There are 900 – 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the U.S. with a startling estimate of 250,000 animals falling victim. Contrary to popular belief, animal hoarding is not confined to the neighborhood cat lady. Men and women of all ages, races, and walks of life can be animal hoarders. While cats are a frequently hoarded animal, they aren’t the only species to be hoarded. Animal hoarders will collect cats, dogs, ferrets, rats, and many other species including farm animals.
What is Animal Hoarding?
According to the Hoarding Research Consortium (HORC), the following are the criteria for hoarding:
- “Having more than the typical number of companion animals
- Failing to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in illness and death from starvation, spread of infectious disease, and untreated injury or medical condition
- Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling
- Persistence, despite this failure, in accumulating and controlling animals”
In a nutshell, animal hoarding is having more animals in your care than you can reasonably care for financially, emotionally, or physically. Animal hoarders are not able to provide proper nutrition, shelter (with enough room for each animal), and veterinary care for all of their animals. Typically the home that the hoarders live in is not suitable for the animals or themselves and their family. Animal hoarders don’t see the harm that they are doing.
What Makes People Become Animal Hoarders?
Animal Hoarding is a complicated behavior that is not yet fully understood by psychologists. No one knows for certain exactly why an animal hoarder behaves the way that they do. Originally it was associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, there appear to be some commonalities with a number of other mental illnesses such as dementia, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and more. Animal hoarding is very similar to object hoarding. It seems that cases of animal hoarding always begin with a traumatic event that happens to the hoarder. There is a growing movement to create a new disorder in the DSM-V (the diagnostic manual for mental disorders) for animal hoarders.
3 Different Types of Animal Hoarders
Each case of hoarding is unique, but it seems that they can be grouped into 3 basic types. Not all cases will fit cleanly into one category. Most animal hoarders will fit into the first 2 categories.
- Overwhelmed Caregiver. These animal hoarders are the type that started out with a reasonable amount of pets and passively assumed more pets (“the cats had kittens, and then those cats had kittens,”etc) until the population got out of control. An event or circumstance plays a part in their accumulation of animals. They are likely to be somewhat aware of the problem they’ve created and socially isolated.
- Rescue Hoarder. A rescue hoarder is on a mission to save as many animals as they can. These hoarders are afraid that the animals will be killed in anyone else’s care. They feel that they are the only ones who can care for these animals. Often rescue hoarders will have a network of enablers.
- Exploiter Hoarder. Unlike the first 2 types of hoarders who want nothing more than to care for the animals they hoard, these hoarders don’t care about the well-being of the animals. The purpose of hoarding the animals is to use them for the needs of the hoarder. Exploiter hoarders have sociopathic tendencies with little remorse for the harm they cause. Beware – they may be very charming and manipulative.
What Are the Signs That Someone Hoards Animals?
It is important to notice the signs of animal hoarding. Animal hoarders are likely not “bad people” rather they are people who have an illness and need help. The more people who are educated about animal hoarding behavior, the more animal hoarders and animals who can be helped.
The first thing you might notice about an animal hoarder’s house is that it is dilapidated. Since they don’t really have the means to take care of the number of animals they have, the house is likely to look as if it is being run by the animals. The smell of ammonia can be a tip-off to the fact that urine and feces are not being removed properly. In some cases urine, feces, and vomit may be caked onto floors and surfaces. Fleas, mice, and other insects may be infesting the house.
The hoarder him/herself may seem a bit unkempt. However, many hoarders live a double life, which makes it hard for people at their work or other places outside the home to believe that they could live in such squalor. They have learned to conceal their hoarding to avoid the criticism of others.
Take notice if the animals do not appear healthy. They may be lethargic, sickly, or thin. Many will be lacking socialization. Even with the most obvious signs that the animals are not healthy, the hoarder will insist that they are indeed healthy and happy. The hoarder will 100% believe what they are saying about the happiness of the animals. This disconnect from reality is a major symptom animal hoarding.
Have you ever known a hoarder?
Sources & Digging Deeper
Animal Hoarding – Animal Legal Defense Fund
What is animal hoarding? Is it like hoarding lots of objects? Can it be cured? – Anxiety and Depression Association of America