Hawaii Legislature Passes Bill to Make Hoarding a Crime, But is the Law Strong Enough?

Update May 6, 2008: The Hawaii legislature has passed Senate Bill 3203, making hoarding a crime. In the final version, anyone with 20 or more dogs or cats or a combination, can be guilty of a misdemeanor if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

 (1)  Fails to provide necessary sustenance for each dog or cat; and

 (2)  Fails to correct the conditions under which the dogs or cats are living, where conditions injurious to the dogs’, cats’, or owner’s health and well-being result from the person’s failure to provide necessary sustenance.

The bill has been sent to Governor Linda Lingle for signature. For more on this bill and hoarding, read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below.

Original report: If Hawaii Senate Bill 3203 passes and becomes law, Hawaii will be the second state besides Illinois to make animal hoarding a crime.

It is important that states and local governments begin to recognize hoarding as a separate offense. Typically, if they are prosecuted at all, these hoarders are charged with animal cruelty laws. Many times the conduct does not really fit animal cruelty laws.

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. 

As an example, in 2002 a Maui couple was charged with 85 counts of animal cruelty. Authorities found nearly 100 dogs and cats in filthy, deplorable conditions in their home. Animals were kept in pens in every room; cats were held in kitchen cabinets. It was described as a "dungeon of horrors". The floors were covered in feces and urine.

Only seven of the animals survived.

This came after a neighbor filed numerous complaints with police, animal control officers, county prosecutors and the Department of Health, all to no avail.

The owner claimed all of the animals were well cared for and loved. 

The husband was acquitted of all counts of animal cruelty. The prosecution dropped 65 of the 85 counts of animal cruelty against the wife, and she pleaded no contest to the remaining charges. Her attorney spoke much during sentencing about how she loved these animals. For all of the cruelty and suffering endured by the animals, the wife was sentenced to 30 days in jail. She was allowed to keep several animals though the judge in that case did order her to undergo a mental health evaluation and submit to inspections by the humane society at least during the year probation following her jail time. Nothing in the law required the judge to issue even these limited orders, however.  

Clearly, animal cruelty laws do not necessarily provide the authority necessary for the community to deal with a hoarder. Many times these laws do not require mental health evaluations and treatment, bans on owning or keeping any animals in the future or periodic inspections of the hoarder’s property. It is when a court must issue these requirements that law enforcement, animal control and other officials can hope to stop the hoarder from re-offending.  

The problem with this bill is that it simply makes hoarding a crime. While it is helpful, to recognize the unique attributes of this condition as a separate crime, there is nothing in the bill or Hawaii law that enables the community to stop the hoarder from re-offending.

Hawaii law, HRS § 711-1109.1, does allow authorities to enter onto property with a search warrant and impound animals suffering from abuse or neglect. These is a Hawaii statute that provides for forfeiture of the animals prior to the disposition of criminal charges. HRS § 711-1110.5  

Hoarding conditionsBut there is nothing in the bill that would indicate these statutes would apply specifically to a suspected hoarder.  There is nothing in the bill that would require a court to order a hoarder to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment, issue a ban on owning, keeping or living with animals; or allow periodic inspections of his or her premises. 

 

This bill was introduced by Sen. Brian T. Taniguchi . It would have been helpful to add provisions to S.B. 3203 that would have given law enforcement and animal control the tools to stop hoarders: require judges to order mental health evaluations and treatment, bans on owning, keeping or living with animals and  periodic inspections of the hoarder’s property by police, animal control or the health department.

For more on hoarding, click on Downloads on the right on this page to get a copy of Animal Law Coalition’s Hoarding Fact Sheet.  

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.