The Horror of Animal HoardingMay 4th, 2005
ALDF’s recent legal victory against North
Carolina animal abusers Barbara and Robert Woodley, whose more than 300
dogs were living in wretched conditions on their Sanford, NC property
until removed to the custody of ALDF by the court, shocked many people
who read the news reports. Dogs kept in tiny packing crates, neglected,
deprived of critical veterinary care— ALDF v. Woodley
swung the door on the issue of animal hoarding wide open. But at ALDF, we hear the stories almost daily:
- In Pennsylvania, a man is charged with 46 counts of animal cruelty after officials remove 73 malnourished and dehydrated horses, ponies, cats, kittens and other animals – 5 years after he had been convicted of 24 counts of animal cruelty but was allowed to keep the animals.
- In Georgia, animal rescue workers enter a home and find 26 living cats – and 179 dead ones.
- In Colorado, a distraught woman enters the hospital on a 72-hour suicide watch after humane workers remove 26 cats infected with ringworm from her feces-littered home. Relatives say they were unaware of a problem.
"Throughout the country, animal hoarders can be found in almost every community, large or small," said Pamela Frasch, director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund's Anti-Cruelty Division. "Hoarders endanger the health and lives of every living creature in their households, themselves included. The deplorable conditions only worsen as they move deeper into a state of denial and the communities around them turn a blind eye. The animals – sick, dying or dead – need help."
Only recently have mental health workers, animal activists and law enforcement officials begun to understand animal hoarding. The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) says an animal hoarder is identified as having these characteristics:
- Attempts to keep an abnormally large number of animals
- Inability to provide minimal nutrition, veterinary care, shelter or sanitation
- Neglect that often leads to illness, starvation, and death of animals
- Failure to recognize the devastating impact of this neglect
- Almost 100 % recidivism if all animals are not removed from the hoarder and conditions are made to prevent any further ownership
The burden on local shelters and rescue volunteers when attempts are made to shut down hoarders can be staggering. For example, in New York's Fulton County, local organizations spent more than $100,000 caring for 230 animals seized from James and Henrietta Fagan before criminal charges were even brought, and those charges were brought only after ALDF stepped in and applied public pressure on the District Attorney's office. "One hoarding case involving a few hundred, or even a few dozen, animals can completely bankrupt a shelter," said Dana Campbell, senior attorney with ALDF's Anti-Cruelty Division. "Counties and shelters need to be proactive now in planning for large-scale seizures of animals by developing foster care networks, passing pre-conviction forfeiture and cost-of-care bond laws and procedures, and finding other ways that immediately shift the costs of caring for so many abused animals from the rescuers to the hoarders. The alternative – to leave these helpless creatures living in squalor with the hoarders – is repugnant and unacceptable."
The relatively low priority assigned by courts and prosecutors to animal neglect cases, coupled with the legal delays of the hoarders themselves, often drag out trials for months or even years, leaving the animals at continued risk. In Ulster County, N.Y., for instance, charges were pending against Patty Abezis since November 2002, while more than 100 animals on her property wait for relief, before she was copnvicted of 38 counts of animal cruelty April 28.
Despite the growing prevalence of animal hoarding cases, only Illinois includes a special definition for animal hoarding in its criminal statutes. The statute, signed into law in 2001, allows for courts to require psychological or psychiatric evaluation and treatment of convicted offenders above and beyond any other conditions allowed under the cruelty statutes.
The importance of having such a legal remedy is recognized by the mental health professionals of HARC and by animal law experts.
"Animal hoarding is a community problem," according to HARC. "It is cruel to animals, can devastate families, be associated with elder abuse, child abuse, and self-neglect, and be costly for municipalities to resolve. Without appropriate post-intervention treatment, recidivism approaches 100 percent. Increased awareness, leading to more comprehensive long-term interventions, is needed."
Hoarders can be difficult for prosecutors, judges, news media and often even veterinarians and the general public to recognize. Protesting their "love of animals" is usually the first line of defense offered by hoarders and it can be difficult for the uninitiated to see through.
"We all need to do what we can to educate prosecutors, judges and news reporters that hoarding is like alcoholism: an incurable addiction that means they must never have another drink – or in this case, another animal – because they can't stop with just one, and they fail to see the devastating damage caused by their addiction," Campbell said. "Communities need laws and judges willing to tell hoarders that they are prohibited from ever owning another animal. It's the surest way to prevent future animal cruelty."
Once hoarders are shut down, the next step they usually take is to relocate to another jurisdiction ... and establish another hell on earth.
"Unfortunately, unlike other crimes such as robbery or car theft," Campbell said, "police departments and local courts are not required to keep track of convicted hoarders, or any type of animal abuser, for state and federal crime data tracking purposes. That means that when a hoarder is finally caught, she or he can easily pick up and move to another state, as hoarders often do, and start over with a clean record as far as law enforcement is concerned. I would like to see the U.S. Justice Department start requiring local jurisdictions to include animal crimes as part of the statistics they must track."
Until law enforcement officers and prosecutors actively track and close down hoarders, huddled masses of animals will continue to suffer in the secret prisons in our midst.
Puppy mill or animal hoarder?
- 72 percent of animal hoarders are women.
- Half of all animal hoarding cases involve multiple species.
- Nine out of 10 cases involve companion animals, evenly divided between cats and dogs
- Operators of inhumanely cruel “animal mills” are just as likely to be men as women.
- Only one fourth of animal mills (22 percent) involve multiple species.
- Dogs are four times as likely as cats to be victims of animal mills.
— Source: ALDF National Animal Cruelty Database