Animal hoarding is classified as a mental illness and may need to be considered its own type of illness, rather than a subtype of general hoarding disorder. Characterized by a compulsion to obtain and keep more animals than the person is capable of caring for, oftentimes both the person’s and the animals’ health are neglected. Animals suffering from disease, injuries and starvation as well as remains of animals who have died are commonly found in unsanitary conditions on the property.
Taking animals away from a person with this disorder is not a cure. In fact, without treatment, the recidivism rate is estimated to be nearly 100%. It’s not hard to understand why: many animal hoarders see themselves as rescuers and view others as suspect individuals incapable of providing the type of loving care the animals need. Some lack the ability to create and/or maintain meaningful human relationships and rely on their animals as surrogates.
In addition, taking the animals away may not improve their situation if they are sent to a shelter that kills treatable animals. In some cases, already overburdened local rescues are asked to take the confiscated animals, creating a need for emergency funding and other resources that must be obtained through philanthropy. An organized, effective community approach to helping both people and animals is lacking.
A recent case in North Carolina, which to be clear I am not qualified to determine is animal hoarding but simply mentioning as it bears many of the hallmarks of such cases, illustrates the complexities.
A man in Transylvania County was arrested in March and charged with several dozen felony and misdemeanor cruelty charges after authorities seized 41 dogs and 12 birds from his property, which also contained a number of dead animals. Court documents state “animals have been seized and/or euthanized due to rampant contagious disease.” Although required to surrender the animals he had at the time of his arrest, nothing prevented him from obtaining more animals and when a local reporter visited, the man said he had gotten 11 more dogs:
He said the animals provide him comfort as he has no family nearby.
The three dogs [he] brought out to show News 13 were in good condition, but neighbors are concerned a cycle of deterioration will happen within months.https://wlos.com/news/local/rob-haas-rosman-animal-cruelty-charges-more-dogs
I have not seen any studies on whether animal hoarders receiving mental health treatment and being monitored by a reliable family member or local agency can safely own a very small number of pets. I suspect this could be the case and possibly even aid in the person’s long term recovery. It’s an area worth exploring. The current laws and playbook regarding how animal hoarding cases are handled are inadequate.