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Animal Hoarders

According to the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), nearly 250,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding each year.  What makes this crime different from other types of animal cruelty is that most animal hoarders believe they are helping, saving, or rescuing the animals they imprison.

Tina Tessina

I interviewed Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction,  to get a better understanding of animal hoarders. Following is a Q&A with Tina:

Pet News and Views: Is there a particular trait that identifies hoarders?

Tina: We all have two minds we operate from the rational and the emotional.  Hoarders are operating out of the emotional, and have difficulty seeing things rationally. They’re only registering their emotional response, and not thinking logically about consequences.

PNAV: What makes someone hoard dogs and cats?

Tina: Often, they love animals; they may identify with strays because (correctly or not) they feel abandoned by society, family and friends. Once they identify, they can’t say no to taking in cats or dogs. Animals are easy companions. All they really require is being fed and watered, and they’ll stay around. Anyone who loves animals and has been to a pet shelter knows the pull to help all the doomed animals there. Hoarders just can’t resist the pull.

PNAV: Do they start out loving dogs and cats and then lose control?

Tina: Almost always. They take in the animals with the attitude of a child–Oh isn’t it sweet? and don’t consider the larger picture. If they don’t get the animals spayed or neutered, they don’t even have to take in more to have their hoard grow. In the case of some animal hoarders I know, if people find out, they start dumping unwanted animals at the hoarder ‘s place. The whole thing becomes completely overwhelming, because they didn’t take care of business in the first place.

PNAV: How can they be helped?
Tina: Someone needs to notice this happening early on, and take control, forcing the hoarder to limit the number of pets and take proper care of them.  Unfortunately, there’s no legal basis for this, unless you have someone declared incompetent by law.  If you know Aunt Sally is getting a bit overrun with cats, and you have a good relationship with her, you might be able to persuade her to take proper care, get her animals spayed, and notice when she has adopted a new stray. Veterinarians would be in a good position to help guide pet owners, but often by the time it’s a problem, the person isn’t contacting a vet.

Thankfully, these cats were rescued from a hoarder.

How to Help
While animal cruelty laws vary from state to state, laws state that pet owners must supply adequate food, water and shelter for their pets. In cases with hoarders who are unwilling to accept help and the conditions are not deemed cruel by the law, you can contact your local fire department regarding fire code violations; health departments can also intervene if disease is an issue; and county zoning boards can step in regarding the number of animals a person may keep.

HSUS recommends sentencing convicted animal hoarders to psychological evaluation and treatment, and that they be restricted to owning a small number of animals, such as two. HSUS also suggests that hoarders must agree to unannounced visits from animal control officers to ensure compliance. In extreme cruelty cases, where animals are visibly suffering, HSUS favors jail time for hoarders.

If you suspect someone is hoarding animals, contact your local SPCA or county zoning board for help.

13 comments to Animal Hoarders

  • CINDY COLLIER

    Hello there

    Animals should not be treated this way and they should have a loving home and they should be protected at all times. Please put a stop to this as its not fair all around.

  • Fulvia

    As an Italian animal rights activist, unfortunately sometimes it happened to me to bump in such cases. Awful! Most of times, animal hoarders have psychological problems. Everything has to be done to prevent such problems!

  • Hi Fulvia,
    Thanks for commenting. I’m always curious to find out how other countries handle animal rights.

  • It’s so sad, because these people’s hearts are in the right place, but their brain is not functioning properly. In my opinion, the people that run puppy mills deserve jail time – hoarders should be required to get psychological help.

  • I totally agree. Hoarders need psychological help and puppy mill owners should be jailed.

  • What do the treatments entail? Are there medications available that can help?

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  • Jim, it depends on the illness. Is the hoarder clinically depressed? Obviously there are different medications for different illnesses. Overall, I think if it is a mental illness the hoarder should receive psychological treatments.

  • Gia

    Jim/Michele – There are several medications that can “help” with hoarding, which is linked to OCD. Often times a hoarder suffers from more than one issue, as Michele mentions depression is one, and believe it or not perfectionism is another. There are so many issues surrounding this illness a trained professional needs to be involved to gain a clear diagnosis. However, one of the best treatments for hoarding is Cognative Behavioral Therapy. Without proper follow-up care animal hoarders typically suffer a 100% rate of relapse. So it is extremely important that once caught the courts mandate psych counseling and that animal control continue to monitor their living conditions for several years.

    You can also learn more about hoarding on my site: http://www.animalhoarding.org

  • Thanks Gia. Yes, it is sad that without proper follow up the recurrence is 100%.

  • This is appalling and all’s they are doing is torturing these poor animals? I think they really don’t realize they are hurting these animals. But, when they do know, they still don’t do anything about it? So, how on earth can they be helped. It will happen over and over again. This happened here in Oregon. They took all the animals and then the lady got more and started it all over again. They need to be checked and looked at by a doctor, & not left to repeat their hoarding again continously for many years.

  • Carey

    I don’t think most are ill at all. I have a friend who cares for many animals. Luckily, she has a good job and can afford spays, meds, etc. I think these women are torn between ‘doing the best they can’ and ‘having the animals killed at the shelter’. Who are we kidding about finding homes for all the animals these women house. Shelters are killing animals every second all around the country. They know exactly what’s going to happen if they turn those animals over to authorities. I blame other people. I give money and do errands for the woman i found out about. It is everyone’s responsibility to chip in.