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Animal hoarding is a mental illness. While recognized as a psychological condition, hoarding can also result in criminal activity (violation of Chapter 343) when, due to the hoarder's inability to properly care for each animal, the animals experience unnecessary pain, suffer or die. Animal hoarding cases are common in Minnesota.
Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) estimates that approximately 250,000 animals per year are victims of hoarding and calls it "the number one animal cruelty crisis facing companion animals in communities throughout the country."
What is animal hoarding?
"Being kept by a hoarder is a slow kind of death for an animal. Actually, it can be a fate worse than death," explains Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President of ASPCA's Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects.
Psychiatric Times defines an animal hoarder as "someone who accumulates a large number of animals; fails to provide minimum standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care; and fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation, and even death) or the environment (severely overcrowded and unsanitary condtions), or the negative impact of the collection on their own health and well-being."
Research suggests three types of animal hoarders:
• The overwhelmed caregiver is described by Psychiatric Times as "an individual who owns a large number of animals that were reasonably cared for until a change in circumstances impared the individual's ability to provide proper care for them." Their accumulation of animals tends to be more passive (e.g., litters resulting from animals not being spayed or neutered, or taking in neighborhood strays), and when confronted regarding their situation, they are typically more willing to accept help.
• The rescuer is a mission-driven hoarder who feels a strong need to save animals from euthanasia, often seeking out animals from shelter listings and classified ads in an effort to "save" them. Their intent is not to cause harm but, because rescuers feel only they can provide proper care, the animals end up suffering in deplorable and inhumane conditions. This type of hoarder will sometimes pose as a rescue or sanctuary, even though the animals are unlikely to be adopted out. When confronted, they will deny that a problem exists and tend to be resistant to working with authorities. NOTE: This type of hoarding is not to be confused with credible rescuers who run legitimate organizations and have the necessary resources to care for a large number of animals.
• The exploiter collects animals for their own needs, shows little to no attachment to their animals and is indifferent to their suffering. They can be manipulative and might display the characteristics of sociopathy or antisocial personality disorder. Their lack of empathy will likely result in an unwillingness to work with authorities.
According to an article published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
• Every year 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities.
• Between 2 and 5 percent of the general population meets criteria for hoarding (both objects and animals).
• Eighty percent of animal hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the permises.
• Seventy percent of animal hoarders who come to the attention of authorities are females who are single, widowed, or divorced; although community-sampling studies find an equal ratio of males to females.
• Up to 40 percent of object hoarders also hoard animals.
• One hundred percent of hoarders relapse without treatment.
What causes someone to become a hoarder?
Hoarding is a complex and little understood problem that, even after decades of research, is still not fully understood. The cause is unknown, but studies over the years have suggested that hoarding is often triggered by trauma, illness or loss of a loved one.
A groundbreaking study conducted in New York City in 1981 and a follow-up study by Gary J. Patronek in 1999 revealed the following:
• most hoarders collected dogs or cats
• men more often collected dogs, and women more often collected cats
• nearly two-thirds of study's participants were women and 70% were unmarried
• social isolation was common but appeared to result from the hoarding behavior rather than causing it
• most reported their collecting started in childhood
• many had no telephone, public utilities or plumbing, and many hoarded inanimate objects as well
• many felt their animals gave them "unquestioning and uncritical love"
they viewed themselves as rescuers of suffering or unloved animals
• dead or sick animals were discovered in 80% of reported cases, but more than half of the hoarders would not acknowledge the problem
• in 69% of cases, animal feces and urine accumulated in living areas, and over one-quarter of the hoarders' beds were soiled with feces or urine
• hoarders justified their behavior by citing an intense love of animals, the feeling that animals were surrogate children, the belief that no one else would or could take care of them, and the fear that the animals would be euthanized
• typically, animals played significant roles in the hoarders' childhoods, which was often marked by chaotic, inconsistent and unstable parenting
• 60% of the hoarders studied were repeat offenders
How hoarding puts animal at risk
Animals living in a hoarding situation, whether it's 15 or 200 animals, are often plagued with illnesses due to overcrowding and lack of veterinary care. Conditions in the home are often deplorable and can include furniture and flooring covered in feces and urine; presence of sick, dying or deceased animals; rodent or bug infestations; high levels of ammonia in the air; lack of clean food and water; and deteriorating conditions within the home (e.g. lack of plumbing, broken appliances).
A hoarder's inability to recognize the severity of their situation results in the chronic suffering and deprivation of animals. According to Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD and founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) at Tufts University, "Suffering is magnified in large groups of neglected animals because these animals may be stressed by aggression from other animals, may have to fight for food or protect litters, may be exposed to contagious disease, and may endure the proximity of predator species."
To learn more about how hoarding conditions cause serious health and environmental concerns, and how those conditions are assessed, read Tufts University's Public Health for Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium:
What can I do if I suspect someone is hoarding animals?
Most hoarders are in denial that they are causing harm to the animals in their care. If you suspect hoarding, contact your local police department or sheriff office or humane agent.
Are there laws that protect animals in hoarding situations?
While Minnesota does not currently have a law tailored specificially to animal hoarding, the same statutes that protect animals in other situations apply to hoarding as well.
Minn. Stat. Chapter 343 (Protection of Cruelty to Animals)
Minn. Stat. Sec. 346.35-44 (Pet and Companion Animal Welfare Act)
In 2005, the Animal League Defense Fund (ALDF) took legal action against a hoarder in North Carolina. For details of this action, read ALDF v. Woodley. Per the ALDF website and this case:
"In most states, a prosecutor must be the one to bring charges against animal hoarders for committing acts of cruelty to animals. But a unique North Carolina provision, the 19A Statute, which ALDF used in this unprecedented lawsuit against the Woodleys, allows any private citizen of organization to bring civil charges against abusers for violating animal cruelty laws. ALDF has drafted a Model Law or a Private Right of Action, based on North Carolina's unique provision that, if passed in other states, would greatly reduce the burden on local prosecutors and allow concerned citizens and animal protection groups to stop the tragedy of hoarding in their own communities."
Examples of Minnesota hoarding cases:
Pet-Abuse.com: Animal Abuse Case Details
Case updates about hoarding of 118 cats in Hennepin County, Minnesota.
Pet-Abuse.com: Animal Abuse Case Details
Hoarding - 5 dogs seized, 4 cats dead in Fergus Falls, Minnesota
Resources and informational links
The Hoarding Project (www.thehoardingproject.org)
ASPCA: Animal Hoarding
Animal Legal Defense Fund: Animal Hoarding Facts
Best Friends Animal Society: Objects of Their Affection: The Hidden World of Hoarders
Tales of Justice: When Animal Hoarding is Warehousing for Profit Part 1
Tales of Justice: When Animal Hoarding is Warehousing for Profit Part 2
Animal Law: Long-Term Outcomes in Animal Hoarding Cases
Per site: "Animal hoarding is a form of abuse that affects thousands of animals each year, yet little is known about how cases are best resolved, the effectiveness of prosecution, and how sentences relate to the severity of the offense. This lack of information has hampered effective resolution and the prevention of recidivism."