If you know of someone who has too many pets in an unsanitary environment, and the animals aren't receiving proper nutrition or medical attention, you may be witnessing a case of animal hoarding. It might be easy in these situations to blame the hoarder and assume his or her actions are intentional, but according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), animal hoarders generally believe they're helping the creatures in their care. Many experts think mental disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) contribute to the condition, so to overcome it, hoarders often need a combination of anti-depressants and therapy. But it's tough for an animal hoarder to get on that road to recovery without some support. Here are five things you can do to help an animal lover break out of the hoarding cycle.
5. See the Signs
Before you approach a suspected hoarder directly -- or even enlist the help of others -- it's important to try to confirm as best you can that hoarding is actually taking place. According to Dr. Karen Cassiday, owner and clinical director of the Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center in Chicago, there are a couple of key red flags to look out for. "The best standards for determining the difference between having a lot of pets and having too many pets is the owner's ability to maintain a clean, healthy and safe home environment, while also being able to take care of themselves and their family," she says.
If you can, try to pay a visit to the suspected hoarding environment to assess the condition of both the animals and the potential hoarder. If you don't know him or her personally, consider talking to nearby neighbors who might be able to provide more information as to the condition of the pets or their home. Neglected animals will likely appear malnourished, and also may have matted fur and open or recently healing wounds. Their home will likely smell of ammonia as a result of excess pet urine, and it may be cluttered with other objects such as magazines, newspapers or boxes.
4. Reach Out
If you have a personal relationship with an animal hoarder, try to meet in person to express your concerns and offer your assistance. If you don't, try to get a friend or family member of the hoarder to do so. "Animal hoarders, and object hoarders, rarely seek treatment unless those who love them motivate them to (do so)," Cassiday says.
Come armed with an open and empathetic attitude: While their situation may seem foreign or even deplorable from your point of view, keep in mind that most animal hoarders truly believe they are doing no harm to the animals under their roof. "Try to avoid confronting them with their failures and the animal neglect, but instead try to get them to talk about what would be the best way to ensure that the animals get the best care possible and how much easier their lives would be if they had fewer animals," Cassiday adds.
3. Pool Your Resources
If you or someone close to a hoarder has had a personal discussion with him or her, ideally the hoarder would respond and vow to take steps to change his or her environment and related behaviors. But when it comes to whether he or she actually follows through, you don't have to carry the burden of worrying about that by yourself -- nor should you.
Arm yourself with resources the animal hoarder can take advantage of, including information on local social service groups, mental health agencies and animal rescue organizations. Cassiday suggests contacting the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) or the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) to find a listing of therapists in your area who are trained to treat hoarding issues. Offer to help the animal hoarder get connected to these professionals. Again, if you're not close to the situation, consider enlisting the hoarder's family members, friends or neighbors to help with this -- and also to keep checking in on his or her progress once the recovery process has begun.
2. Rescue the Animals
Be prepared for the possibility that the animal hoarder will remain unresponsive to discussions and intervention efforts. In those cases, removing the animals from the situation while you still attempt to help the hoarder might be your best option. "Accept that none of your techniques may work and that you may have to call animal control without the hoarder's cooperation," Cassiday says.
There are several ways to rescue animals from a hoarding situation. For example, you could try reaching out to local law enforcement groups, such as the police or fire department -- they often have the power to intervene based on state code violations (i.e. if there are too many animals living under one roof). Contacting animal control, which can remove the pets based on lack of medical treatment (in accordance with state anti-cruelty laws), is another option. Without a doubt, these calls can be difficult to make -- particularly if you have a personal relationship with the hoarder -- but it may be the only way you can help him or her and the hoarded animals, too.
1. Stay in Touch
Once the situation gets to a point where law enforcement, animal rescue or social service groups become involved, the animal hoarder will need all the support he or she can get. "Many animal hoarders have few alternative activities to help them feel productive, since their lives are consumed with vain attempts at animal care," Cassiday explains. "Simply removing all the animals from a hoarder's home will not teach him new ways to manage his life and prevent additional hoarding."
If you are someone who has intervened on the behalf of a hoarder's welfare, it's important not to abandon him or her during the fallout. "We know from object hoarders that simply cleaning out a person's home only provides more open space to refill with clutter," Cassiday adds. "Animal control reports indicate that animal hoarders who have their animals removed are at risk for becoming repeat animal hoarders without treatment." Do what you can to stay in touch with the hoarder and encourage him or her to continue seeking therapy. No doubt this support will go a long way toward helping the hoarder achieve a long-term recovery -- and hopefully, some happiness too.
Next: More Information and Resources
More Information and Resources
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). "Animal Hoarding." 06/10/2010. http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/animal-hoarding.html#signs
- Cassiday, Dr. Karen. Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center, Chicago, IL. Personal interview/correspondence. 06/10/2010.
- The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. 06/04/2010. http://www.tufts.edu/vet/hoarding/index.html
- Nathanson, Jane N. "Animal Hoarding: Recommendations for Intervention by Family and Friends." The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. 06/06/2002.