Animal Hoarders Fact Sheet
What is an animal hoarder?
An animal hoarder is a person who amasses more animals than he/she can properly care for.
Such individuals generally fail to recognize—or refuse to acknowledge—when the animals in their
custody become victims of gross neglect. Animal hoarders are sometimes referred to as animal
"collectors" or animal "addicts."
What characteristics do animal hoarders generally share?
- An apparent need to have many animals, and usually many inanimate objects as well (an
addiction to clutter).
- Intelligence and communication skills, combined with a shrewd ability to attract sympathy
for themselves, no matter how abused their animals may be.
- A stubborn refusal to part with any of their animals, be it through adoption of relatively
healthy ones or euthanasia of sick ones (sometimes they even keep the dead animals).
- A clandestine lifestyle—there is often a stark contrast between the hoarder's public
persona and his/her private life.
- A tendency to deny reality—they insist that ill animals are healthy; that those confined for
long periods in small cages or kennels are comfortable; that overcrowding does not
subject animals to severe stress and related diseases; etc.
- Recidivism—unless expert psychiatric help is obtained, hoarders almost invariably return
to old ways, even if convicted of cruelty to animals
What motivates anyone to accumulate and "warehouse" large numbers of animals?
No comprehensive psychological study has been made of the hoarder syndrome, and most
people tend to think of hoarders as motivated by a "love of animals that got out of control." This is
one—but not the sole—possible factor. There are undoubtedly several types of influences (or
combinations thereof) such as the following, and they are not the same for every hoarder.
- A "love of animals" combined with a failure to care for them responsibly. For example, an
elderly woman who feeds all of the neighborhood strays, but has none of the animals
spayed/neutered or given other necessary veterinary care. This type of person is usually
genuinely fond of animals, but quickly becomes overwhelmed when they multiply.
- A perception that reverence for life is synonymous with preservation of life, regardless of
its quality. Some people find the thought of death so abhorrent that they deem an
inhumane life far preferable to humane death. They often go to great lengths to "rescue"
dogs or cats from traditional shelters, sometimes boasting of having thus removed them
from "death row," the brink of euthanasia.
- A "hero/martyr complex." Hoarders often receive very favorable publicity about the
personal sacrifices they make on behalf of animals. They become enamored of their own
public image and won't risk tarnishing it by openly disposing of animals that have become
- A need to control. Many hoarders create situations which assure them absolute power
over every aspect of the existence of animals in their custody. They keep their victims
crowded together behind locked doors and gates, denying them human companionship,
veterinary care, exercise, bedding, fresh air, and adequate food and water.
What can you do to help prevent hoarder tragedies?
- Promote legislation which provides for licensing, inspection, and strict regulation of both
private and public shelters.
- Support—morally and financially—organizations, legislation, and programs that focus on
spaying/neutering of companion animals.
- To the extent you can afford to do so, become involved in directly assisting individuals
who are financially unable to have their companion animals sterilized, even if you must
"do it yourself" (e.g., pay the veterinary fee for the surgery and transport the animals to
and from the veterinarian's office).
- Support the humane organization in your community which is responsible for enforcing
statutes against cruelty to animals.
- Work to educate others about the suffering caused by hoarders, individuals who may be
aptly characterized as "addicted to animals." The public, many journalists, and even
some representatives of humane organizations tend to sympathize with hoarders
because they perceive them to be providing a service: keeping animals alive that would
otherwise be euthanized or abandoned. Most people do not understand that keeping
animals alive in the environment that hoarders provide invariably leads to intolerable
suffering. Compassion for hoarders is not misplaced if one recognizes that most of them
are in desperate need of psychological help. What hoarders do not need is the type of
sympathy and support which result in enabling them to continue harboring and acquiring
even more animals. It is important for those who are familiar with "the hoarder syndrome"
to inform others about the consequences of this problem.
- Do not deceive yourself into believing that animals for whom responsible homes cannot
be found are better off warehoused than euthanized. Paradoxically, the animals "saved"
by hoarders are usually condemned to infernal living conditions and lingering, painful
Reprinted by The HSUS with permission from the New York State Humane Association