Animal Hoarding

Animal hoarding negatively impacts the health and welfare of people and animals. In this post, we use the social science literature to define animal hoarding, why people hoard animals, and what can be done about it.

What Is Animal Hoarding?

Animal hoarding has certain conditions. First, hoarders of this kind have an unusual number of animals. What is considered unusual depends on where one lives. In Michigan, it’s a minimum of ten animals, and in Hawaii, it’s 15.

Second, the animals they keep

  • lack adequate shelter
  • live in an unclean environment
  • are malnourished
  • rarely receive the medical care that they need.

Also, many of the animals they collected die or are chronically hurt or sick. Either way, they are likely to spread disease. For another, the very place where animals are hoarded is harmful to the hoarders and their household.

There is a final condition: persistence. Despite all of these problems, animal hoarders collect more animals. Chances are, even after they are caught and they take the animals away, they will do it again.

white puppy
Photo by Denniz Futalan on

Who Hoards Animals?

Most US homes have a pet, but animal hoarding appears to be rare. The experts reckon that, in the US, there is anywhere between two to five thousand animal hoarding cases a year.

Counting cases is difficult.

There is no central database of animal cruelty. Crimes against animals are under-reported and they are costly to investigate. Although studies since the 1980s adumbrate that animal hoarders tend to be unmarried older women, crime data – what crimes are reported and who is likely to be reported on – is notoriously biased against folks on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

Fact is, anyone can hoard: men and women, young and old, married and single, the retired, the jobless, and even professionals like nurses, teachers, professors, and veterinarians.

Why Do People Hoard Animals?

Hoarding is an attempt to “save” something.

Hoarders struggle to discard their hoard because they have an emotional connection to it or they see their stuff as potentially useful. Although the clutter causes problems, hoarders don’t think so, or, if they do, they put off doing something about it.

The experts disagree on the psychology of it.

Some think that hoarding animals is like hoarding newspapers or hats and the like, and chalk it up to addiction. Others think it’s a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

No matter the psychology or demographics, most animal hoarders are of a few social types.

Some animal hoarders are just overwhelmed. They had some animals, and then they lost a job, or got sick and disabled, and slowly but surely became unable to care for those animals. Pet ownership unwittingly morphed into abuse.

Others hoard for their own pleasure or gain. They exploit animals. They run “puppy mills.”

The majority of known cases are those who see themselves as selflessly rescuing animals from a dark fate. These rescuers often have a very large number of animals. Some once ran a shelter and fell on hard times. The rescuers believe that they alone can save the animals and provide them with the proper care – generally some form of homeopathy, or perhaps nothing at all. All rescuers are against euthanasia.

Impact of Animal Hoarding on the Community

Hoarding is a risky business that spreads into the community.

The home conditions are unsanitary fire hazards. Infectious diseases circulate – to humans and to other animals. Often, it’s the neighbors and visitors who notice the filthy home, the bad smell, and the alarming noises, and report the hoarder to the authorities.

Once the hoarder becomes known to the authorities, the whole city can get involved.

Besides animal control, hoarding falls within the jurisdiction of a web of agencies: police, social services, child welfare, and health, housing, and zoning, to name a few. The hoarder is rarely cooperative. They distrust the authorities that they believe will kill the animals. They will attempt to evade, often covering the window with newspapers or aluminum foil.

What Can Be Done About Animal Hoarding?

There is no easy solution.

Experts believe that there are over a hundred million cats and dogs in the US. Each animal is a life. Animals breed. Some become pets and some become strays. They all need food, shelter, and, when sick, medical care. A well-meaning person may respond to the circle of life by turning them into pets or with what they believe is caretaking. It can turn into animal hoarding.

But there are better solutions.

Some experts reason that the age-old myopic cycle of forcible intervention, punishment, euthanasia, and recidivism harms humans and animals.

To break the cycle, they advocate for animal and human welfare: instead of treating the hoarder as a hardened criminal, they want to educate the hoarder in proper animal care, provide free on-site animal population control (spaying and neutering), and conduct regular veterinary check-ups.

Read More about Animal Hoarding

“Animal Hoarding” by Arnold Arluke, Gary Patronek, Randall Lockwood and Allison Cardona in J. Maher et al. (eds.), The Palgrave International Handbook of Animal Abuse Studies (2017)

Mary E. Dozier, Christiana Bratiotis, Dominique Broadnax, Jenny Le, and Catherine R. Ayers, “A description of 17 animal hoarding case files from animal control and a humane society,” published in Psychiatry Research 272 (2019): 365-368.

A useful summary of animal hoarding research is found in Kayleigh Hill, David Yates, Rachel Dean, and Jenny Stavisky, “A novel approach to welfare interventions in problem multi-cat households,” published in BMC Veterinary Research 15, no. 1 (2019): 1-12.

Read about Animal Hoarders in Occam’s Press.

Joshua K. Dubrow is a PhD from The Ohio State University and a Professor of Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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