A Need to Do Better with Animal Hoarding Cases

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.

Photo provided to WLOS by rescue group Boxer Butts and Other Mutts, depicting a dog seized in the Transylvania County case.

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.

6 thoughts on “A Need to Do Better with Animal Hoarding Cases

  1. This is true.

    I wonder about the cases where the person is sentenced by a judge to not own an animal for x number of years? That’s like sentencing an addict to just not use for the next few years without giving them any sort of rehab program.

    1. Some researchers do use addiction as a model for animal hoarding as they share some common characteristics. And it’s well established that sentencing an addict not to use the substances they are addicted to is ineffective.

  2. Really interesting thoughts. I agree and certain shelters use hoarding cases as “money makers.” Specifically, they target those with small dogs that they can fundraise off and adopt out at high fees. I’ve never seen any of them address the root mental cause of the problem.

    1. I don’t know that “target” is the right word. I mean, a hoarding case is a hoarding case. Many hoarders “collect” cats, small dogs, etc. just because they ARE small.

      And hoarding cases come with a high cost to the shelter in medical alone. So yeah, using them as “money makers” to recoup funds is not a bad thing to my mind!

      Our shelter has dealt with several hoarding cases – one was Havanese dogs. Yes, they charged more for their adoption fees than usual – one reason was to avoid flippers. Another was because nearly every dog had to be shaved down, treated for skin issues, get blood work, dentals, etc. The pregnant ones had to go to foster, be cared for until pups were weaned, then get vetting for all moms and pups, too. So those “cute, high demand” pups were hugely costly to the shelter from the get go. Despite the higher fees, they still lost money on the deal.

      Other hoarding cases were less flashy – 80 guinea pigs, all with ringworm. God bless everyone who came in to bathe guinea pigs over and over again in medicated baths! I can assure you that THAT small animal hoarding case cost the shelter far more than they got back in adoption fees.

      Same with the rats. 35 rats, mostly Dumbo. No real health issues other than the filth and poor nutrition/dehydration. But most were poorly socialized. Not a lot of “glamour” in bitey rescue rats. They lost money there, too, despite Dumbos being rather popular;.

      And we won’t even mention the cats. Yes, people will pay more for the Persians (and again, you charge more to avoid flippers), but they all need dentals, have crusty eyes, fur falling out, mats, etc. And most cat hoarders are hoarding mixed breeds, anyway (not helpful in the adoption fee department). And then you get cases like the 65 “Burmese”. So inbred, they all had health issues. And all were solid black. So now you’ve got a whole lot of black cats with health issues to adopt out. Oh yeah, not exactly raking in the dough there.

      So I very much doubt that any shelter that’s actually caring for hoarding animals (vetting, fostering, socializing) is making a mint off of them, no matter what they’re charging.

      And I’d like to point out that when a hoarding case comes in, it takes up the vets’ time – which leaves your other animals who are waiting for spay/neuters so they can be adopted out, waiting longer. So animals that could have been adopted out are now held back to deal with triaging the hoarding case. And adoptions are slowed down, which means that the money isn’t coming in from those fees, either.

      Hoarding cases are a no win for anyone, honestly.

      As for “dealing” with the hoarders, that’s not a shelter’s job. What are they supposed to do? They can only charge (if they have a humane officer) for cruelty/neglect. The mental health issues are not in their purview.

  3. Another problem that occurs is how animal control agencies sometimes use “hoarding” as an excuse to persecute owners who have numerous animals, regardless of the living conditions or the condition of the animals. I was involved in one situation where the animals and living conditions were ok but this owner’s animals were seized, and she was charged with animal cruelty.
    She was a rescuer with a 501c3 and this action was the result of a vendetta carried out by the city and county animal control.
    She lost a lot of her companions, was forced to move, and her health was seriously damaged as a result of the stress and pressure of the false hoarding allegations.

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