The Horror of Animal HoardingPosted on May 4, 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.
These are just three examples of what health professionals
and law enforcement officials describe as "animal hoarding," a
widespread phenomenon that is the source of more and more animal
cruelty cases every day. The health hazards to the animals can range
from blindness (due to toxic ammonia in the air from unremoved urine)
and skin ulcers, to debilitating emaciation, dehydration … and
"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
Mental health workers say some hoarders are driven by a behavioral
abnormality that makes it virtually impossible for them to give up
animals for adoption. ALDF compiles and maintains a national database
of animal cruelty cases in which criminal charges have been filed. The
ALDF database shows that the phenomenon of animal mills and animal
hoarding is widespread – and skyrocketing. While the number of animal
cruelty cases in the database rose 30 percent from 2003 to 2004, in
that same time the percentage of hoarding cases increased by almost 150
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
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
"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
"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