Companion Animal Hoarding: What is It?

There are news reports almost daily about raids on people called animal hoarders who have large numbers of animals suffering in deplorable, filthy conditions. The news reports typically show a home or some building or property overcrowded with starving, sick or injured animals, sometimes in cages and all living with piles of waste, garbage and sometimes dead animals everywhere.

Animal hoarding is a little understood condition. Someone described as an animal hoarder or "collector" typically (1) has a large number of companion animals, (2) is unable or unwilling to meet even minimum standards of humane care and causes the animals to suffer from malnutrition, starvation, illness, disease, untreated injuries, poor sanitation, overcrowding, inadequate shelter from the weather, and intensive confinement; and (3) denies or shows little or no understanding of the horrific conditions in which the animals and often the other members of the household are living.

Hoarding has been described as a chronic mental illness that progresses over time. It is basically a pathological desire to acquire animals and control them. Hoarding is not only characterized by horrific animal cruelty, it destroys families and organizations and presents a serious health problem in every community. The existence of a hoarder is usually not discovered until neighbors complain to authorities about unsanitary conditions, odor, large numbers of animals, and starving and sick or injured animals. By then, the condition is usually severe and the animals are suffering terribly. It is generally left to the community to develop the plans and bear the expense for rescuing, caring for, treating, sheltering, and placing what maybe dozens and dozens of animals and euthanizing those that will not survive. 

Hoarding has nothing to do with legitimate shelters, rescues or sanctuaries that work to rescue and care for the millions of unwanted, abandoned, suffering animals. So, it is particularly troubling that some persons hoard under the pretense of operating as an animal shelter, rescue or sanctuary. Also, hoarders in an organization can ultimately destroy it, causing a phenomenon known as institutional hoarding. As the situation deteriorates, the organization may ultimately (1) focus on acquisition of animals and make little or no effort to place animals in homes, (2) continue to take in animals even when it is clear the care is deteriorating, (3) have too few or inconsistent numbers of staff, (4) refuse to disclose the actual number of animals, (5) refuse to allow visitors into some or all of the areas where animals are kept, (6) make unsupported claims of excellent lifetime care, (7) fail to provide humane care and cause the animals to suffer from malnutrition, starvation, illness, disease, untreated injuries, poor sanitation, overcrowding, inadequate shelter from the weather, and intensive confinement; and (8) refuse to acknowledge the deteriorating conditions and neglectful and abusive treatment of the animals. 

Also, without strong community intervention, the hoarder is virtually certain to continue to acquire animals and repeat the same pattern of abuse and neglect over and over.  Animal cruelty laws in most instances are not sufficient to protect the animals and prevent the hoarder from re-offending.  To prevent a hoarder from re-offending requires not only prosecution under animal cruelty laws, but also mental health treatment and regular inspections or visits by animal control or other local authorities. It is important for families and communities to recognize early signs of hoarding. One sign may be the acquisition of a lot of animals. For example, early on, the animals might show some weight loss and other signs of poor care. Later, the animals might have more infectious diseases and injuries and show early stages of starvation. One state, Illinois, has moved to address hoarding by passing an anti-hoarding statute. The law recognizes companion animal hoarding as a mental illness and requires counseling and other appropriate treatment for anyone found to be a companion animal hoarder.  Hoarding presents a situation the community must work together to recognize and stop. 

7 thoughts on “Companion Animal Hoarding: What is It?”

  1. As the owner of a private non-profit cat rescue/adoption shelter I have seen first hand the work of hoarders. They are not well people. The animals are kept in horrendous living conditions. These people always say how much they love these animals. They never recognize that because of their poor quality of care giving that they are slowly but surely killing these animals. Homeless kitties fare far better than animals in hoarding conditions. I often find that people dont want to turn the people in because they are afraid of what will happen to the animals. Most people dont want to cause trouble. All kinds of lame reasons why they dont act on behalf of the animals. None of them logical or admirable. I would much rather see the animals euthanized than live such a horrible life. Even some of the vets I work with dont stand up for the animals by calling animal control. Animal hoarders are rampant in Georgia. These are the most difficult people to work with because they are emotionally disturbed. They never see the poor condition of the animals and cant understand what the fuss is. Cleaning up the mess hoarders make is heartbreaking work. Many of these animals have to be euthanized due to medical or social problems that cannot be resolved. Until we have mandatory spay/neuter laws this will continue. We need government assistance and support for accessible, low cost or free spay/neuter programs.

  2. What I see in the reply to this article is you are a perfect candidate as a hoarder. First off how dare you state that that Animal Hoarders are rampant in Georgia. I do not see any degrees behind your name that state that you are qualified to make blanket statements that Georgians are “Emotionally Disturbed”. However I see in just your writings that you in fact have a distorted view of other people, or maybe it is all other people, but yourself, that are rescue people.

