Companion Animal Hoarding Fact Sheet

 

What is animal hoarding?

Animal hoarding is the pathological collecting of animals. It is most often characterized by an individual amassing a large number of companion animals, failing to provide them with proper food, water, shelter, veterinary care, and sanitation, resulting in squalid living conditions for both the animals and the hoarder. The hoarder also fails to act on the animals’ deteriorating condition, which often includes severe starvation, dehydration, parasite infestation, rampant disease, attacks among animals, cannibalization, and uncontrolled breeding, making the situation even worse over time. Sanitary conditions often deteriorate to the point where living and food preparation areas no longer server their original purpose, as clutter, urine and feces accumulate in living spaces.


Who are animal hoarders?

Animal hoarders have a compulsive need to have many companion animals and collect them beyond the point where they are able to sufficiently care for them. They may profess a strong love for the animals while being in denial over the conditions their animals live in. For example, they may insist an animal who is obviously sick is in fact healthy. Many hoarders believe they are "rescuing" animals, continually bringing more into the home, and stubbornly refusing to part with any animal, be it through adoption to a good home or the humane euthanasia of a sick animal. Often this is taken to the extreme, with hoarders unwilling to part with the bodies of dead animals. It is important to recognize that an animal hoarder is not simply a harmless and well-intentioned eccentric, but someone with a problem–a problem that results in the suffering of their animals.


Why is animal hoarding a community issue?

Neighbors’ complaints about mistreated or neglected animals or about the stench emanating from the hoarders home or sprawling rodent or insect infestations may be the first indication that something is wrong. Some animal hoarding cases go undetected until an elderly hoarder passes away. The hoarder and any other residents, including minor children and elderly in the care of the hoarder, also suffer from the horrible living conditions. Self-neglect, child neglect, and elder abuse have accompanied the hoarding of animals; in fact, social service agencies are often a source of animal hoarding complaints. Inoperative utilities and appliances may compound the lack of sanitation, rendering the dwelling uninhabitable by normal standards. Excessive clutter and overcrowded conditions can contribute to fire danger, while air ammonia levels in hoarders’ residences have exceeded levels considered safe.


How does animal hoarding impact our animal shelters?

Animal hoarding cases are a drain on our community animal shelters. The majority involve repeated investigation of the same individual by animal control officers. Additionally, such a large influx of animals is more than our community animal shelters can handle, both logistically and financially. Many shelters lack the space to house such a large number of animals, particularly as many may not be healthy and may require isolation and/or medical care. Moreover, a shelter may need to house the seized animals for several months, leaving little space to house stray and adoptable animals and straining other resources that would otherwise be used to serve the community.


Why is a special law needed?

Animal hoarding is a complex and poorly understood problem that transcends the jurisdiction of those charged with enforcing animal welfare laws. It is a community issue, often involving issues of public health, mental health, zoning, building safety, and sanitation. Yet the burden is often solely that of animal control personnel. Even with the existing laws regarding animal cruelty and ordinances restricting the number of pets allowed per household, these cases are difficult to resolve. Those charged with enforcing our animal protective laws often lack the tools and resources to intervene. The costs involved in holding the seized animals while the case is being resolved are often beyond the budgets of our community shelters–one hoarding case has the potential to bankrupt a shelter, which provides a critical service to the community.

What would the law do?

    1. Identify and define companion animal hoarding as a type of animal cruelty. This will aid animal control officers and law enforcement officials in addressing the large-scale cruelty associated with hoarding.

    2. Allow creative solutions to address the costs involved in caring for seized animals while the case is being resolved. Those charged with animal hoarding shall be required to post a bond, or other financial assurance, to cover the cost of feeding and housing any animals that are seized and for providing them any needed veterinary care. Alleged hoarders will also have an option of permanent relinquishment in lieu of posting bond, however voluntary relinquishment will have no effect on any proceedings in the matter. At their discretion, animal control personnel may impound animals on-site, with regular welfare checks.

    3. Mandate psychological counseling for the hoarder. Animal hoarding may be a sign of serious mental illness, thus upon conviction the hoarder shall undergo psychological assessment and treatment at their own expense. The emphasis is on helping the individual so that the situation does not redevelop, as recidivism is high for animal hoarders.

    4. Allow limitations on future pet ownership. At the court’s discretion, limitations or prohibitions on future companion animal ownership may be imposed. This will also give animal control officers the authority to monitor the care provided by convicted animal hoarders.


How would this law impact farmers, ranchers and others who have a lot of animals?

This animal hoarding law is separate from the general animal cruelty statute, as it only applies to animals kept for companionship. Those who maintain large numbers of animals for utility purposes, such as farmers and ranchers, will not be subject to the provisions in this law. As for pet breeders, rescue groups, or others with a large number of companion animals, they would not be cited for animal hoarding unless they failed to provide minimal care for the animals in the possession, as outlined in the law.


Isn’t this just a way to limit the number of pets people can have?

No. This law isn’t about numbers; it’s about cruelty, neglect, and failure to provide minimal care to companion animals. While county or local ordinances may impose restriction on the number of pets people can have, this law enables limitations to be imposed only on those who have been convicted of animal hoarding.


Won’t requiring a security bond just force people to give up their pets?

No. The bond reflects the costs the alleged hoarder would incur in taking proper care of the animals themselves. Inability to post a security simply reflects a situation where the individual has become overwhelmed by the number of animals in his/her care.