If you’ve seen the show Hoarders, then you know hoarding is a disorder that’s found in virtually EVERY community. There was a time when hoarders were misunderstood, even thought of as “collectors.” Now, they’re recognized as individuals with a mental disorder and compulsion that can cause criminal behavior and lead to horrific consequences for the hoarders, their families and communities, and the animals they may collect.
Animal hoarders become fixated on collecting animals. Keep in mind that ANY animal can be a victim of hoarding—including cats, dogs, rodents, and goats! There are three characteristics of hoarding behavior that experts agree are seen in nearly every case of animal hoarding. These are the signs to look for when you suspect an individual of being an animal hoarder:
1. Hoarders amass a large number of animals.
Animal hoarders often keep animals in filthy, cramped, and crowded conditions. Because of this, many animals are deprived (often for YEARS) of basic necessities. Hoarders often confine animals to tiny cages or crates and are even known to STACK the cages on top of each other!
2. Hoarders fail to fulfill animals’ most basic physical and social needs, including food, water, shelter, veterinary care, and sanitary living conditions.
Accumulated poop and pee (which often cover every surface in a hoarder’s residence) can create dangerously high ammonia levels, which can burn animals’ skin, eyes, and lungs. Flea, mite, and worm infestations and outbreaks of contagious illnesses (including upper respiratory infections, mange, and parvovirus) spread quickly in these crowded conditions. Many hoarders do not seek medical attention for injured or ailing animals. They’re also known for ignoring animals’ need for socialization and exercise.
If they’re provided at all, food and water are usually inadequate. Animals are often left to suffer from malnourishment and dehydration. In some cases, animals have even been found EATING the remains of other animals who’ve died of starvation or dehydration.
3. Hoarders offer excuses for or deny the abysmal living conditions of their animals.
Experts on hoarding behavior believe that dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental-health problems may play a major role in hoarders’ behavior. However, this mental disorder is still often misunderstood, and law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges frequently mishandle cases (or even ignore them!), leaving animals in nightmarish situations. This can lead to devastating consequences for hoarders, their human dependents and community, and the animals.
Animal hoarding is almost ALWAYS fatal for the animals. If they don’t die at the hoarder’s residence, most are extremely ill from receiving minimal care, and many are “unadoptable,” as they go mad from confinement and deprivation. Often, the most humane option for them is euthanasia. Many animals who go undiscovered by authorities languish for months or years on hoarders’ properties, dying slowly and agonizingly. This is a fate far worse than euthanasia administered by caring animal shelter workers.
According to Dr. Gail Steketee, a professor at Boston University’s School of Social Work, the relapse rate for animal hoarders is near 100 percent! This means that proper intervention is essential in order to prevent a relapse of hoarders’ behavior. An effective, lasting intervention must include a ban on contact with animals for as long as a state’s laws allow; regular, unannounced home inspections by law enforcement or humane agents; psychiatric counseling; and sometimes a period of incarceration.
What You Can Do
In the 12-page report “Animal Hoarders: Behavior, Consequences, and Appropriate Official Response,” PETA provides the fullest understanding of this behavior to date. None of the text is copyrighted, and you are encouraged to use it in any way that you want, including in letters to the editor of your local newspaper following stories about hoarders and in correspondence with local officials.
If you suspect an animal hoarding situation, notify animal control or the police immediately. If neither responds quickly, call PETA—anytime, day or night—at 757-622-7382, option 2.