    In this world we have many different personalities of different people and I am not saying that their are no hoarders but to characterize them as you have is so immature and ridiculous. To solve the issue by spay and neutering is even more ridiculous. Sure we need spay/neuter laws you say. That will affect the hobby breeders only, the ones that have a few dogs and breed carefully after testing and then raise the pups in a happy, healthy home environment. You know the idea place to get a puppy, yes those places will be gone because of over regulating and your so called spay/neuter laws that you must have.

    Now where will that leave one to get a cat or dog as a pet? You could pop over to the Hunte corporation, not sure who that is, well it is the largest distributor of animals in this country, They supply to pet stores, keep the puppy mills in business because that is who they buy from, keep the Vets in business because they are the ones that have to try to help the poor sick puppy mill babies that are sold in the unsanitary conditions of a Pet Shop.

    And you said what about Hoarders and the Emotionally disturbed of Georgia??? I think it is time to stop blaming the animals for mans issues and start coming down heavy on the individual that shuns the responsibility of caring for the cat or dog they purchased. Take the irresponsible breeders out of the game and start punishing the idiots that turn Fido loose at night to run with FeFe and then are surprised that FeFe came back bred and now they have no idea where to get rid of these cross breed mutts that they are hauling to the pound. Fido and FeFe did what comes naturally to them but neither owner acted in any way responsible.

    I hope this email does not emotionally disturb any Georgia residents any worse that you think they are already, my gosh, I would hate for the state to have more hoarders like you migrate to Georgia.

    Unlike you who hides behind the word “Anonymous” my name is Sandi and I am activist for the dogs, and to punish the idiots that are irresponsible owners. I think that every single person that dumbs dogs, allows dogs to get bred because they are not contained correctly should have to go to the shelter for the day and hold all the animals that are to be euthanised for the that day. My guess is that they would become responsible over night. Shame I am not a circuit court judge because that would be the punishment for a first time offender.

  3. She hit a nerve there didn’t she? You are protesting far too much…..I suspect you too are a hoarder. You breed dogs for a “hobby”? Try knitting or bingo….doesn’t cause any suffering, but then again, doesn’t bring in the bucks that selling puppies does!

  4. Wow Sandi! You totally took what she she said and proved her right. She was saying the same thing you are basically. Look for the points where you argreed. You came off looking like one of those people w/ issues. Maybe you need to reread your comment. I have a neighbor in Ohio that hoards and it’s appalling. Last summer alone i spent over 200$ in parasite treatments for my animals b/c her cats are always in my yard. Something needs to be done. I fully agree.

  5. Yes, there are *real* hoarders and yes, they should be dealt with for the animals’ sake. However, having been involved in dog rescue for almost 30 years, I have seen just as much abuse and neglect by people (all races and economic status) who have only one or two pets.

    It is very common to lump anyone who have a number of dogs or cats as “hoarders.” But, you cannot paint all with the same brush just because of the number of animals. You need to look at the physical and mental conditionof the dog, their living conditions, access to proper vet care, good food, and of course love.

    As an example, about a year ago I read about a woman in the Midwest who was turned in by her local humane society director for having too many dogs. The dogs were removed from her home and it took a very long fight and legal fees to get them back.

    The humane soc. director later apologized in the newspaper saying if she had known how well these animals were cared for, she never would have started the action.

    Each situation needs to be looked at individually, not just labeled.


  6. I know a hoarder in AL was arrested finally when 14 animals, mostly horses, starved to death. Days before her conviction, she bought property across state line in TN and moved the remaining animals there to hide them from the court. She was convicted and “not allowed to own any animals except 1 cat and 1 dog”. She violated her probation and is serving 120 days but the animals still in her possession (and she has been collecting more-there are approximately 100 animals on her property)are still in grave danger. Because she hid these animals across state line, local authorities don’t care and will not do anything to rescue them. She has horses, mini horses, mules, mini donkeys, mini cows, goats, sheep, cats,dogs,emu, rabbits, foxes, and llamas to name a few. This woman is sick and WILL NOT FEED animals. She thinks the “land” will provide and does not understand the concept of too many animals on a small parcel of land. It is very frustrating to get authorities to help or cooperate. They were called 2 years before the 14 starved to death but did nothing. Her charges should have been felony as these animals were tortured and died a long suffering death. One 28 yr old mare, after starving slowly for 2 years while she still rode her finally succumbed to death. She covered her with a sheet and went on a 75 mile trail ride on another starving emaciated mare. She even owns a dog grooming business and hoards dogs there.

  7. How do you figure that mandatory spay/neuter will eiliminate animal hoarding? Most hoarders “adopt” all their animals and do not do any breeding. Yes there is the occasional hoarder who has animals who are breeding but that is the exception.

    These people do not need to go to prison – they need professional psychological help!

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