Animal hoarding has started to be recognized as a serious issue more recently due to television shows such as "Confessions: Animal Hoarding". People are beginning to realize other people will hoard not only things, but also pets. This issue of animal hoarding presents a number of worries including health and sanitation concerns as well as the more obvious animal abuse and neglect.
Recognizing an Animal Hoarder
Race, sex, and religion don't play a role in animal hoarding. Animal hoarders are found all over, in quiet suburbia and bustling cities. Farmhouses once filled with hired help may now be jammed with stacked cages, filled with "rescued" animals.
Animal hoarding is a disease. It is often an emotional reaction to a bad relationship or an attempt to fill some sort of void in one's life. Animal hoarders (surprisingly) may not see that they have a problem. Worse yet, they often don't want help. It is understandable that they may not want their pets taken away from them, but it is often difficult to convince a hoarder that they and the pets will be better off out of the hoarding situation.
An animal hoarder may shut themselves out from family and close friends after refusing help and isolating themselves from the world. They may be convinced that keeping these animals is the best thing for them, completely blind to the truth. Anger, frustration and many other emotions may stem from the thought of other people taking away the pets, or even in just trying to help find homes for some of them. Animal hoarders often feel that they need their animals to feel loved and accumulate more and more of them to fill that void in their life.
The Problem with Animal Hoarding
If you have never seen the inside of an animal hoarder's home, you may not appreciate the severity of this issue. Every year about 3,500 cases of animal hoarding are reported, and without psychological counseling, people who have already received help are said to have an almost 100% likelihood of hoarding again. This says that North America has a huge issue with animal hoarding.
Just over half of all animal hoarding cases involve cats and/or dogs. This means that about 40% of all animal hoarders keep birds, farm animals, reptiles, pocket pets, and many other exotic pets and wildlife. There is no "typical" animal hoarder and the imagery of a "crazy cat lady" is only one type of hoarder.
Visualize cage upon cage, stacked floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in closets, on tables, in the place of furniture - to the point of barely being able to walk into any room, and sometimes not being able to enter rooms at all. This is what an animal hoarder may live in. While not all cases are this severe, most are. Now add into this visualization (the type of animal doesn't matter), feces, urine soaked belongings, hair or feathers everywhere, animals darting out of your way as you try not to trip on them, other pets fighting with each other over scraps of food, sick pets curled up in a corner on a pile of feces, newborn pets crawling around in dirt and grime since their owner couldn't afford to get all the animals fixed, the noise of all the animals, the smell of urine, ammonia and rotting, deceased animals - this is the reality of animal hoarding. This isn't an extreme case - this is a fairly common case. And these people are often unwilling to change and find these pets new homes and get them help.
Animal hoarders can't afford vet bills for all their pets. They can usually barely buy food for them all, if at all. Spaying and neutering everyone is out of the question, parasite control is too expensive, and keeping everyone clean would require an army of people around the clock. Caring for a large number of animals is impossible with only one or two people. And just giving them a roof over their head and some love is not enough.
Bird hoarders run into respiratory issues with all the dander, the overwhelming smell of ammonia from the urine of caged pets and wildlife is enough to make anyone pass out, and if the pets are untamed, the mere safety of living in a house with these animals running around in non-existent.
How to Help
Thankfully there are people out there who want to help. Animal Hoarding Project helps people. If you have ever seen an episode of the Animal Planet "Confessions: Animal Hoarding" you will see what this group does. They provide veterinary care and placement of the pets and give people and pets a chance at a new life. After helping the animals, it is still important to help the old animal hoarder psychologically to get counseling. Otherwise they are sure to return to their old, harmful ways.
If you know someone who has a hoarding issue, show your support. Don't try to take the animals away. Offer to find them someone to talk to about their problem. The hoarder needs to be the one to make the conscious decision to re-home their pets and get some help.