Why Do People Hoard Animals? It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Early research pointed toward a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorders, but new studies and theories are leading toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression and other mental illnesses. Some animal hoarders began collecting after a traumatic event or loss, while others see themselves as “rescuers” who save animals from a life on the street.
"Historically, collecting animals was viewed as an animal lover who gets in over his or her head, but the truth is that people who hoard are at a total loss of insight,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, ASPCA Senior Vice President for Anti-Cruelty Initiatives and Legislative Services. “They have no real perception of the harm they’re doing to the animals." In the majority of cases, animal hoarders often appear intelligent and clearly believe they are helping their animals. They often claim that any home is better than letting that animal die. In addition, many hoarders possess the ability to garner sympathy and often deceive others into thinking their situation is under control. They are blind to the fact that they are not caring for the animals or of the extreme suffering they are inflicting. According to Dr. Lockwood, "Being kept by a hoarder is a slow kind of death for the animal. Actually, it’s a fate worse than death." Back to top How Can I Tell if Someone Is a Hoarder? It’s not always easy. Animal hoarders range in age, and can be men or women of any race or ethnic group. Elderly people tend to be more at risk due to their own deteriorating health and isolation from community and social groups. One commonality between them all is a lack of understanding of the crisis. “I have worked with many animal hoarders in their homes. Their mental illness allows them to maintain an absolute denial of the filth and the suffering of the animals,” says Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, ASPCA Senior Director of Counseling Services. “They simply cannot see or smell or react to the situation as a normal person would, “ 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 wall 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. Individual is isolated from community and appears to be in neglect himself. Individual insists all animals are happy and healthy—even when there are clear signs of distress and illness. Back to top Do Hoarders Often Pose as Rescue Groups or Sanctuaries? Absolutely. Research shows many hoarders are beginning to set themselves up as “rescue shelters,” complete with 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status. They may appear to be sensible people, persuasively conveying their love for animals and readiness to take those who are sick and with special needs. Furthermore, the Internet appears to be becoming a great tool for solicitation. “When looking to place an animal, it is easy for a person to get seduced by a pretty website,” points out Lockwood. “We need to caution people to look behind the curtain before giving over an animal.” 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 groups facilities.