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.Â