When people think about dog hoarding, they usually conjure images of severely neglected animals living in unimaginable conditions. It can be easy to judge the hoarder harshly. But most times, according toKaren L. Cassiday, PhD, and owner and Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center, dog hoarding almost always comes from a deep love and concern for the animals on the part of the hoarder.
Dog hoarders seek out animals in need at local shelters, on the streets, and online. In fact, internet sites like Craigslist have helped contribute to the problem by making animals in need readily available with no questions asked. Hoarders have every intention of caring for or adopting out the animals they take in, but the nature of their disease makes it difficult for them to let go or provide the necessary attention the pets need. Problems with organization and focus make cause these individuals to neglect household duties like cleaning and routine feedings. Each dog they acquire leads to more mess, poorer conditions and further problems detaching from the animals emotionally.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund estimates that up to 250,000 dogs and cats are victims of hoarding each year, and that the number has more than doubled in the past four years. 40% of those who hoard material possessions will also hoard animals. Sadly, just one severe case of dog hoarding can bankrupt a local shelter or rescue group. When dozens of dogs in poor health are seized, the cost to treat them medically, groom them, provide behavioral therapy and re-home them can be devastating financially.
So what should you do if you suspect a case of dog hoarding in your neighborhood? First, never approach the dog owner personally. Hoarders are almost always non-violent, but making them aware that you are concerned about the situation may cause them to take drastic action with the dogs. The first step should be to contact the local agency that handles animal abuse and neglect cases in your area. An online search should provide you with a number, or you may inquire with the local Humane Society. If you are concerned for the immediate well being of the animals, dial 911.
You can help local authorities make a case by providing detailed descriptions of the people and animals involved, as well as photos and videos of the conditions you have seen. Do not break the law to obtain images of the situation, just provide any footage you can obtain from outside the property. Once a complaint is made, law enforcement is required to investigate. If the conditions are considered inhumane, the dogs will be removed from the home.
Each state has different laws for handling animal abuse and neglect cases. This case, involving 73 Irish Wolfhounds in Santa Fe, TX resulted in all of the animals being removed from the owners and re-homed. In some situations, the animals are eventually returned to the home, leaving them at risk for further neglect and abuse. A few recent cases in South Carolina, including a pet shop owner whose 146 dogs were seized from deplorable conditions, have raised concerns over the insufficient laws in certain states.
We can all do our part against this heartbreaking issue by increasing public awareness and lobbying to strengthen the laws that protect the voiceless. If you hear about a case of dog hoarding, consider donating to the shelter that is caring for the animals to help defer the cost of their treatment. Or you could open your heart and home by adopting one of the victims. Remember that dog hoarders rarely ever have cruel intentions towards the animals. They suffer from a mental illness and need support, treatment and understanding to get well.