Animal hoarders share many common characteristics with hoarders of inanimate objects. In fact, 40% of object hoarders also hoard animals. What drives animal hoarding behavior, and how can you best recognize and respond to it for the safety of all involved?
Animal Hoarding Psychology
Why do people begin to hoard animals? There are many types of hoarders, from those with obsessive compulsive tendencies to those that are paranoid, delusional, or simply depressed and lonely.
It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Some begin after a trauma or loss, others see themselves as ‘rescuers…’ However most share the common background of an unstable home environment, including childhood trauma, abuse or neglect – a common trait of those with other addictive disorders.
Animal hoarders are blind to their situation, seeing no issue with the number of animals they house, and believing everything is fine and they are helping the animals. Ignorant of the situation, they do not see how animals are suffering under their care. What does it mean to neglect an animal? Suffering animals are malnourished, emaciated, and lethargic. They are also dirty, living in flea and vermin-infested environment. They do not get adequate veterinary care, and are not well socialized.
Other Signs of Animal Hoarding Include:
- A large number of animals.
Though experts agree there is no ‘magic number,’ it is more about the ability to provide care, hoarders typically possess a large number of companion animals. Some may not even know the number of animals under their care.
- Odor, squalor & poor health.
Animal hoarders do not have the resources necessary to properly care for animals, be it money, time, or propensity. Hoarders are often isolated, appearing to suffer neglect themselves. They typically live in denial of their inability to provide minimal levels of care and the impact that is having on their animals – and other occupants in the dwelling – resulting in unsafe, unsanitary living conditions including:
All hoarding forms accompany neglect: Self-neglect, child-neglect, or elder.
- Filth & odors.
Feces, urine and vomit accumulate in the dwelling, raising ammonia levels.
Lack of sanitation, home and vet care leads to poor animal health. 80% of hoarders have diseased, sick, or dying animals on the premises, some carrying illness that could be spread to humans.
- Severe air quality issues.
Fumes emitted by decaying animal waste can cause serious respiratory conditions for occupants. Ammonia levels in hoarding situations often exceed OSHA’s recommended exposure levels, requiring respiratory safety gear for animal removal.
- A deteriorated, unsafe home.
Damage to walls, floor, plumbing and electrical from animal excrement or chewing, extreme clutter and broken items lain about create blockages, causing tripping, fire and structural hazards.
What To Do if You Suspect a Hoarder
If you suspect someone you know is hoarding animals, there are ways you can help:
- Get help for the hoarder.
Talk with your family veterinarian, or contact your local humane society or law enforcement department to determine the best steps forward in getting the animals and hoarders the help they need. For senior citizens, your local department of the aging, health department, adult protective or mental health services may also offer support or provide links to services.
- Let the hoarder know it is okay to accept help.
Reassure them animals will not be euthanized or lost to them. Regardless of the outcome, you are getting the animals the urgent care they need.
- Volunteer your time.
If a group steps-in to aid with the animals, volunteer your time, helping clean cages, socialize animals, and other duties. The burden on most shelters is staggering.
- Stay in touch.
Spayed and neutered animals may be returnable to their original home provided the hoarder can properly care for, or be aided in properly caring for the animals. This is best done under the guidance of an organization who can ensure no new animals are acquired, or if they are, animals are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and properly cared for.
Helping a hoarder pick up the pieces? Rainbow International® can help, with the in-depth cleaning and restoration services you need to secure a healthful home. Contact us to learn more today.
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