Hoarding Overview

Animal hoarding is a complex problem. It is important to try to understand hoarding and what interventions are possible. Hoarding may result in serious consequences that put the cats, the hoarder, their family and friends, and the rest of the community at risk.

Animal hoarding is defined as a situation in which ALL of the following elements are present:

  • Having more than the typical number of pets

  • Failure, for whatever reason, to provide even minimal standards of care with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death

  • Inability to recognize the failure to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling

Impact

Hoarding of animals impacts not only the animals, but the health of all humans sharing living spaces with the animals. As the number of animals increases, the owner’s ability to provide adequate care decreases. When financial resources are exhausted, basic housing needs, such as utilities and water may no longer be present. The decline in quality of housing may severely impact on older family members and children.

Shelter and rescue personnel are also impacted. Shelters go into crisis mode. Large-scale interventions and seizures are expensive propositions that drain resources and stretch accommodations beyond capacity. Because of sanitation issues, rescuers may be at risk for exposure to environmental toxins and zoonoses.

In hoarding cases, intervention may be required to evaluate the physical and mental health status of the humans involved in the situation.

What is a hoarder?

The specific pathologies relating to hoarding are not yet fully defined. While there may be elements of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression, the number of contributing factors of mental and physical conditions is quite broad. In many cases, hoarding stems from social isolation, serious life changes, and an inability to plan for the future. No one decides that they want to hoard animals. Oftentimes, people become hoarders very gradually and wake up one morning with far more animals than they can care for.

What distinguishes hoarders from pet owners or responsible breeders and fanciers is that these people have difficulty letting go and placing animals in more appropriate homes. Hoarders often feel that they are the only ones who can care for the animals. Even when an animal is horribly ill, the person often cannot euthanize the animal. There are hoarders who will often keep the corpses of animals, rather than let them go for proper disposition and burial.

Over time, hoarders develop rationalizations that let them live within their declining situations. They become desensitized to the odors resulting from improper sanitation and may not even be able to recognize that some animals are dead. The person perceives the situation as satisfactory status quo with no need to change – the person does not have any conscious awareness of the problems and risks to the cats and him or her self.

While abuse certainly occurs, it is unintentional on the part of the hoarder. The person, instead, sees him or herself as a rescuer or protector of the animals.

Warning Signs Within the Cat Fancy and/or Rescue Community

It may be difficult to tell if a fellow fancier or rescuer has slipped into hoarding behavior. While there are classic signs of such behavior, a hoarder may not exhibit any of them. When one suspects hoarding, it is best to approach the situation with diplomacy and tact. Of course, the Fancy and  the rescue community are not the only places you will find hoarders, but it is often harder to identify a hoarder in groups of people that normally have multi-cat households.

Some warning signs of hoarding include:

    • A fancier or rescuer showing sick and/or poorly groomed animals at cat shows and/or at adoption fairs.

    • The person is socially isolated and often depressed and/or does not take care of him or her self.

    • In some cases the person may have an odor similar to that of a dirty litterbox.

    • Extremely frequent and repeated buying or adopting or rescuing of animals, often with little evidence of an active placement program, may also be a sign. If a breeder doesn't appear to have an active breeding program but keeps obtaining more and more cats, there may be suspicion of hoarding. If a rescuer doesn't appear to have an active adoption program, that's another cause for concern.

    • The person who has many friends, but does not allow anyone to visit the home and/or appears to be someone who seems not to have developed strong reciprocal bonds with the animals.

    On the other hand, in some cases, the person may exhibit perfectly groomed, healthy animals, be perfectly groomed him or her self, show no outward signs of the conditions in the home or rescue and appear outwardly to be mentally healthy.

    How to help

    Quietly - and without any fanfare - STOP selling or releasing cats to the person or placing cats with them for any reason if you have ANY suspicion of hoarding!

    One needs to recognize that the person requires as much assistance as the animals. In order to help resolve the situation, there needs to be an understanding that unless there is a crisis situation in which immediate removal of all the animals is necessary, quick results are not possible. Everyone involved should evaluate his or her standards and reasons for wanting to participate in intervention. A positive trusting relationship has to be in place with the person before intervention can be successful. Often it will be necessary to contact professionals who deal with hoarding behaviors.

    Part of helping is to identify the resources that are available to the individual. These resources could be counseling, arrangements with cat clubs or rescue organizations, arrangements with shelters, newspaper ads, Internet ads, and medical care (human and veterinary).

    Characteristics of a Successful Intervention

    The goals of intervention are not limited to removal of the animals from the situation. Research has shown that merely removing the animals will not end the hoarding; the person will simply move and start again. There is a reported 100% recidivism rate to hoarding when the underlying psychological problems that led to hoarding are not successfully addressed.

    The goal of intervention is to assist the individual to make an honest assessment of the situation, to assist the person in making plans for the care and welfare of the animals and to help him or her in the successful implementation of the plan. During intervention, those who would help need to make the individual aware of resources available and provide assistance in a supportive, non-negative manner.

    Intervention can only be completely successful if the person is open to counseling and support to address the underlying problems that led to the behavior. This can be a lengthy process and often requires interagency cooperation. The roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved are beginning to be defined. Not all areas of the country have plans to deal with all of the problems associated with hoarding.

    Different organizations have different approaches to dealing with hoarding. In some cases, the animals will be removed if the person signs a contract agreeing to stop hoarding behavior and/or breeding. These contracts may have various clauses for repayment of expenses if the behavior resumes and may include monitoring on a regular basis. This approach has been used by at least one cat club dealing with a hoarder, and so far the result appears to be satisfactory. While this approach addresses the needs of the animals, it does not address the psychological needs of the person, though the active monitoring and interaction with members of the organization may help relieve some of the contributory isolation and loneliness and encourage the person to make more efforts to expand their social network and reassess and refocus their lives.

    The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at the Center for Animals and Public Policy at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is establishing guidelines for professionals to use in hoarding situations. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also has a program to provide services. A successful intervention is one with the following outcomes:

    • The individual makes an appropriate assessment of the situation

    • The individual takes responsibility for correction of the situation

    • The individual has a plan to correct the situation

    • The individual successfully implements the plan

    • The individual successfully utilizes the resources available to him or her


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Mark Pennington -Mystre Bengals - Founder