Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Animal Hoarding: Devastating for Animals and People


By Lauren Malmberg, Peoria County Animal Protection Services

Remember the “cat lady” who lived in your neighborhood and kept dozens
of cats? Most neighborhoods can cite examples of people who fit this
description. While it may seem harmless and even sweet, this is
considered animal hoarding and causes tremendous suffering and cruelty
to the animals. Many people have multiple pets and care for them
humanely, responsibly, and successfully. However, others with multitudes
of animals do not care for them responsibly and are likely to be
considered hoarders.

Animal hoarding happens in every community. Dr. Gary Patronek of Tufts
University defines animal hoarders as people who accumulate a large
number of animals; fail to provide minimal standards of nutrition,
sanitation, and veterinary care; and fail to act on the deteriorating
condition of the animals, the environment, and their own health.
Although some consider this merely an “animal” issue, hoarding also
causes serious health consequences for the people who live in that

Animals living in a hoarding situation don’t receive appropriate food or
medical care. Because of the numbers, the animals get little or no
socialization and develop inappropriate behaviors. They usually breed
indiscriminately, increasing the population inside the home. And, as the
population inside increases, the house fills with animal feces and
urine, food, and, in extreme cases, the dead carcasses of animals.

People suffer in hoarding situations, too. Hoarders pay little attention
to their environment and live among the feces, urine, spoiled food, and
clutter. They compulsively collect animals — taking in strays or
answering ads for free pets. Some keep as few as a dozen animals, but
others keep hundreds. Hoarders often cover their windows, seal some of
the doors, and refuse certain services so that no one sees inside their
homes. Although many hoarders can successfully hide their condition,
anyone who enters the home knows immediately something is awry. The
animals can suffer for years without intervention, and the people
experience health consequences from living in horrible conditions.

Hoarders usually draw initial attention because of the odor from their
homes. Particularly in warm weather, neighbors often report they cannot
enjoy their own property if they live near someone who hoards animals.
Family, friends, and neighbors may know when an individual has developed
into a hoarder, but can be reluctant to get involved. Caseworkers,
meter readers, and others who visit the property may be the first to
sense a problem but might be hesitant to make a report.

Even if a concerned individual wants to help, dealing with those who
have accumulated numerous animals is difficult and has little long-term
affect. Recidivism is quite high among those who hoard animals; it is
not uncommon for animal control agencies to deal with the same people
every few years and impound scores of animals.

Still, it’s imperative that hoarding be reported whenever it is
suspected. Experts now acknowledge that animal hoarding is a mental
health issue that needs intervention to save the animals and treatment
to prevent its reoccurrence. Unfortunately, most people who hoard do not
recognize their condition as a problem, and in fact, proclaim that they
truly love animals and protect them from harm. Laws governing hoarding
in many areas are vague; many times the only recourse to dealing with
this issue is to call in animal control. However, that’s just the
beginning; just impounding all the animals is not the solution.
Communities are now trying to develop a multifaceted approach to deal
with this serious health issue.

If you suspect you know someone is hoarding animals, consider these options:

  • Contact a family member; sometimes the family may not be aware
    and can intervene. Sometimes, though, the family already knows and
    simply cannot bring themselves to deal with the situation.
  • Contact animal control, police department, or local humane
    society. Most communities will have an agency conduct an investigation
    and may be able to bring relief to the animals by impounding them.
  • Contact the local health department. Many have resources to deal with mental health issues.
  • Contact child and family services. If children live in the home,
    there may be violations of child welfare laws. Caseworkers would be
    able to determine if the children are in danger.
  • Contact elder abuse programs. In some cases, elderly people must live in these situations without relief.

Any intervention can provide relief for the animals and for the humans
living in the squalor and filth. But before anything can be done, the
problem must be acknowledged and reported.

For more information, call Peoria County Animal Protection Services
at 309-672-2440. This article is sponsored by Waggin’ Tails Doggy
Daycare and Resort, Goodfield, IL. Call 309-642-9299 or email for your dog’s boarding, doggy daycare, and
grooming needs.