Kirk Miller, DVM, is a veterinarian with expertise in dealing with cats and dogs that have been the victims of hoarding. Through his work, he has gained some important insights into the phenomena of animal hoarding. Through this article, we discuss:
- Overview of animal hoarding
- Impact of hoarding on pets and people
- Types of Animal Hoarders
- Helping an animal hoarder and hoarded animals
- Prosecuting animal hoarders
- Preventing animal hoarding
Overview of Animal Hoarding
According to Dr. Miller, many people inaccurately defined animal hoarding based solely on the number of animals a person has collected. In reality, animal hoarding is not merely defined by the number of animals a person has amassed. Rather, a determination is made as to whether a person is an animal hoarder based on whether or not he or she has so many animals that proper care can no longer be given to them.
For example, a person with 20 cats would not be considered a hoarder if the individual is able to properly care for them. A person living on a farm might have 20 well-fed and properly sheltered felines. By contrast, a person residing in a small apartment who lacks resources to properly feed and otherwise care for that same number of cats could be categorized as a hoarder.
Dr. Miller advises that an estimated 250,000 animals fall victim to a hoarder in the United States annually. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, animal hoarding has been on the increase over the course of the past decade.
Impact of Hoarding on Pets and People
Hallmarks of animal hoarding are an inability to provide minimal standards of basic needs for animals, including:
- Food and nutrition
- Veterinary care
This inability to meet these minimum needs of animals significantly negatively impacts their lives. Because animal hoarding oftentimes happens within the confines of a residence, the conditions associated with the situation can create an unhealthy, unwholesome situation for the hoarder himself or herself. Indeed, whilst animal hoarding is negatively impacting the animals, a human or humans that reside at the premises can be exposed to harmful biological pathogens, including viruses and bacteria that can cause serious illness.
Types of Animal Hoarders
Dr. Miller and other experts identify three types of animal hoarders:
- Overwhelmed caregiver
- Rescue hoarder
- Exploiter hoarder
An overwhelmed caregiver is a person who has good intentions when it comes to animals. Oftentimes, an overwhelmed caregiver passively acquires an increasing number of pets. For example, a person may end up with a considerable number of cats because others bring them that individual. Ultimately, the situation gets out of control. An overwhelmed caregiver is more likely than other kinds of pet hoarders to recognize that a problem exists. He or she is likely to amenable to assistance, recognizing that doing so will benefit the animals.
A rescue hoarder has a compulsive drive to “rescue” animals from the potential for euthanasia. A rescue hoarder views shelters and other humane organizations as enemies. A rescue hoarder operates under the mindset that he or she is the only person capable of providing appropriate aid and assistance to these animals. A rescue hoarder is not likely to be amenable to the assistance of any type – because of the persistent belief that only he or she can provide animals what is required.
An exploiter hoarder acquires animals to satisfy some personal need. Unlike the other two types of animal hoarders, an exploiter is not motivated by a perceived need to assist animals. Puppy mill operators oftentimes are placed in this category of an animal hoarder. Oftentimes, an exploiter hoarder will steal, cheat, and lie to achieve personal goals. This type of hoarder is not amenable to assistance.
Helping an Animal Hoarder and Hoarded Animals
Professional intervention and assistance are nearly always needed to assist an animal hoarder and hoarded animals. Animal hoarding is classified as a mental health disorder. Multiple people typically need to be involved in helping an animal hoarder to assist both the hoarder and the animals. These people include:
- Mental health professionals
- Biohazard cleanup specialists
- Family members or friends
- Animal Fosterers
Dr. Miller makes note that only through a multifaceted approach involving multiple people can a current animal hoarding situation be addressed and can future hoarding be prevented.
Prosecuting Animal Hoarders
In recent years, an increasing number of cities and counties in the United States have enacted ordinances regarding prosecuting animal hoarding. In addition, some states have taken action to develop laws that permit the prosecution of animal hoarding. These laws take a variety of approaches to the issue of animal hoarding. At the present time, there isn’t a great deal of consistency when it comes to the prosecution of animal hoarding in one jurisdiction to another.
In the final analysis, because animal hoarding is a mental health disorder, merely prosecuting people who hoard pets and other animals are not likely to be deterred via prosecution alone. Rather, the comprehensive approach outlined earlier needs to be at the foundation of addressing animal hoarding in this day and age.