Some dog lovers are completely content with one pup. Other dog lovers can’t imagine their lives without their little pack of pups, whether that be two or five dogs. For many of us, having a large pet family can be tough, but we still have the mental and financial stability to care for each of our pets. Then there are dog owners that go from “loving their tiny pack” to hoarder status. Animal hoarding is not only dangerous to the animals in the hoarding situation, but also to the hoarder themselves.
The term “animal hoarding” doesn’t simply refer to an individual who possesses more than the typical number of companion animals. Someone can own five dogs and still not be considered a hoarder. Having a significant amount of dogs turns into hoarding when the collecting of dogs becomes compulsive and endangers the animals. Hoarders do not have the resources or capabilities to care for all of the animals in their home, may not even know how many animals are in their home, and will be in denial of the inability to take care of all of the animals in their possession.
So how does one become an animal hoarder? After all, most people who become dog hoarders are often dog advocates; they wouldn’t knowingly do anything to harm their pets or any other animals.
Early research suggests that animal hoarding can be a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder. On paper, that seems to make sense: animal hoarders compulsively adopt and “rescue” animals to bring into their home. Newer research, however, suggests that animal hoarding isn’t that black and white. Recent research suggests animal hoarding can stem from a variety of factors, such as attachment disorders and delusional thinking. For example, if a person was unable to bond with peers in school, they may have anxieties around human socialization. Dogs or other animals may be a comfortable companion to someone with social anxiety or severe depression.
Some dog hoarders consider themselves “rescuers,” and will grab dogs off of the street and bring them into their home. They will often not check for micro-chips or search for an owner. These types of hoarders believe that if the owner was irresponsible enough to lose the dog, they shouldn’t get him back.
To this type of hoarder, they truly are helping this dog, even if they are bringing them into a home environment that is overcrowded and toxic in reality. Animal hoarders will often do one small thing – such as clean out a tiny corner of a room for a new resident – and feel like that validates their ability to care for far too many animals. These tiny efforts do not negate the room that reeks of feces, feeble puppies lying under the bed for days, or such tight living spaces that dogs are fighting.
Dog and animal hoarding is not specific to any gender, age, or ethnicity. There are no clear cut reasons as to why people sink into this unhealthy coping mechanism. Fortunately, there are signs to look out for when it comes to potential animal hoarders. Here is what to look for if you suspect someone you know is hoarding any type of animal(s):
- The individual in question cannot tell you exactly how many dogs/animals they have in their home.
- The individual’s home is in disarray, IE, dirty windows, furniture that is broken and completely chewed through, extreme clutter, and general destruction.
- Animal feces and vomit covers the floors of the individual’s home.
- The individual insists that each of their animals is healthy, despite physical evidence that they are not.
- Dogs in a hoarder’s home are often ill, emaciated due to lack of food, and most likely are covered in fleas, ticks, and possibly mange or other parasites. Dogs could also be pregnant due to lack of spaying and neutering.
- The individual tends to keep to themselves and has isolated from you and other family and friends.
- The individual in question gets very defensive if anyone asks them about the health of their animals.
If you have seen many of these signs, it may be time to intervene for the sake of both your friend and the animals she is hoarding. It is vital to remember that even though you can clearly see that these animals and your friend are suffering, your friend cannot.
Animal hoarding isn’t officially a mental illness, but there are components of certain mental illnesses that can play a heavy role in it. Again, your friend genuinely believes that she can care for all of these dogs, so trying to “give it to her straight” and wring her out for animal abuse will only make her lash out and isolate you further. This doesn’t help your friend or the dogs.
Even if the living conditions of the dog hoarder’s house is disgusting and clearly unhealthy, start with a non-accusatory dialogue. If your friend is hoarding animals, chances are they are in remarkable emotional pain and do not have healthy coping mechanisms to work through them.
Empathy, patience, and understanding are necessities with the topic of your hoarder friend’s animals. Reiterate how much you care about this friend and that you know that he has nothing but love for all of their animals. Offer to help find professional help and homes for the animals if the hoarder seems receptive.
If your dog hoarder friend gets defensive and isolates themselves, it is time to do the difficult but right thing. Call animal control or a trusted rescue to help medically treat and re-home the dogs. Even after this, it is important to reach out again to your hoarding friend. Letting your friend know you are there for them shows that they can receive emotional support outside of caring for an unmanageable amount of cats and will help prevent the cycle from simply happening again.
Do you have any experience with a dog hoarder? What steps did you take to insure the health of the animals in the hoarding situation and the hoarder themselves? Let us know your experience in the comments.