Photo from Animal Humane Society
You crack open the door to the dark room and are hit with a gust of dense acrid air. As your eyes adjust to the low light, you’re able to make out cages and carriers stacked on top of each other. Too many pairs of glowing eyes blink up at you through the filth. Does this describe an experience you’ve had in the home of a friend or loved one?
What Is Animal Hoarding?
Animal hoarding is an accumulation of animals that has overwhelmed a person’s ability to provide minimum standards of care, including nutrition, sanitation, shelter, veterinary care, and socialization. In many cases, the hoarder believes that they are helping their animals and denies their inability to provide adequate care. Because animal hoarding is such a complex and intricate issue, we approach these cases with the utmost empathy and compassion. A big part of our mission is to help the members of our community find resources for their hoarding tendencies and recover their homes.
There are several signs that may indicate someone is an animal hoarder:
- The person has multiple animals and may not even know the total number of animals in their care. Animals can range in species from cats and dogs, to reptiles, birds, rodents, exotic animals, or farm animals.
- Their home has deteriorated (ie. dirty windows, broken furniture, holes in the walls and floors, extreme clutter, etc.)
- There is a strong smell of ammonia and the floor may be covered in dried animal feces or other excrement.
- The animals are in bad health and are poorly socialized.
- Fleas and other pests are present.
- The person is isolated from the community and appears to neglect themselves.
- The person insists that their animals are happy and healthy even though there are clear signs of distress or illness.
Photo from Daily Record.
Why Do Humans Hoard Animals?
Some animal hoarders start collecting animals after a traumatic event or loss, while others feel that they are rescuing the animals from a life on the streets. Overwhelmed caregivers have a strong attachment to animals and often, sometimes, falsely, believe that their situation is the result of a recent change in their circumstance like health or financial issues. When someone intervenes, they often welcome the relief of help. Rescue hoarders believe that they are the only ones that can adequately care for their animals. They are usually in complete denial about the dangerous or unhealthy conditions in which their animals are living. All hoarders feel a responsibility to protect their animals from society.
There is no single cause of animal hoarding, but it can originate from attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression, memory loss issues, or other mental illness. Animal hoarders often appear intelligent and truly believe they are helping the animals in their care. Many hoarders have the ability to garner sympathy from others or deceive others into believing their situation is under control. They usually cannot see or understand that their animals are actually suffering. A person of any age, gender, or race can become an animal hoarder, but the elderly are most susceptible because of their own deteriorating health and isolation from the community.
How Can I Help?
It's important for us as onlookers to be compassionate and caring in regards to a situation as sensitive as animal hoarding. Many people immediately assume that a person found hoarding animals is callous or "crazy", when really, this person is dealing with delicate and complicated psychological issues. Like object hoarders, animal hoarders rarely seek treatment without motivation from loved ones. Removing the animals from the hoarder's home does not teach them to better manage their lives or prevent future hoarding. Without therapy that addresses the root cause of what led to their hoarding, the hoarder will return to their old habits and refill their newly cleaned space.
If you think someone you know is struggling with animal hoarding, here are some ways you can help:
Animal hoarding is a community problem that causes suffering to both humans and animals. It can devastate families, cast judgments on communities, and be difficult to resolve. Removing animals from someone's home can be very difficult to get through and requires a lot of reassurance and patience.
Every year in the United States, a quarter of a million animals are affected by animal hoarding. Although it is considered animal cruelty, the prosecution process is lengthy, difficult, and usually not very effective, as hoarding is a psychological issue. If someone you know is hoarding animals, take action and follow the suggestions listed above to help them and their animals get the care they need.