Two major pet-hoarding incidents made headlines in Southern Nevada last year, each involving around 100 animals and one at a home from which dozens of cats had already been removed since 2010. It leaves people wondering what causes this behavior and what to do about it. Francis Battista has some thoughts, having participated in several major hoarding rescue operations, including in Las Vegas. Battista speaks and writes on animal welfare for Kanab, Utah-based Best Friend Animal Sanctuary, which he cofounded in 1984.
What is animal hoarding?
It is defined not by the number of pets people have, but by their relationship with them. Hoarders are blind to the condition that they and the animals are living in. A hoarder is oblivious to the filth in the home, the emaciation, the biting. He still regards himself as the only one who can provide appropriate care.
Why does hoarding happen?
Animal hoarding, and hoarding in general, is a mental condition. Some psychologists have aligned it with types of OCD, which I’m not qualified to discuss, but it appears to be a compulsion that will fulfill itself. So, the idea that you can stop it through pet limits or restrictive shelter policies is not terribly realistic. Unfortunately, you have hoarding situations that are disguised as rescues. Those who take in animals that are hard to place are a red flag, because they’re not going to place them, either, unless they have a serious management plan.
What’s the best way out?
Identifying the behavior on the front end. People who are interfacing with the hoarder have to make an official public-nuisance or disturbing-the-peace complaint or call an animal rescue organization. We often say that a hoarder has 100 hostages: Someone concerned about the welfare of the animals may be afraid to complain, because they will end up being euthanized in a shelter. It’s important to remember that these animals are trapped in a hellish environment where they don’t get medical care, human attention or socialization. The idea that they’re better off with the hoarder simply isn’t true.