What is animal hoarding?
Hoarding is one of the most egregious forms of animal cruelty, affecting tens of thousands of animals – mostly cats and dogs – in communities nationwide. Hoarders keep abnormally large numbers of animals for whom they do not provide even the most basic care. Animal victims of hoarders typically suffer horribly as a result, and, unlike most other forms of companion animal cruelty, their misery can go on for years. The sometimes hundreds of dog or cat victims of a single hoarder generally show signs of abuse such as severe malnutrition, untreated medical conditions including open sores, cancers, and advanced dental and eye diseases, and severe psychological distress.
How serious is the problem?
It is likely that up to a quarter million animals–250,000 per year–are victims of hoarders. What’s more, records kept by ALDF indicate that in the last four years, the number of reported hoarding cases has more than doubled. In terms of the number of animals affected and the degree and duration of their suffering, hoarding is the number one animal cruelty crisis facing companion animals in communities throughout the country.
Who hoards animals and why?
As with other acts of animal cruelty, it may be impossible to know for sure what motivates the abuse inflicted by hoarders. We do know that 72% of hoarders are women and that the most common animal victims of hoarders are cats, followed by dogs. Because recidivism rates for hoarders are almost 100% for repeat offenders, the only long-term solution for stopping their behavior is to prevent them from owning animals.
How does animal hoarding affect the local community?
In addition to the horrific animal cruelty involved, hoarding creates such highly unsanitary conditions that the properties of hoarders, contaminated with fecal matter and urine, are often condemned. What’s more, a single hoarding case involving dozens if not hundreds of animals can easily bankrupt a local humane society and severely strain volunteer resources, and the nuisance and cost to local authorities and law enforcement officials is ongoing.
What can be done from a legal standpoint to stop or prevent hoarding?
Hoarding is very difficult to prevent, but it can be stopped. There is a need for public education and for communities to know how to recognize the basic signs of hoarding: the keeping of abnormally large numbers of animals, the failure to provide proper nutrition and care, and serious neglect. In the short term, neglected and abused animals need to be removed from a hoarder’s property, but only long term changes to animal law can prevent hoarding. ALDF recommends:
Civil Options for Stopping Animal Hoarders
Concerned members of the public need a civil right of action to initiate a case against a hoarder. In most states, a prosecutor must be the one to bring charges against animal hoarders for committing acts of cruelty to animals. Provisions like North Carolina’s 19A Statute, which ALDF used in the unprecedented case in Sanford, N.C., allow any private citizen or organization to bring civil charges against abusers for violating animal cruelty laws. ALDF has drafted a Model Law for a Private Right of Action, based on North Carolina’s unique provision that, if passed in other states, would greatly reduce the burden on local prosecutors and allow concerned citizens and animal protection groups to stop the tragedy of hoarding in their own communities throughout the country.
Cost Mitigation Laws
Taxpayers should not pay the cost of caring for animals rescued from criminal abusers. Because hoarding cases often involve hundreds of animals, the expense of providing food, housing, and veterinary care for animals seized from a hoarder can easily cripple a local humane society or animal control agency. We need cost mitigation provisions to ensure that the hoarder, rather than the local taxpayer, must pay for the costs of caring for those animals while the animals are in the custody of a local shelter after seizure.
Sentencing including Mandatory Forfeiture
Hoarders have clearly demonstrated they are a serious threat to the well-being of animals entrusted to their care. Their rights to all of their animal victims should be forfeited upon conviction, thereby allowing these victims a chance at a better life in a new, loving home. Additionally, because statistics demonstrate that the vast majority of hoarders will recommit similar crimes in the future if given the opportunity, convicted hoarders should be barred from owning, possessing, or having any direct contact with animals.
Why is animal hoarding so difficult to prosecute?
Many states have no legal definition for animal hoarding, courts already assign relatively low priority to animal abuse and neglect cases in general, and many people are unfamiliar with the severity of abuse in hoarding situations. The high cost of caring for animals rescued from hoarders, who often must be cared for at the rescuer’s expense, is also a huge disincentive for prosecuting hoarding cases. These factors contribute to a lengthy and difficult legal process in securing a positive verdict in any case.
Have there been any notable successes in the fight against hoarding?
ALDF won an unprecedented court victory in Sanford, North Carolina where a unique state law allows any person or organization to sue an animal abuser. In April 2005, the judge granted an injunction allowing ALDF and county authorities to remove more than 300 diseased, neglected and abused dogs from the home of a local couple. ALDF was granted custody of the animals, and the hoarders were found guilty of animal cruelty charges. ALDF subsequently won the right to restrict the hoarder’s visitation rights while the dogs remained in custody during ongoing appeals. Each of us can play an important role in stopping animal hoarding and getting the word out that this is not a victimless crime!
How to spot a hoarder:
Keeps an abnormally large number of animals.
Fails to provide minimal nutrition, veterinary care, shelter or sanitation.
Fails to recognize the devastating impact of this neglect.
Can’t stop himself/herself from repeating this behavior.
What you can do to help:
If you suspect someone is an animal hoarder, contact your local humane society, police department, or animal control department.
Educate the public about animal hoarding. For example, you can write a letter to the local newspaper to help alert your fellow citizens about the problem of animal hoarding and how they can stop it.
Alert ALDF so we can track the case and offer our professional assistance to local officials.