Animal hoarding

It seems like every few months there is a story on the local news about a house that is completely filled with animals. The story usually goes like this: A foul odor was reported from neighbors and animal control was called in to investigate. Upon further investigation, the house was home to more than “X” number of animals.  

The cats and or dogs are then put into cages and hauled off to an animal shelter. Many of the animals are diseased, malnourished, and unfortunately euthanized. This is a peculiar form of hoarding that accounts for roughly 1,500 cases per year. 

Hoarding is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder that takes hold of people’s lives. Hoarders want to hold on to just about everything they come in contact with. Animal hoarders are usually lonely, older individuals that accumulate a large number of animals to protect them from harm. In doing so, the conditions in the home deteriorate over time. This leads to a very unhealthy environment for the animals as well as the hoarder. From

Hoarders justify their behavior with the view that the animals are surrogate children and that no one else can care for them. They harbor a fear that if they seek help the animals will be euthanized.

More recently, in a publication from the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, Animal Hoarding: Structuring interdisciplinary responses to help people, animals and communities at risk, Patronek and his cohorts list four key characteristics:

  • Failure to provide minimal standards of sanitation, space, nutrition, and veterinary care for the animals
  • Inability to recognize the effects of this failure on the welfare of the animals, human members of the household, and the environment
  • Obsessive attempts to accumulate or maintain a collection of animals in the face of progressively deteriorating conditions
  • Denial or minimization of problems and living conditions for people and animals

For more information on animal hoarding, go to or the Animal Hoarding News and Info blog.

For more information on hoarding in general, check out these resources:

14 Comments for “Animal hoarding”

  1. posted by knitwych on


    It’s been my experience that two other factors with some animal hoarders are paranoia and a desire for unconditional love. I dealt with a woman who hoarded both horses and dogs. To her, they were a source of unconditional love and protection. Given that she was a thoroughly unlovable woman (I don’t say that lightly, either), part of me can understand why she wanted to surround herself with animals that she believed loved her. I’m reasonably certain that all the people who knew her hated her guts. I haven’t polled the entire town, but I haven’t met anyone who didn’t hate her, either, so make of that what you will. Although she claimed she loved the animals and they loved her, the conditions in which the they were kept and the way she treated them were anything but loving.

    By the time we were able to get the authorities and rescues to step in, two horses had died, two more had miscarried foals, and the surviving dozen horses were absolutely emaciated and eating their own dung. One mare was so weak that she lacked the strength to get into the trailer; we had to join hands and loop our arms around her hind legs, and literally push her up the very slight slope of the ramp to get her inside. Yet the hoarder was convinced that they all loved her so much that they would keel over and die if they were taken from her. She screamed and ranted about this the whole three hours we spent loading these poor horses, and it took a deputy to keep her from trying to stop us. It was one of the saddest, most infuriating situations I’ve ever dealt with in my life. Now, three years later, whenever this woman sees me in the grocery story (we both live in a very small town), she still corners people and tells them that I stole her horses, that I’m responsible for her losing the lease on the farmland she was renting to board horses, and that I’m going to be arrested any minute. Oh, and I’m also “responsible” for her dogs being taken away, so she had to spend $1,000 to put in new locks and security grills on all her windows because I had her protection system taken away. Naturally, she believed that the dogs she kept penned up next to her house (as many as 15 medium and large dogs in 10×10-foot cages) barked to warn her of danger – not because they were terribly unsocialized, starving to the point where they were engaging in cannibalism, overcrowded and desperate for attention.

    I’ve told this lengthy tale because I believe it is very important for people to know that hoarding is a complex illness that involves more than OCD. Even with all the garbage this woman has tried to spread about me, I don’t regret getting the animals taken away from her. I tried reasoning, I tried being kind, I tried getting adoptive parents for the animals she claimed she was trying to place into good homes, and nothing worked. She has made threats of all types against me, but even so, I would go through it all again simply to get the animals out of her hands and placed where they would be cared for. Happily, all of the horses that were taken from her survived (with a couple of them, it was very touch-and-go for a few weeks), and are thriving. The mare I fostered put on 350 pounds (and only colicked once – yay!), and when she left me to go into a forever home, her body score was a perfect ten. The vet actually hugged me when she saw the mare’s condition. Four of the dogs had to be euthanized, but the remaining 27 were saved and nursed back to health so they could be adopted. If I hadn’t got involved, hadn’t pushed the authorities to step in, I’m certain that most, if not all, of these animals would have died horrible deaths. If you know of someone who is hoarding animals, please put on your thickest flame-retardant suit and get involved. Given the current money issues most people are dealing with, I suspect that the animals being hoarded by these folks are going to suffer even more because of food costs, and those who see animals as security (emotional or physical) are going to cling to them harder than ever.

