Animal hoarding is a hidden problem in many cases. Animal hoarding is a common practice of many hoarders. Almost half of all hoarders end up hoarding animals at some juncture. Understanding the onset and progress or development of animal hoarding can assist in coming to a better understanding of the issue.
What Is Animal Hoarding?
The Hoarding Animals Research Consortium defines animal hoarding as “having more than the typical number of companion animals” in a person’s custody. Because of the inappropriate number of animals, minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care is not possible. The Consortium is aligned with the Human Society of the United States and focuses on the impact hoarding has on animals.
The Mayo Clinic takes a different approach to defining animal hoarding, focusing on the mental health aspect of the condition. The medical center defines this phenomenon as an excessive accumulation of animals coupled with a persistent inability to reduce their number.
Research Into the Development of Animal Hoarding
Although a considerable amount of research has been undertaking in regard to hoarding more generally, the focus on understanding the development of animal hoarding is in its early stages. With that said, there are some common factors associated with generalized hoarding and animal hoarding. Chief among them is a persistent, pervasive inability to part with items or animals in an individual’s possession.
Another shared reality between generalized hoarding and that associated with animals is the reality that this behavior results in a seriously negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the hoarder as the malady progresses. When it comes to animal hoarding, the progress of the condition also results in a seriously negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the animals as well.
Understanding the state of research, and specific understanding of animal hoarding, there are some decently thought out theories, backed with at least some evidence, that explain the development of this type of hoarding behavior. These theories are backed with at least some concrete evidence that demonstrates that they underpin the onset and further development of animal hoarding.
One of the most broadly accepted theories associated with the onset and development of animal hoarding is based on the concept of the rescue hoarder. The beginnings of what develops into animal hoarding start from an altruistic motivation. An individual takes in one, or a reasonable number of, shelter animals or strays.
Over time, a rescue hoarder begins to accumulate an ever-increasing number of shelter or stray animals. The number goes above what is legally permissible and develops into a hoarding situation.
The rescue hoarder holds a sincerely held belief that absent his or her efforts, these animals would not survive. This belief is firmly held even though the rescue hoarder is not able to provide appropriate care for these animals because of the sheer number of them that accumulates.
At the opposite end of the theoretical spectrum is what is accurately called the exploiter hoarder. This is an individual who brings animals into his or her home for his or her personal benefit. The exploiter hoarder has a lack of companionship and satisfaction with like. The person initially obtains a pet or two to fill an emotional void. (This in and of itself is not that uncommon. Moreover, getting a pet for companionship, loved, and support is an acceptable step, provided these animals are not exploited.)
Over time, an exploiter hoarder accumulates an ever-increasing number of animals, purely for selfish or self-serving reasons. The exploiter hoarder is concerned only with gratifying his or her own needs and ultimately care little for the welfare of the animals in his or her possession.
Some animal hoarders have what medically is known as an attachment disorder. An individual with this psychological condition lacks the ability to form meaningful relationships with other human beings. Thus, they turn to animals.
This theory about the onset and development of animal hoarding differs from that identified with exploiter hoarders. Unlike exploiter hoarders, these individuals care for the animals in their possession. They just end up with too many of them to care for in a proper manner.
Individuals with attachment disorder also differ from rescue hoarders. They do not accumulate animals because they perceive that they are saving these living beings from disastrous consequences.