What is Animal Hoarding?
Animal hoarding is a complex and intricate public health and community issue. Its effects are far-reaching and encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns. Many cases of hoarding can be characterized as a symptom of a mental disorder rather than deliberate cruelty towards animals. The following criteria are used to define animal hoarding:
- More than the typical number of companion animals
- Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death
- Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling
It has been estimated that there are 900 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States, with a quarter million animals falling victim. Animals collected range from cats and dogs to reptiles, rodents, birds, exotics and even farm animals.
Why Do People Hoard Animals?
It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Early research pointed toward obsessive-compulsive disorders, but new studies and theories are leading toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression and other mental illnesses. Some animal hoarders began collecting after a traumatic event or loss, while others see themselves as “rescuers” who save animals from lives on the street.
Historically, a person who collected animals was viewed as an animal lover who got in over his or her head, but the truth is that people who hoard are experiencing a total loss of insight. They have no real perception of the harm they’re doing to the animals.
In the majority of cases, animal hoarders appear intelligent and clearly believe they are helping their animals. They often claim that any home is better than letting that animal die. In addition, many hoarders possess the ability to garner sympathy and to deceive others into thinking their situation is under control. They often are blind to the fact that they are not caring for the animals and to the extreme suffering they are inflicting.
How Can You Tell if Someone Is a Hoarder?
It’s not always easy. Animal hoarders range in age, and can be men or women of any race or ethnic group. Elderly people tend to be more at risk due to their own deteriorating health and isolation from community and social groups. One commonality between all hoarders is a failure to grasp the severity of their situation.
Research has shown the mental illness of hoarders allows them to maintain an absolute denial of the filth and suffering of the animals. They cannot see, smell or react to a situation as a normal person would. The following are a few of the signs that can be detected in a hoarder (not all may be present):
- They have numerous animals and may not know the total number of animals in their care.
- Their home is deteriorated (i.e., dirty windows, broken furniture, holes in wall and floor, extreme clutter).
- There is a strong smell of ammonia, and floors may be covered with dried feces, urine, vomit, etc.
- Animals are emaciated, lethargic and not well socialized.
- Fleas and vermin are present.
- Individual is isolated from community and appears to be in neglect himself.
- Individual insists all animals are happy and healthy—even when there are clear signs of distress and illness.
It’s important to note that not everyone who has multiple animals is an animal hoarder. A person may have a dozen animals, and all are spayed and neutered and provided with regular veterinary care and a sanitary environment. This person would not be an animal hoarder. Even rescuers who occasionally become overwhelmed are not considered hoarders if they are actively trying to modify the situation. That said, if you think you might have too many animals to care for properly, please contact your local shelter or a veterinarian for help.
Arkansas Laws Regarding Animal Hoarding:
Animal hoarding is covered implicitly under Arkansas’ animal cruelty statute, which requires caretakers to provide sufficient food, water and veterinary care. Under Arkansas law, animal hoarding is covered under the general definition of animal cruelty – part of which states, a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if he or she knowingly fails to provide an animal in his or her custody with sufficient quantity of food, water and adequate shelter. There is no specific law against animal hoarding in Arkansas or most of the states in the U.S. Currently, there are only two states that have such laws, Illinois and Hawaii. Penalties for failing to provide proper care or medical care to animals under state animal cruelty statutes can include fines, animal forfeiture, the cost of care for the seized animals, and jail time.