Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Recognize an Animal Hoarding Situation

Last week, the Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team assisted in the rescue of nearly 700 cats that were found living in deplorable conditions in High Springs, FL.  When responders arrived on the scene, they found the cats housed mainly in unsanitary wire pens throughout the eight-acre property.  A veterinarian on the scene determined that many of the cats were underweight and suffering from medical ailments such as upper respiratory infections and parasite infestation.

According to the ASPCA, animal hoarding is a complex and intricate public health and community issue.  Its effects are far-reaching and encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns.

The following criteria are used to define animal hoarding:
  • More than the typical number of companion animals.
  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death.
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling.

Here are several signs that may indicate someone is an animal hoarder:
  • They have numerous animals and may not know the total number of animals in their care.
  • Their home is deteriorated (i.e., dirty windows, broken furniture, holes in walls and floor, extreme clutter).
  • There is a strong smell of ammonia, and floors may be covered with dried feces, urine, vomit, etc.
  • Animals are emaciated, lethargic and not well socialized.
  • Fleas and vermin are present.
  • The individual is isolated from the community and appears to be in neglect himself.
  • The individual insists all animals are happy and healthy—even when there are clear signs of distress and illness.

Here are several signs that a rescue group or shelter may involve a hoarder:
  • The group is unwilling to let visitors see the location where animals are kept.
  • The group will not disclose the number of animals in its care.
  • Little effort is made to adopt animals out.
  • More animals are continually taken in, despite the poor condition of existing animals.
  • Legitimate shelters and rescue organizations are viewed as the enemy.
  • Animals may be received at a remote location (parking lot, street corner, etc.) rather than at the group's facilities.

If you think someone you know is struggling with animal hoarding, here are some ways you can help:
  • Pick up the phone and call your local humane law enforcement department, police department, animal shelter, animal welfare group or veterinarian to initiate the process.
  • Contact social service groups and ask them to get involved. Animal hoarding is not just about the animals. Your local department of the aging, adult protective services, health departments and other mental health agencies may be able to provide services or links to services.
  • Reassure the animal hoarder that it's okay to accept help. Animal hoarders are usually worried that their animals will be killed or that they will never see them again.
  • Volunteer your time. With the removal of so many animals from a hoarding situation, the burden on local shelters can be staggering. Volunteer your time to help clean cages, socialize animals, walk dogs and perform other such necessary duties.
  • Keep in touch. Under the guidance of an organization, help the individual with daily animal care chores. If the individual acquires new animals, help ensure that they are spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

Content provided by the ASPCA in conjunction with the Animal Legal and Historical Center
Image via


  1. oMG That is horrible. Those poor animals. Animal hoarding is a sickness. If only those people realized they did more harm than good. Thanks for publshing this important article BJ. I'm in total shock at the numbers 700!! The shelters in that area must be totally overwhemed.

  2. Thanks for posting this important information. This is an issue we feel VERY STRONGLY about. I have helped with several hoarding situations and the images and suffering are forever burned in my brain. It's horrible ...

  3. Mom has helped with some cases before but this number is just scary. It is sad that people think they are helping but are just hurting these animals.

  4. Thank you so much for bring this issue to our attention.

    I'm a researcher for the series Confessions: Animal Hoarding, currently airing on Animal Planet that tells the stories of people overwhelmed by the number of pets they own. The problem is on the rise and affect communities across America.

    If you are concerned about the health of animals in someone's care and suspect they may be hoarding them, we might be able to help.

    Most animal hoarders don’t see themselves as hoarders, and sometimes don’t intentionally collect animals. Their relationship with their animals has threatened their relationships with friends and family.

    Most of these situations aren’t dealt with until they become criminal. This results in animals being euthanized by over-stressed shelters, and doesn’t address the underlying psychological issues - meaning nearly 100% of people end up in the same situation again.

    We are dedicated to finding comprehensive long-term solutions and believe therapy to be key to this. We can bring in experts to help people and their pets.

    If you or someone you know needs help because animals have overrun their life, visit to learn more and submit their story. Alternatively, contact me directly at or toll-free at
    1 -877-698-7387.

    We will treat all submissions with confidentiality and respect.

  5. We are reading more of more about this topic. KingTuttiFruiti was trying to find a shelter for 60 cats last week and there was a hoarder in Brooklyn. NYC does have a hotline for hoarders but a lot of people are afraid the cats will be euthanized so they don't seek help.