The number of people who hoard is higher than most people realize. This includes people who hoard animals. At this juncture in time in the United States, between two and six percent of the U.S. population are thought to hoard, according to the American Psychiatric Association. We also know that hoarding is more likely to occur among people between the ages of 55 to 94. An unexactly identified but significant percentage of people who hoard do so with animals. Understanding these basic facts, if you find that you have a loved one who hoards animals, you need to understand some tactics that can be used to reach out to a person in such a position. 

What Is Hoarding?

The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding, including animal hoarding, as:

“Hoarding disorder is medically defined as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.” 

Basic Facts About Animal Hoarding

In the case of animal hoarding, a person accumulates a number of animals in his or her home that are beyond what can appropriately be maintained. A hoarder ends up with so many animals that the basic needs of these pets cannot be met. 

As will be discussed a bit more in a moment, an animal hoarder will not perceive that there is anything wrong with the inordinate number of animals being kept at his or her home. In fact, a hoarder likely believes that he or she is protecting these animals from harm that would exist or occur if these animals had to go to another location. 

Steps To Take To Connect With and Aid a Loved One Who Hoards Animals

There are some specific steps that you need to take to effectively assist a person who is dealing with hoarding disorder involving animals. These steps include:

  • Treat a hoarder respectfully
  • Educate yourself on hoarding disorder
  • Listen to your loved one
  • Encourage loved one to seek professional assistance
  • Do not try to remove animals without the approval of the hoarder
  • Recognize positive change

The first point you need to bear in mind when it comes to reaching out to a loved one who hoards animals is to avoid being accusatory, demeaning or threatening. You need to bear in mind that a person who hoards animals likely doesn’t think that a problem exists. In fact, a person who hoards animals likely believes that he or she is providing a service to the animals. 

An animal hoarder believes that he or she is serving the interests of the animals and is doing so in a manner that is far and above what others would be able to do. An animal hoarder likely has this perception even when the empirical evidence suggests that the animals are not being appropriately cared for as a result of the fact that they are being hoarded. 

Educate Yourself on Hoarding Disorder

At the outset of assisting a loved one with an animal hoarding issue, you need to take time to educate yourself on the basics of this mental health condition. Reading this article is a good starting point to coming to an understanding of how you can assist a loved one with hoarding disorder. Examples of reliable resources through which you can learn more about animal hoarding include the Mayo Clinic and the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI.

Listen To Your Loved One

A crucial element of reaching out and assisting a loved one with hoarding disorder is to listen. You need to listen to what a person who has been hoarding animals has to say to you. Be an attentive and non-judgmental listener. 

By being a concerned, non-judgmental listener, you will gain the confidence and trust of a person with a hoarding disorder involving animals. It is through gaining and maintaining trust with a person who has a hoarding disorder that you will be in the best possible position to provide that individual with the assistance he or she may need to get on the road to recovery and a better life. 

Encourage Loved One To Seek Professional Assistance

An important step you need to take if you want to assist a loved one who hoards is to encourage that individual to seek professional help. When a recommendation is made to seek professional help, this means more than just obtaining assistance from one type of professional.

Because of the serious nature of hoarding disorder and the unique challenges faced by a person with this condition, a team approach to assisting a loved one with this condition is necessary. Examples of professionals and resources that might be necessary to assist a loved one with hoarding disorder that involves animals include:

  • Psychotherapist 
  • Hoarder property cleanup specialist
  • Hoarder support group
  • Organization professional
  • Clergy member
  • Animal aid organization
  • Trusted family members
  • Trusted friends

Do Not Try To Remove Animals Without Approval From the Hoarder

Before diving deeper into this tactic, it is important to note the vital importance of protecting the health and wellbeing of the animals being hoarded. There may be situations in which the state of a person’s hoarding has reached a juncture that animals are in imminent danger. If that is the case, a person who is concerned about the welfare of a person hoarding animals may have to take a more expedited approach to removing the animals from a hoarder’s residence. 

With that said, barring a more urgent situation that demands immediate removal of the animals at a hoarding location, you should not begin removing animals from a hoarder’s home without his or her permission and general agreement. The ideal course is to get the person who has been hoarding to “sign off” on the idea of moving at least some of the animals being hoarded to a different location.

You also need to understand that in many cases not all of the animals will need to be moved from the hoarder’s residence at one time. The process can be more deliberate and involve the moving of animals in phases. Ultimately, the situation may be such that a hoarder can continue to take care of one or two animals. Addressing hoarded animals doesn’t necessarily need to be an all or none proposition. 

Recognize Positive Change

Finally, when it comes to assisting a person recover from hoarding disorder, you need to recognize positive change. A hoarding issue didn’t develop overnight. In the same vein, hoarding disorder will not be solved overnight either. You need to be consistently supportive of a loved one as he or she slowly makes progress towards lasting recovery from animal hoarding.