By Phillip Snyder, Executive Director
Published in the Englewood Sun on February 24, 2013
Situations involving large numbers of animals being neglected have been brought to light recently through local media in Southwest Florida. Some people have said they were back-yard breeders some have referred to them as puppy mills. Regardless, many of these cases involved individuals who became overwhelmed by the time, money and other resources needed to care for their animals. This description fits the mold of an “Animal Hoarder.”
According to The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), animal hoarders are defined as one that accumulates a large number of animals, mostly dogs and cats, but often other animals as well. They fail to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care, and fail to act on deteriorating conditions, such as disease, starvation and even the animal’s death.
Animal Hoarders keep animals, in severely overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and often neglect their own health and well-being. It is not unusual that they are also living in the filth caused by the hoarding. These are people that lose sight of reality, are in denial of the suffering they are causing, and unable to even acknowledge the dead and dying animals around them. They actually feel they are rescuing and caring for the animals. An animal shelter is the last place they would call, for fear that animals would be euthanized.
Several studies on animal hoarding, including Tufts University and The Humane Society of the United States, have revealed that the majority of animal hoarders are female, though some major cases have involved males. Most start early in life and grow progressively worse with age. Dead or dying animals are discovered in 80% of the cases, while nearly 70% of the hoarders are living in homes saturated by animal urine and feces. Hoarders justify their behavior by citing an intense love of animals, the feeling that animals are surrogate children, and the belief that no one else could take care of them.
The most alarming statistic is that most studies find that somewhere between 60% to 100% of hoarders will hoard again, if allowed the opportunity. This statistic alone sends an important message to investigators, prosecuting attorneys and Judges. Hoarding is considered a compulsive disorder that jail time, fines and probation seldom corrects or cures. Effective sentencing for this type of crime should include psychological examination and treatment, allowance of only a limited number of spayed or neutered animals, preferably 2-3, to nurture their addiction, and strict monitoring by the local animal services or humane society.
It is believed that nearly 250,000 animals suffer from hoarding each year. This phenomena may not be entirely preventable, but, I believe more can be done to reduce the numbers of people and animals suffering from this horrible life of neglect.