  2. posted by momofthree on

    Wow–I don’t usually comment on what others have posted, but this one sure touched me, and I am not by any means an animal lover.

    I am just a wee bit curious, how do others in town treat you? I assume you have learned to wear that fire-retardant suit well.

    Cheers to you for making a stand, sticking by those who needed help, who have no voice, and seeing that the best conditions were made available to them!!!

    This world certainly needs more people like you!!

  3. posted by knitwych on

    Momofthree, thanks for your kind words. I write for a small newspaper that covers our town and a couple of neighboring towns, so I’m lucky that my reputation as an animal lover (I’m also known for my human interest articles on senior citizens and kids) by far outweighs the crazy hoarder woman’s accusations. Also, the hoarder woman’s psycho reputation is so widely known than it’s pretty rare for her to come across anyone who doesn’t immediately try to avoid her. It’s kind of like Mayberry here, with the town being so small (around 3500 people); you can get all the gossip at the local grocery store or the hardware store. There is not a retail owner or manager in this town who doesn’t blanch when the hoarder woman walks in the door. They all know that there’s at least a 75% chance that she’ll annoy a customer or cause some kind of scene. Even if I weren’t fortunate enough to be known as NOT crazy and NOT a thief, I still wouldn’t care what she was saying about me. The situation was about the animals, not me.

  4. posted by Cheesemeister on

    Thank you for presenting this information in a compassionate, factual way. I tend to have issues with hoarding objects but would not do so with animals because I realize it harms rather than helps them. It is expensive to care for animals properly. I’m still paying off a $2000+ vet bill for dental care for my two dachshunds from last year! People become overwhelmed by the costs. Still, most people don’t go to the extremes that animal hoarders do. These folks do need help to deal with their problem.
    I did have one friend who was something of an animal hoarder but not to the extremes of the people described above. She had seventeen cats that she’d taken in. She more fits the description of the lonely older person. She meant well but became overwhelmed by the cost of caring for the animals.

  5. posted by Keter on

    Wow. Nothing to compare with knitwych’s story, but I was in a relationship with a cat hoarder for several years, and had I not toiled and spent money I didn’t have at the time, the story would have been similarly gruesome. The difference was that “my” hoarder was young, male, and apparently successful…and he had a thing for cats. He also didn’t believe in neutering them. So I ended up responsible for one cat of my own and 26 of his.

    Then he went out of town on business for a year and left me with the burden of caring for all of them, and out of desperation, I paid to have the males fixed because I couldn’t afford to feed or clean up after even one more cat. I was fortunate that I had a compassionate vet who gave me a big discount – I was only earning $5 an hour compared to his $20…but he wouldn’t pay for it. When he came back, he took his cats and left (he had picked up a few new bad habits overseas that made our relationship untenable). Good riddance. I kept my one cat for the remainder of his 17+ years.

    I can’t honestly say why he collected cats. He had 17 cats when I met him, but said they belonged to his former girlfriend and “gave them back to her” when he moved in with me, so I thought the cat mental issue was hers. Then over the next two years he collected ten more and that number grew to 26 – it would have been higher except that he was constantly giving away kittens, keeping only the ones he liked. And these weren’t purebreds, either. He didn’t actually seem to like the cats – he rarely played with or cared for them (that was my job), he just liked having them for some reason.

  6. posted by catherine the great on

    just wanted to say thanks for occasionally posting this stuff about the flip side of uncluttering. or should that be the dark side? hoardy side? anyway, thanks, i think it’s a great “public service” since there are bound to be a few people whom it helps.

  7. posted by chaotic kitten on

    Though I am a hoarder, I do not hoard animals. I feel for the people who do, and I think they really do believe they are doing good, but in most cases it really does seem to be cruel to the animals, and unsustainable for the animals or the hoarder.

