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Animal Hoarders

The 'no-kill movement' may be responsible for spawning rescue hoarders who reject euthanasia of an animal for any reason, even if the animals are suffering from debilitating or incurable diseases or are unadoptable due to severe aggression towards other animals or humans. Death, no matter how humanely administered, is out of the question for these rescue hoarders.

They cannot recognize the obvious physical or mental suffering of animals in their care. Pictures taken as evidence in cruelty cases involving rescue hoarding depict conditions beyond horrific. Animals are often doomed to live and die in utter squalor, imprisoned in filthy, feces-caked, and overcrowded cages, without benefit of proper food, water, vet care and no real human interaction.No one with an ounce of compassion wants to see animals euthanized, especially young, healthy, adoptable dogs and cats. But no matter how revolting the idea is to some, there is a fate worse than death.

How many hoarders call themselves "rescue groups" to disguise their cruelty and neglect?
By Marsh Myers, Director of Education, Humane Society of Southern Arizona

In the world of animal welfare, it is frequently a challenge for authorities to identify the different "players" in their community. Determining which of these groups are legitimate rescue organizations and which are the creations of mentally or emotionally ill persons is an even larger challenge. In some cases, authorities or local humane organizations may actually use these hoarders' "services," unaware that they are placing their animals with a person financially, emotionally and physically incapable of caring for the new arrivals.

Fortunately, there are telltale signs that police and animal control can look for that may indicate that the "rescue group" is anything but. For example:
  • The "rescue group" is not incorporated as a 501(3)(c) non-profit organization. Most legitimate rescue organizations are non-profits and target specific species or breeds. If they are a non-profit, their status and policies are a matter of public record and should be produced upon request. If the group is not an incorporated non-profit organization and will take virtually any kind of animal, a hoarding mentality may be present.
  • The "rescue group" does not have a Board of Directors, members or staff. Legitimate non-profit rescue groups are mandated to have a Board of Directors and officers. Ask for a listing of these individuals, and be wary if the list contains nothing but personal friends and relatives of the group's administrator.
  • The facilities of the rescue group are housed on the property or in the house of the "owner" or "administrator." Legitimate rescue groups will typically have separate accommodations for their animals, away from human living space. This is for practical reasons relating to safety and disease control. If the rescue group's facilities include cages stacked floor to ceiling in their house or yard – watch out!
  • The rescue group does not have a veterinarian on contract to assist with medical needs. Legitimate rescue groups provide excellent medical care. Hoarders disguising themselves as rescue groups will eschew the involvement of veterinarians, in fear that their animals' true conditions will be ascertained and their operation shut down. In some cases, the group's "administrator" may feel he or she knows how to treat the animal more effectively than a vet does.
  • The rescue group does not adopt out animals; or their adoptions are so low as be to "tokens." The primary goal of legitimate rescue organizations is to find homes for their targeted species or breeds. If the rescue group is simply stockpiling the animals, then it is by definition a hoarder.
  • The rescue group does not spay or neuter their animals. Legitimate rescue groups exist partially to help eliminate the overpopulation problem that makes them necessary in the first place. If the group does not sterilize its animals, ask why not?
  • The rescue group practices a very strict "no-kill" policy toward its animals, even terminally ill or severely injured animals. Although many legitimate rescue groups are no-kill, they will usually make exceptions if the animal cannot be saved or is suffering acutely. Since hoarders frequently feel they are "saving" animals from shelters that euthanize, the idea of putting down an animal (even for humane reasons) may be repellent to them.
  • Finally, the rescue group "administrator" and facilities show all the classic signs of a hoarder. Is the "administrator" of the rescue group prone to paranoia or self-righteousness? Do the facilities indicate that there are too many animals on the property with little or no care? Does the "administrator" exhibit an inability to care for himself or herself in terms of personal hygiene, nutrition, finances, etc.? Are the facilities located in an area zoned for that type of operation? Are human beings living in the same areas and under the same conditions as the animals?
Individually, none of these signs are proof of a hoarding mentality; together they may flag authorities to a potential problem. Don't be fooled by the cute names or altruistic statements of these "rescue-hoarders." Animals will continue to suffer as long as their façade remains intact."

The Two Types of Hoarders*

Rescue Hoarder
  • Has strong sense of mission to save animals which leads to unavoidable compulsion
  • Fears death (of animals and self ) and opposes euthanasia
  • Starts with adequate resources for animal care
  • Acquires animals actively rather than passively
  • Believes he/she is the only one who can provide adequate care; the initial rescue-followed-by-adoption pattern is replaced by rescue-only care
  • Numbers of animals gradually overwhelm capacity to provide minimal care
  • Finds it hard to refuse requests to take more animals
  • Avoids authorities and/or impedes their access
  • Is not necessarily socially isolated; may work with an extensive network of enablers and be more engaged in society, therefore less amenable to intervention via social services
Exploiter Hoarder
  • Most difficult or problematic type of hoarder to deal with
  • Acquires animals purely to serve own needs
  • Tends to have sociopathic characteristics and/or personality disorder
  • Lacks empathy for people or animals; indifferent to the harm caused to animals or people
  • Tends toward extreme denial of the situation
  • Rejects authority or any outsider's legitimate concern over animal care
  • Believes his/her knowledge is superior to all others'; adopts the role of expert with extreme need to control
  • Has superficial charm and charisma - very articulate, skilled in crafting excuses and explanations, and capable of presenting an appearance that conveys believability and competence to officials, the public, and the media
  • Is manipulative and cunning
  • Is self-concerned and narcissistic
  • Lacks guilt, remorse or social conscience
  • Acquires animals actively rather than passively
  • Demonstrates predatory behavior – will lie, cheat, steal without remorse and potentially has a plan to use these tools to achieve own ends
  • Plans to evade the law and beat the system, such as dispersing animals to other animal hoarders or friends
*Source: ANIMAL HOARDING: Structuring interdisciplinary responses to help people, animals and communities at risk
2006 - Edited by Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD; Lynn Loar, PhD, LCSW; and Jane N. Nathanson, LCSW, LRC, CRC

When animal rescuers become animal hoarders, By Sue Manning, Associated Press / January 26, 2011

Recommended Reading
Inside Animal Hoarding, The Case of Barbara Erickson and her 552 dogs, by Arnold Arluke and Celeste Killeen, 2009