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When Animal Lovers become Animal Hoarders

Where is the fine line between the act of ‘loving animals and  ‘hoarding animals? When does a case become extreme?

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), defines an animal hoarder as someone who:

  • accumulates a large number of animals;
  • fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care;
  • fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death); and
  • fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the environment (severely overcrowded and unsanitary conditions), or the negative impact of the collection on their own health and well-being.

Legally you are allowed to have 3 dogs in one household in the city of Los Angeles. 3 dogs – I think that’s pretty fair. I don’t know many people who own more than 3 dogs and are able to responsibly take care of 3 or more dogs and full fill their needs. It’s very tough and challenging to organize 3 or more dogs in between work and daily errands.

I have a friend who owns 5 dogs and does a great job, the dogs are all happy and healthy and live a fulfilled life with him and his wife, who works from home. They own a huge yard, go on long hikes and work with their huskies. Of course, I would love to have a ranch, stay at home and have a bunch of dogs running around and offer them a healthy life of freedom and fun, but unfortunately that’s not the reality by common urban living standards. Most people are totally swamped with the needs of just 1 dog.

I have heard many stories about hoarders. A friend of mine is working on a smaller case, where a woman keeps 15 dogs and 12 cats in a 2 bedroom house with a small backyard. It is very difficult to convince these people – most of whom are suffering from a Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – to give some dogs or cats to the care of other rescuers or people. They harbor a fear that if they seek help the animals will be euthanized, my friend told me. Hoarders justify their behavior with the view that the animals are surrogate children and that no one else can care for them. Many of the hoarders begin on a mission to help animals that somehow gets out of control. After they become overwhelmed, they find they can’t stop, and they often don’t know what to do, so things continue to deteriorate. Some even pose as rescue groups or legitimate sanctuaries.

A so called “animal rescue/shelter” in Southern California. Photo taken by a former worker – over 150 dogs live in a warehouse type facility in Riverside.

As the number of animals in their care increases, they are unable to keep up with the care and veterinary attention needed.  Still, they often see themselves as the animals’ savior, even as the pets suffer. Individuals insist that all animals are happy and healthy—even when there are clear signs of distress and illness. According to Hartford Hospital, compulsive hoarding is a problem that often accompanies other mental disorders, including depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and certain anxiety disorders, among others. Hoarding is thought to be a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Cats are the most hoarded animal, followed closely by dogs. Animal hoarders are usually well-intentioned and believe they are helping the animals in their care. They often cannot see the situation as it is and have a disconnect from the reality of their pets’ desperate need for basic care and medical attention. Approximately 72% of animal hoarders are women.

I don’t know if you have heard of the Victims Of Spindeltop Raid – where over three hundred pit bulls were seized by law enforcement on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, in an alleged animal hoarding case in Montgomery County, Texas.

If you suspect someone of hoarding animals, don’t hesitate to alert the local authorities to the situation. Because hoarded animals are usually in terrible condition, the sooner they can be rescued the greater their chances of recovery and survival, and of finding people who will care for them properly. The ASPCA recommends calling both a local animal rescue, shelter, or welfare group, as well as adult protective services or other government health agencies.

Have you had an experience with an animal hoarder, or do you know someone you want to help? Let us know.

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