Animal Hoarding – A Serious Threat

We may know of a “dog lady” down the street who hides away the animals she “saves”. We turn a blind eye and perhaps think – what harm can it do? We may even think of her as a kind person. But if she is an animal hoarder she can not only harm – she can kill, maim, and cause unspeakable torture for generations of helpless animals. Even purebreds are not immune, for the animal hoarder may also be a breeder. Animal hoarding is far more prevalent than most people realize. Up to 2,000 cases of animal hoarding are discovered in the United States every year – which adds up to the suffering of many thousands of animals – and that may only be the tip of the iceberg.

According to HARC, the Tufts University Veterinary Medical School Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, animal hoarding, previously known as collecting, is a poorly understood phenomenon which transcends simply owning or caring for more than the typical number of pets, and affects every community in the US. It has serious consequences for people, animals, and communities. New cases are reported in the media each day, with dozens of others unreported, and still more undetected. Animal hoarding is a community problem. It is cruel to animals, can devastate families, be associated with elder abuse, child abuse, and self-neglect, and be costly for municipalities to resolve. Without appropriate post-intervention treatment, recidivism approaches 100%. Increased awareness, leading to more comprehensive long-term interventions, is needed. Animal Hoarding is not about animal sheltering, rescue, or sanctuary, and should not be confused with these legitimate efforts to help animals. It is about satisfying a human need to accumulate animals and control them, and this need supersedes the needs of the animals involved. Animal hoarding is becoming a growing problem since it is becoming more recognized. Animal Hoarding was first identified and researched in 1997 by Dr Gary J Patronek, DVM, Ph.D., and his team through HARC at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, Massachusetts. Dr Patronek and his associates were the first to use the term animal hoarding and to write a definition of the phrase, thus, an animal hoarder is defined as:

Someone who accumulates a large number of animals, fails to provide even the minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care, and fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death), or the environment (severe overcrowding, extremely unsanitary conditions) or the negative effect of the collection on their own health and well-being and on that of other household members.

Hoarders can fool you. In public they may appear to be well dressed, productive members of society. They often take great care with their appearance and may present a polished, even superior image which belies the filth and degradation in which they live. Perhaps the most prominent psychological feature of these individuals is that pets (and other possessions) become central to the hoarder’s core identity. The hoarder develops a strong need for control, and just the thought of losing an animal can produce an intense grief-like reaction. This may account for the difficulty this causes some observers of hoarders who misunderstand the grief reaction for a real concern for the animal’s welfare when, in fact, hoarders are concerned with their own needs and not the condition of the animals at all. One of the main points made by HARC about the disease of animal hoarding is that while hoarders may view themselves as saviors of the animals, they are driven by a need to control. Hoarding is not about loving or saving, it is about power and control- the power to control a helpless creature. Animal hoarding is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – the rationale is that nobody could possibly care for the animal as well as they can, nor, more importantly, love them as much as they do.

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