume collecting an excessive number of animals unless closely monitored.
In almost all animal hoarding cases, the person and the animals are suffering, either from neglect or isolation. 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 in their possession the help they need.
But shouldn't these animals be removed?
Usually, the animals are too unsocialized or too old and sick to be considered adoptable. Because they are not good candidates for adoption, their fate usually involves humane euthanasia. However, by maintaining a relationship with the "hoarder" and providing medical care and spay/neuter services to the animals, the ASPCA ensures that the animals live out their lives with their caregiver and prevents the "hoarder" from perpetuating a situation that is ultimately detrimental to themselves and the animals.
How can the ASPCA's Mobile Clinic & Outreach Program help?
An early intervention has the best chance of a favorable outcome for the person and the animals. The animal hoarder may be unwilling to give up any of the animals or 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. An early intervention would involve spaying, neutering and vaccinating healthy animals and returning them to a cleaned and decluttered home.
If the client can no longer keep the animals because of illness or eviction, the ASPCA must first visit the home to assess the adoptability of the animals. After this initial visit, a follow-up visit with the mobile spay/neuter clinic can be arranged so that the animals are spayed/neutered, tested and vaccinated before entering the shelter. This entire process usually takes up to six weeks. Please note: if the client is facing immediate eviction and needs to remove the animals in a short period of time, please contact NYC's Animal Care and Control by calling 311 or the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please contact the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement department at (212) 876-7700, ext. 4450, or email@example.com, to report hoarding cases involving animals in New York City. If you suspect someone of animal hoarding outside of NYC, please visit our Fight Cruelty FAQ to learn how to report it to the proper authorities.
How can I help?
Animal hoarding is not just about the animals! Usually, the animal hoarder is neglecting his or her own mental and physical needs and may need assistance for themselves. 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.
- Contact other social service groups and ask them to get involved! 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 other people and services.
- Reassure the animal hoarder that it's okay to accept help. Animal hoarders are usually worried that these animals will not be returned to them, but assure them that the ASPCA Mobile Clinic is parked outside their home for the entire length of the visit and that the animals will be returned after medical treatment and surgery.
- Help the hoarder prepare the animals for the mobile clinic visit. On the night before, remove all food and water so that the animals do not eat befores surgery. Gather cardboard or plastic carriers to contain the cats and enough leashes for dogs. Find a room that can be cleaned and is well-ventilated so that the animals can recover there after surgery. On the morning of the mobile clinic visit, put the cats in individual carriers and leash all dogs in order to deliver them to the mobile clinic, which is usually parked in front of the hoarder's home. In the afternoon after surgery, help the hoarder remove the animals from the clinic and return them to their recovery area.
- Stay in touch with the hoarder to ensure that the animals are recovering from surgery. Help the hoarder with medical treatment of sick animals. If the hoarder acquires new animals, ensure that they are brought to the mobile clinic to be spayed/neutered and vaccinated.