The Illness and The CrimeAnimal hoarders—once described as “collectors” whose good intentions had gone wrong—are now recognized as individuals with a mental illness that can cause criminal behavior with horrific consequences for animals, the hoarders’ families, and their communities.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are a quarter of a million animals who become victims to animal hoarders each year.
Pet hoarding is a mental illness and is most simply defined as keeping an unusual number of pets without possessing the ability to properly house or care for them, while simultaneously denying this inability.
Anyone can become a pet hoarder, but statistically, most are female, half are over age 60 and most live alone
Pet hoarding almost always starts out slowly – with a manageable handful of pets — but then over time, the number of animals becomes not only unmanageable, but completely out-of-control and a dangerous health hazard to the pet owner and the pets. There red flags that a pet owner situation is slipping, or has slipped, from normal and manageable to being a situation requiring intervention.
Here are the fundamental warning signs:
Hoarders have numerous animals and may not know the total number of animals in their care.
Animals are not well socialized and may be very thin and/or lethargic.
Fleas and rodents are present
Hoarders are unable to provide minimal levels of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care.
Hoarders are usually in denial about their inability to provide care and about the impact on the animals and their home and other people who live on the property.
In more than 75% of investigated cases, pet feces and urine are in the hoarder’s home.
Sick or dead animals are discovered in nearly 100% of the cases; and in 60% of these cases, hoarders denied there was a problem.
Hoarders are unable to part with an animal.
Home is filthy and deteriorated (ie: broken windows and furniture, holes in walls or floor, extreme clutter, owner is possibly collecting more than animals).
Hoarder is isolated from the community and appear to also neglect themselves.
Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD and founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) says most pet hoarders fall into one of three categories:
They begin rescuing or helping animals in a small way and/or acquire pets passively but become overwhelmed by their growing pet population and inability to say no. People in this category tend to be the most willing to consider downsizing when offered help.
The people in this group are driven by an extreme sense of mission. Patronek says a profound fear of death and/or loss drives them. Caring for animals provides a strong sense of identity; losing the animals is a loss of who they are. When Animal Services finds this type of hoarder the first options are offering help and negotiated settlements. If the hoarder cannot or will not improve conditions for the animal, sometimes confiscation and prosecution become necessary.
These people may be true sociopaths. Exploiter hoarders lack empathy for people or animals. They are manipulative, cunning and can be vicious. Prosecuting them with every legal option is often the only path to saving the animals and a successful intervention.
If you suspect a hoarding situation it is your duty to report the situation to Flagler Animal Services or Palm Coast Animal Services.Even if this person is someone you love and you fear they may get into legal trouble, the situation is inhumane for all involved and must be brought to an end as soon as possible. Help is available to people suffering from pet hoarding, but part of the definition of a pet hoarder is denial, so it really does take an outside person to make the first move.
Animal hoarding cases do not have to end with criminal prosecution of the hoarder. Humane intervention is usually employed. What is important is to get the animals out, to eliminate the possibility of the hoarder obtaining new animals and to get long term help for the person suffering with the mental illness.