An offshoot of traditional hoarding, animal hoarders house large numbers of companion animals despite their inability to provide even minimal levels of care. Animal hoarders live in denial of their inability to properly care for their animals, as well as the impact their living conditions have on themselves and other residents. An estimated 900-2,000 new cases of hoarding are discovered each year in the US, effecting up to a quarter million animals including cats and dogs, reptiles, rodents, birds, farm animals, and exotics.
How is animal hoarding different from traditional hoarding?
Many characteristics of animal hoarding are very similar to those exhibited by hoarders of inanimate objects. In fact, about 40 percent of object hoarders also hoard animals. Many animal hoarders share a common background of an unstable home environment, including: childhood trauma, neglect, and abuse, all of which are shared by individuals with other addictive disorders. Compulsively on the lookout for animals to save, they typically have good intentions, but are unable to see the severity of their situation, becoming overwhelmed and isolated.
Common Causes of Animal Hoarding
Addiction related disorders
Elements of addiction may be involved in animal hoarding, including: preoccupation with hoarding, denial about the addiction and its effects, excuses for behavior, claims of persecution, isolation, and self-neglect.
Obsessive compulsive disorders
More prominently seen in hoarders who collect objects in addition to animals, those with this syndrome are strongly focused on their behavior preventing harm to animals.
Focal delusional disorders
The perceptions of people with focal delusional disorders are out of touch with the reality of the situation, such as the belief that animals are well cared for when all evidence shows otherwise. It is often fraught with paranoia regarding officials and other individuals trying to help the situation.
Hoarders with attachment disorders prefer the company of animals to humans, seeing them as safer and less threatening. Attachment related hoarding is common in individuals from chaotic environments seeking stability.
These hoarders begin as typical owners who gradually develop a problem and try to minimize it. They have fewer issues accepting help or intervention, as they believe their situation was caused from a change in circumstances.
Individuals and communities unknowingly contribute to hoarding when they drop off an unwelcome pet to a neighborhood animal lover rather than bringing them to a shelter for adoption or euthanasia.
Rescuer hoarders feel a strong compulsion to rescue animals from possible death or euthanasia. They tend to feel no one else can properly care for their animals and have difficulty refusing new additions. Though they may allow the help of animal welfare advocates, they tend to avoid authorities.
Exploiter hoarders are indifferent to the harm caused to the animals, using them to serve their own needs, such as breeding. They will do anything to achieve their goals, including unlawful behavior, rejecting known problems and authority figures. Exploiters tend to have control issues and are often charming and manipulative when presenting excuses for the situation.
What are the signs of animal hoarding?
- Quantity: A large numbers of animals, quite possibly without knowledge of the actual amount.
- Odors:Strong smells of urine in addition to the presence of feces, vomit, or urine on floors.
- Squalor: A dirty environment, extreme clutter, broken furniture, holes in the wall or floor, and more.
- Poor health: This applies to both animals and their owners, with animals being dirty, emaciated, lethargic, and poorly socialized. Owners are typically isolated and show signs of self-neglect as well.
- Pest infestation: A prevalence of fleas and/or vermin.
- Disassociation: Owners are unable to grasp the severity of the situation, insisting they and the animals are happy and healthy despite obvious signs to the contrary.
- Persistence: Hoarders are unable to stop their hoarding tendencies.
Risks of animal hoarding:
Animal hoarding presents risks to the hoarder, the animals themselves, as well as nearby residents and their pets, including:
- Disease: Zoonotic diseases, diseases that can be spread from animals to people, are often present in hoarding situations due to a lack of sanitation and veterinary care resulting in the stress and poor health of animals. Eighty percent of hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the premises.
- Air quality issues: Ammonia and other bioaerosols emitted by decaying animal waste can easily result in respiratory conditions for occupants, neighbors, and emergency personnel. It is not uncommon for respiratory protection to be necessary during the removal of animals. Reports of ammonia levels in hoarding situations have been shown to exceed 150 ppm, posing a significant risk at 100 ppm over the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) exposure threshold limit.
- Neglect: All forms of hoarding carry an increased risk of self-neglect, child-neglect, and elder-neglect.
- Squalor: Fire hazards from extreme clutter, blockages of entryways and exits, unsanitary conditions, structural damage from urine or feces, and wiring damage from animals or subsequent pest infestation put both residents and animals at risk.
What are the legal ramifications of animal hoarding?
Animal hoarding is covered in each state’s animal cruelty statues, however only Illinois and Hawaii currently have legislation specifically addressing animal hoarding. Anti-hoarding legislation has been proposed in several states, but has not yet been passed. Left unaddressed, the legal ramifications of animal hoarding may result in misdemeanor or felony level crimes, forfeiture of animals, fines, and imprisonment.
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