Animal hoarding is now a well understood psychiatric disorder, thanks to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University. Nevertheless animal hoarding remains misunderstood by the public at large. Not everyone who has more animals than he or she can care for is an animal hoarder.
Animal hoarding is a specific psychiatric disorder arising primarily from obsessive compulsive disorder. The hallmarks of animal hoarding are:
- A person has more than the usual number of companion animals;
- There is an obvious inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death;
- The caretaker of the animals lacks insight into his or her behavior, offering:
- a myriad of denials of the deteriorated condition of the animals and the environment, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or
- excuses for this failure, when authorities continue to press, blaming others for the failure or conditions beyond the hoarder's control;
- The person shows evidence that he or she lacks the normal capacity for empathy, which may account for the inability to recognize the suffering of the animals.
Animal hoarding is caused when mental illness goes untreated. It becomes a catastrophe not only for the animals that may suffer horrific abuse, but also for the hoarder him or herself, and the hoarder's immediate family members, who may be enablers and victims themselves.
Animal hoarding is also a burden for the neighbors, the community, and local law enforcement. The large number of animals and the associated noise, odor, and concentrated animal wastes create serious public health hazards and reduce the quality of life for the surrounding community. The sheer magnitude of the case creates often insurmountable obstacles for successful law enforcement, because of the impossibly large numbers of sick animals that must be held in custody while the case is adjudicated.
Successful resolution of animal hoarding cases depends therefore on a collaboration of many parties, combining and integrating efforts of local law enforcement, social services agencies, mental health professionals, and a collection of non-profit organizations and local volunteers. This consortium of parties unused to working together is difficult to coordinate and keep on track for the welfare of the animals and other victims. Nevertheless, the collective effort is essential to resolving cases involving so many animals.
The Road Home K9 Rescue embraces the HARC philosophy and approach to preventing the hoarding of animals. The most effective solution is that which seeks the most humane outcome for both the animals and the human victims, including the hoarder him or herself and family members. An integrated approach is essential, involving more than just punishing the animal hoarder and removing the animals. Without treatment for the disorder, the recidivism rate approaches 100%, which means that more animals in the future will be subjected to neglect and abuse. Or alternatively, the hoarder is at grave risk of self-inflicted harm after the animals have been awarded to the custody of others, including death either from deliberate suicide or aggravated self-neglect.
Family members and friends are the first line of defense in preventing the hoarding of animals. If you suspect a friend or family member is an animal hoarder, your actions can bring a resolution before the situation gets extreme and requires the intervention of law enforcement. If you are a veterinarian who suspects a client of hoarding animals, you, like family members, may be unwitting enablers. Please consider intervening before the hoarding creates a disaster for all concerned.
To learn more about how to help a family member, friend or client, visit the HARC web site: