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Phillip R. Snyder

Another recent investigation and reporting of an animal hoarding case in Charlotte County raises the question, is there actually an increase in animal hoarding, or is there increased awareness of this horribly neglectful activity?

Animal hoarders were originally referred to as animal “collectors.” Since collectors also collect stamps, coins, and other positive ventures, the negative animal hoarding took effect. In the 1990s, there were several high profile cases from different areas of the country that were publicized nationally. An investigation by the New York Humane Association and The Humane Society of the United States successfully forced the closure of an animal hoarder disguised as a rescue haven.

More than 1,200 dogs and other animals were being kept in deplorable conditions. Many were suffering from severe neglect, while others had died from disease and the cold winter elements. Although an investigation involving 1,200 animals is staggering, the numbers of animals confiscated from hoarding cases have ranged from under 20 to several hundred.

It is interesting to note that the defendant involved with the 1,200 animals was charged with animal cruelty a year after being written up in a Reader’s Digest article as a “modern day Dr. Doolittle.”

A study published in Public Health Reports in 1999 by Dr. Gary Patronek, a veterinarian who studied animal hoarding while with Tuft’s University and is the founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, described an animal hoarder as:

“Someone who accumulates a large number of animals while failing to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care; who fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals, including disease, starvation and even death; who allows severe overcrowding and extreme unsanitary conditions, while creating a negative effect on their own health and well-being, as well as that of other household members.”

It is fair to say that this description, along with scientific findings from more than 100 cases, still holds true today. These findings include the fact that 76 percent of hoarders are female and 54 percent are over 60 years old (many starting in their 30s), most are single, divorced or widowed, and almost half live alone. Animals consume their lives. They are addicted to the collection and hoarding of animals. Hoarders are in denial of the neglect and suffering they are causing. Many are oblivious to the fact that they have caused the death of animals from disease and starvation. They continue to act as though the animals are still alive.

I believe the scientific community, as well as our courts, should continue studies on animal hoarding. We know it is a compulsive disorder that can take over the life and mind of an individual.

Most of us in the animal care, rescue and protection business measure the success of animal cruelty convictions by the severity of the sentence. We applaud the court when an animal abuser is sent to jail. Not to be confused with cruelties associated with puppy mills, back yard breeders and other activities involving large numbers of animals, animal hoarding is a sickness.

It has been proven that without supervision most animal hoarders sentenced to jail will start hoarding again when they are released.

It is generally recommend by those that have studied or worked multiple hoarder cases that effective sentencing by the court should include immediate relief of the suffering of the animals involved, continuous monitoring of the hoarders’ activities (usually through the local animal control or humane society) and a required psychological evaluation of and assistance for the hoarder. This combined approach has a better chance of avoiding future hoarding.

Animals are suffering everywhere from hoarding. The Animal Legal Defense Fund estimates that there are as many as 250,000 hoarder cases each year. Just one large case can place a tremendous strain on animal control agencies and humane societies charged with the investigation and confiscation. Animal hoarders have spent all their money on their addiction, so fining them to reimburse the agencies does not work.

Animal hoarding task forces have been formed in some areas, along with animal hoarding databases, to better identify and monitor potential hoarders. One thing is certain: It does take a team effort to reduce the number of animals forced to suffer in this tragic way. This phenomena may not be entirely preventable, but I think more can be done to reduce the numbers of people and animals suffering from this horrible life of neglect.

To learn more about Suncoast Humane Society, please visit us at www.humane.org.

Phil Snyder is executive director of the Suncoast Humane Society. Email him at philsnyder@humane.org.

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