Animal hoarding: When compassion becomes cruelty
By Phillip Snyder, Executive Director
Published in the Englewood Sun’s on March 12, 2014
Recently on TV, a newscaster stated that the cruelty case he was reporting on was the third animal hoarding case to be investigated by local enforcement in the last few days. This raises the question is there actually an increase in animal hoarding or is there increased awareness of this horribly neglectful activity?
Animal Hoarders were originally referred to as Animal Collectors. In the 1990’s, there were several high profile cases from different areas of the country that were being publicized. An investigation by the New York Humane Association, and The Humane Society of the United States successfully forced the closure of an animal hoarder, disguised as a rescue haven. Over 1,200 dogs and other animals were being kept in deplorable conditions. Many were suffering from severe neglect, while others had died from disease and the cold winter elements. Although an investigation involving 1,200 animals is staggering, the numbers of animals confiscated from hoarding cases have ranged from under 20, to several hundred.
A study published in Public Health Reports, in 1999 by Dr. Gary Patronic, who studied animal hoarding while with Tuff’s University described an animal hoarder as:
“Someone who accumulates a large number of animals while failing to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care. Who fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals, including disease, starvation and even death. Who allows severe overcrowding, and extreme unsanitary conditions, while creating a negative effect on their own health and well-being as well as that of other household members”.
It is fair to say that this description, along with scientific findings from over 50 cases, still hold true today. These findings include the fact that 76% of hoarders are female and 54% are over 60 years old (many starting in their 30s), most are single, divorced or widowed, and almost half live alone. Animals consume their lives. They are addicted to the collection and hoarding of animals. Hoarders are in denial of the neglect and suffering they are causing. Many are oblivious to the fact that they have caused the death of animals from disease and starvation. They continue to act as though the animals are still alive.
I believe the scientific community, as well as our courts need further studies on animal hoarding. We know it is a compulsive disorder that can take over the life and mind of an individual. Most of us in the animal care, rescue and protection business measure the success of animal cruelty convictions by the severity of the sentence. We applaud the court when an animal abuser is sent to jail. Not to be confused with cruelties associated with puppy mills, back yard breeders and other activities involving large numbers of animals, animal hoarding is a sickness. It has been proven that without supervision most animal hoarders sentenced to jail will start hoarding again when they are released.
It is generally recommend by those that have studied or worked multiple hoarder cases that effective sentencing by the court should include immediate relief of the suffering of the animals involved, continuous monitoring of the hoarders activities (usually through the local animal control or humane society) and a required psychological evaluation of and assistance for the hoarder. This combined approach has a better chance of avoiding future hoarding.
Animals are suffering everywhere from hoarding. The Animal Legal Defense Fund estimates that there are as many as 250,000 hoarder cases each year. Just one large case can place a tremendous strain on animal control agencies and humane societies charged with the investigation and confiscation. Animal hoarders have spent all their money on their addiction, so fining them to reimburse the agencies does not work. Animal hoarding task forces have been formed in some areas, along with animal hoarding databases to better identify and monitor potential hoarders. One thing is certain, it does take a team effort to reduce the number of animals forced to suffer in this tragic way.