  8. posted by Pet abandonment stories - Simpler Living - - Albany NY on

    […] the flip side, Unclutterer has an interesting post today about animal hoarding. Posted in General […]

  9. posted by Loren on

    I don’t know if it is more frequent out in rural areas like where I was raised, but I knew so many of these people, who were ‘saving’ animals that they did not have the time and money to care for. It breaks my heart to tell someone that just because the animal isn’t running around feral doesn’t mean you are ‘taking good care of it’. I worked with a girl who couldn’t afford to pay for the flea medicine and heart worm medicine that all her 8 dogs needed. A few of these animals were in obvious pain. If these people really love animals they are taking care of they need to learn to let someone else take care of them and find a shelter to volunteer at.

  10. posted by Danny on

    What has always especially bothered me about stories like this is the reaction from some quarters. Just a month or two ago, I saw a news item online about a woman living in a van with dozens of animals. The comments section of the article was *filled* with sentiments like “heaven is truly missing an angel,” and “what an extraordinary example of kindness.” As knitwych’s story clearly shows, there’s nothing about hoarding animals that is kind to them. Would we say that a person keeping dozens of children in a van was an extraordinary example of kindness?

  11. posted by Fred on

    Stories like these highlight the responsibility we all share to look out for those family members or neighbors who are struggling with mental illness and odd habits. Every one of these hoarders has family members who probably haven’t checked on them and kept up with them enough. It’s easy to distance oneself from a cousin or estranged sibling who is an oddball, and to leave them to themselves. However, when we do that, it can lead to stories such as printed above.

    These predicaments don’t happen overnight…..they develop over time. It’s just a thought that we should all check on those we have ties with and be willing to take action if something seems amiss.

  12. posted by Anonymous on

    I do not consider myself an animal hoarder, but your opinion may differ.

    I do not have a cluttered house. I am not old or unloved, but married and 31 years old with a loving family and friends.

    But after the death of my 17+ year old cat last year, I still have 9 cats and 3 dogs. However, we are a low-income family.

    All of my pets are spayed/ neutered. (I have often transported and paid to spay other people’s cats, as well!) They all are up to date on shots. They all have individual attention. They all live inside my home, with play time outdoors. We got a larger house, so they could have more room, but they always choose to be together in the same room with me.

    We do not live in dirty or unsanitary conditions. We installed hardwood floors, which we sweep/mop daily, throughout the house. Their litter box is cleaned 3X per day.

    We always follow vetrinary suggestions to the letter. Though we have limited funds I did not hesitate to sell my car when my dog needed eye surgery in 2000 (we only had 3 pets then) and we have kept a savings account for them since then.

    When we go out of town, we hire 2 pet sitters to stay with the cats, but we almost always bring the dogs with us.

    I don’t feel that I’m an animal hoarder because my pets are well cared for. Like hoarders, I feel that I rescued each of the cats from a bad situation & I realize that cats are often euthanized in shelters. I know that I am at my limit, so I have not acquired any new cats since 2004.

    The cats I have are family, so I would not consider getting rid of them. I wish that I didn’t feel like I have to hide my pets from neighbors. I go to a few different vets, so none knows that I have 12 pets. I catch a lot of slack from my family for having so many, but I feel that if I can take such good care of them, no one should complain.

    I don’t want to undermine this article. I have seen hoarding and it is a terrible thing. It is worth the effort to help people with this terrible disorder, I just want to share my unique experience. I dare say, that my cats have motivated me to keep an uncluttered house, for their sake, as well as my own.

  13. posted by sookie on

    I’m working on a new TV show that can help people who have gotten in over their heads despite having the best intentions for their pets. If you know someone overwhelmed with the care of too many pets please email me at [email protected].

  14. posted by Little momma on

    Many people may think I am an animal horder or I have too many pets. I have 8 dogs, 2 cats, 2 Love birds, 4 Parakeets, 2 turtles, 1 goldfish and 2 alge eaters.Only 1 is inside/outdoor dog, 2 of them are crated because they are still puppies,and the rest are chained up because they are safe and not out running the streets like most dogs. Where I live there is no county lease law. All of my pets are healthy and I give my own pets their shots. I do not care what others may think, I am an animal person and at least none of my animals are strays, abandonded, in kill shelters, are out defending theirselves,and another story for the world.I might not be the prefect pet person but at least I give them a home, food, shelter, and love.

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