Animal hoarding is a problem that affects individual and public health, community welfare, and animal safety, and requires a humane solution. Animal hoarders may be either sex, and any age or social class. What may appear to be neglect or cruelty is a more complicated issue with connections to elder and child abuse. The very premise of a caring human-companion animal relationship becomes distorted in this situation; the hoarders and their animals are suffering.
Most hoarders are affected by a degree of mental illness: personality, attachment, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, delusional thinking, paranoia, or depression. Some believe they are doing a good deed by rescuing the animals; some begin hoarding after a traumatic event in their lives. Most hoarders are lonely, socially isolated, have good intentions, but are unable to follow through on properly overseeing the care of their animals. They are often the elderly, who have difficulty taking care of themselves. They tend not to recognize or acknowledge that there is a problem within their environment that impacts the health and happiness of their animals, their families, themselves, or their neighbors.
The standard definition of a hoarder includes three major factors. An animal hoarder will generally possess more than the typical number of companion animals, often resulting in serious consequences for the animals and individuals involved. A hoarder is unable to provide adequate “nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death.” A hoarder will not accept the fact that the care and supervision is below standard and will deny “the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling.”
Local humane law enforcement should be notified about a hoarder, as intervention is needed for the safety of the individuals and the animals. Usually the animals are not adoptable and often must be euthanized. The most effective approach to this problem is to change the behavior of the hoarder to prevent a recurrence.
Look for signs of hoarding in your neighborhood, in your family, among your friends, and among those involved in animal care. Health care professionals, social services, legal, mental health, and government employees and agencies must advocate for the animals and the individuals in need of assistance and guidance. Awareness, early intervention and monitoring, and caring assistance, simply staying in touch with those that are prone to hoarding, are keys to resolving this under-acknowledged problem.
(Thanks to the ASPCA, We Are Their Voice, 8/6/10.)