This week a new show about “pets” premieres on Animal Planet. It’s called Confessions: Animal Hoarding. It is described on Animal Planet’s website as “unflinchingly honest” and “an intimate portrayal” of “a human condition that affects people and animals.” Animal hoarding is determined on a situational basis. There is no standard case, species or set of conditions in particular which is the norm in hoarding. However, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) identifies certain characteristics as common in all hoarders. First, a hoarder displays obvious accumulation of a large number of animals, which has far surpassed the home and the person’s ability to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care. Second, the hoarder shows a distinct denial or failure to acknowledge that the conditions of the animals has deteriorated, even to the point of starvation and/or death. Third, a hoarder fails to acknowledge the effects of the number and condition of the animals on him or herself and other household human members.
Number alone does not make someone a hoarder. More determinative is, in light of the above conditions, the individual continues to accumulate more animals. Animal rescuers and farmers can keep hundreds of animals on their own land but not be hoarders as they have the space and research to care for all of them. There are several studies into what constitutes competent care vs. neglectful hoarding, one of which is illiustrated by this diagram. Animallaw.info provides the examples of first, the Canadian woman who died leaving one hundred properly fed, spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and groomed cats and was not considered an animal hoarder against a Utah woman who had only six cats but whose pets and home were so severely neglected she was considered an animal hoarder.
Rusty(A10934734) is an URGENT chi mix
at ACCT. He is an older, calm boy brought
in because his family could no longer afford
to keep him. Photo via PSPCA.
Is it an issue so prevalent to warrant a whole series dedicated to it? According to Animal Planet is is. Maybe for middle America, where people can be segregated from society and separated to a point where the next door neighbor down the road would not notice the sprawling animal population? But is it relatable for Center City people who run into their neighbors on a daily basis and live in a major metropolis with numerous pet daycares, boutiques, groomers, dog parks and playgroups?
It is definitely relatable to George Bengal. “We see these types of hoarding situations regularly,” said Bengal, Director of Law Enforcement for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA). “Most people believe they are helping these animals but are quickly overwhelmed and are unable to take care of them, sometimes with tragic results.”
Just last week alone, two huge hoarding cases were discovered in Philadelphia. On July 13, Pennsylvania SPCA Humane Law Enforcement officers executed a search warrant at a home on the 5700 block of Mascher Street in the city’s Olney section and removed 90 living animals, including cats, dogs, chinchillas and pigeons, from the property. Officers, alerted to the situation through the Pennsylvania SPCA’s 24-hour hotline, also found more than 30 dead animals in a basement freezer. Charges for unsanitary conditions, lack of veterinary care and misdemeanor animal cruelty are pending the results of medical evaluations on all the animals.
Bobo is a senior chi mix at PAWS. Bobo is a
sweet boy who is confused about why his
owners gave him up. Photo via PAWS.
The next day, the same officers entered a home on the 700 block of Earp Street and removed 85 Chihuahuas, Chihuahua mixes and two cats in need of veterinary care from unsanitary living conditions. Officers also found the remains of two deceased dogs in the home. In an interview with CBS3, Bengal described that house as the worst he has seen in 20 years of work and hoarding conditions in the city are consistently deteriorating.”Years ago – and I’m going back probably 10 or more years ago – you got maybe one or two a year,” he said. Now, local PSPCA officers are seeing that many a month, or as seen this month, that many a week.
Animal hoarding is usually determined to be criminal by on a state-to-state basis by a cruelty to animals statute which typically set standards for basic care. A caretaker is to provide sufficient food and water, veterinary care and a sanitary environment. (Only one state, Illinois, currently has a legal definition of animal hoarding in its cruelty statute formulated with the guidance of the ASPCA). It seems these typical bare bones descriptions of care might not be enough to discourage hoarding. In Bengal’s opinion, part of the problem for the prevalence of this behavior is that Pennsylvania law does not mention hoarding at all and unless carcasses are found, hoarders can only be given summary citations. Even when dead animals are discovered, the related offense is only a misdemeanor. As Bengal concluded, “[t]he bigger picture with this is to actually get help with the individuals” and that the PSPCA, in conjunction with prosecutors are now “typically asking for psychological evaluations through the court system so they can get some type of mandatory help.” But judges aren’t bound to intervene until the law changes.
So, maybe Animal Planet is on to something. The show sets out to address animal hoarding as a disorder that is not yet treated or diagnosed. And, according to local and national news, widespread. The show’s introduction, Trapped by Animal Love, states there are more than 3,500 cases a year which put a strain on families, finances and animals. The last week here in Philadelphia has shown that is also puts a strain on the animal welfare community and the already overburdened Philadelphia shelters. Animal Planet goes on to say “[i]n most cases, it is not addressed until is becomes a crime.” Which, it seems would be fairly infrequent and only in situations beyond the imagination of most. So Animal Planet steps in and intervenes in situations the law can’t stop. Will it be effective? Maybe. Will it be entertaining as a show? Unfortunately, probably, with the guerilla tactics of a show “with no existing protocol” entering these homes with teams of experts on animals and psychology, showing the reality to viewers. Their stated goal is “to help improve the lives of everyone involved – human and animal.” Assuming the lives of the viewers are included, it is at least a very ambitious and interesting project. Confessions: Animal Hoarding premieres on Animal Planet Wednesday, July 21.
If you suspect a hoarder or other cruelty, including heatstroke, call the PSPCA hotline at (866) 601-SPCA or send information via email to [email protected]
For more information on hoarding and the local issues, please see the following links:
- The ASPCA describes what you can do if you suspect a neighbor is a hoarder
- CBS3 Advocates Call for Strict Pa. Animal Hoarding Laws
- PSPCA breaking news in humane law enforcement
- PSPCA removes nearly 150 animals from two Phila. homes
- Rusty’s petfinder.com page
- Bobo’s petfinder.com page
- Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) homepage
- Animallaw.info definition/description of what constitutes animal hoarding
- Animal Planet’s Confessions: Animal Hoarding
- dampfang.com’s adopt-a-pet page- Pet adoptions, shelters, health & advice
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