What Is Animal Hoarding, Exactly?

This past month, Dutchess County SPCA rescued 20 cats that had been living together in a trailer. The cats were sick, dehydrated and emaciated. But the setting was typical: garbage, boxes of useless junk, broken furniture from the floor to the ceiling. The owner of the trailer had abandoned the property and the animals.

This was just one of many hoarding cases we handled this past year. In fact, hoarding is the single largest source of the neglected animals—mostly cats–that enter our doors. And in some ways, it is the most heart-breaking, because the owners do not intend to do harm. Hoarding often starts from the best of intentions: “Animals need homes. I have a home that I can give them.” But animals need care and attention too–and their maintenance requires money. If one doesn’t have the space or resources to house animals in a healthy way, one is not doing them any favors. Hoarders aren’t able to see plainly that the care that they are providing is inadequate, and the animals often suffer greatly from filthy conditions and lack of basic care such as food, water, appropriate shelter and medical care. Sadly, the hoarders also suffer, living in filthy conditions along with the animals they intended to save. It’s also common for animal hoarders to repeatedly reoffend, so seeking mental help is crucial to overcoming this problem. Hoarding can also happen when owners don’t fix their animals. In a case we dealt with last year, we found dead kittens that had crawled into and gotten stuck in the walls of a person’s home, along with a number of adolescent cats that were already pregnant. She had started out with two cats and ended up overwhelmed with over 70 in just two years.

Cat hoarding is not the same as feral cat colony management. Hoarding is the collecting indoors of house cats, not feral cats, in unhealthy conditions. Colony management is the controlling of feral cat populations through trap-neuter-return, and the supervision of their feeding and outdoor accommodation. Hoarded cats can be rehomed; feral cats are generally not adoptable.

It may not be something we enjoy thinking about, but hoarding is a recognized illness, and when it involves animals, it becomes a matter of humane law. Our Humane Law department approaches hoarding with compassion, understanding that the individual or individuals involved truly did not mean to do harm. However, as a community it’s important that we are all aware of what hoarding looks like so that cases can be addressed, and animals brought to safety. Signs of hoarding may include large amounts of animal related garbage outside a residence, a strong odor of animal urine or feces surrounding a residence or person, or large amounts of animals, often sick, roaming the property. If you suspect that someone you know may be an animal hoarder and needs help, contact us at the DCSPCA. We have the capability to humanely investigate the situation, bring the animals to safety and notify the correct mental health authorities so that the individuals involved can get the help they need. If you suspect hoarding anywhere near you, please call our humane law department at 845-452-7722 x431. We will investigate and if necessary, remove animals from unsafe environments, provide them with all the care they need to regain health, and find them safe and loving homes.

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