Do We Enable Hoarders?

There’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time, but I haven’t been sure how to address it.

I think the animal welfare community enables hoarders.

photo from the Texas A&M  website (click on photo to go to website)
photo from the Texas A&M website (click on photo to go to website)

The Animal Legal Defense Fund states that hoarding is the number one animal cruelty crisis facing companion animals in the US. And it’s also a crisis in other parts of the world.

Here in the US, it’s estimated that a quarter of a million animals are victims of hoarders. Anywhere between 900 and 2000 cases are reported each year. Hoarders may have anywhere from dozens to hundreds of animals that, if removed, will need care.


So why do I think we enable hoarders?

We give them money because we believe them when they say they’re helping animals. They beg for money for vet bills, and we give it to them. We give them money because they step up and “save” an animal from “Death Row.” And because some hoarders are quite sophisticated, they register as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and elicit donations from us that we gladly give them for the “wonderful work that they do,” when we don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

We give their rescued animals lots of attention. When the 700 cats at Caboodle Ranch were rescued, there were groups from all over the country sending people to Florida to help care for the animals, and many rescues offered to help place the cats. The ASPCA enlisted bloggers to help spread the word that these animals needed to be adopted. And that’s great, but that means that 700 animals that were already in rescue weren’t adopted into those homes, and people who, for whatever reason, could no longer care for their companion animal, could not do the responsible thing and surrender that animal to a no-kill shelter because there was no room.

animals rescued from hoarder in OK last year (photo from OK Humane website)
animals rescued from hoarder in OK last year (photo from OK Humane website)

We pay for their messes. Who pays to care for the animals rescued from hoarders? You do. The money you donate to both local and national organizations goes into rescue efforts. Both the HSUS and ASPCA have rescue teams. PetSmart Charities have funds available for the groups that care for the rescued animals. You also pay through your local taxes, because there are the costs associated with law enforcement and other agencies that investigate. So while thousands of dollars are paid to care for these animals, the hoarder may very well not pay anything toward the rescue efforts.

We don’t demand laws to address the problem. What? The number one animal cruelty crisis for dogs and cats, and we don’t even have laws to address it? What’s up with that? The Animal Legal Defense Fund states that many states have no legal definition for animal hoarding. And we know that many courts don’t give animal abuse cases priority. So in many places in the US, authorities can rescue 300 animals in sad shape from a hoarding situation, charge the hoarder with 300 counts of animal cruelty, and it will most likely end up downgraded to a few charges.

And because we’re not effectively dealing with this problem, we make it very easy for hoarders to re-offend. Animal hoarding is a crime with a 100% recidivism rate. Many hoarders simply move from place to place, setting up shop and staying until they wear out their welcome, and move again. Some hoarders move as close as the next county over, where they stay under the radar.


Hoarders are NOT good people who got over their head. They are sick. They are manipulative. They are sociopaths who use animals for their own ends. I challenge you to read the case study of Vicki Kittles on the ALDF website and then tell me this woman was just over her head.

So, what’s your take? Do you think we’re effectively dealing with the problem, or do you agree that we enable hoarders?

38 thoughts on “Do We Enable Hoarders?

  1. One cannot but agree with you on this problem. Hoarding of any kind is a mental illness, but animal hoarding hurts so many others (the trapped animals, the people who might have adopted them, the crisis shelters who must absorb rescues as you mentioned) that it should be a crime. Many parts of the US are still fighting the spay/neuter issue so it’s hard to push for more laws to prevent or criminalize hoarding, but BOTH issues need to be addressed. Thank you for raising awareness about the problem.

  2. We don’t know what to do about them. We have helped rehome many kitties from hoarding situations and we feel so bad for them. They never get the care and love they deserve in that type of situation.

    1. No they don’t. But by not stopping the hoarding in the first place, we ensure we’ll have more and more to help, and other animals will also suffer because they could have used our help too.

  3. I don’t know where the “hoarding” begins. One of the cats we have came from a rescue group that is legit. They have a building with people staffing. However, they have way more animals than they can house so they use foster people. My cat came from one of those. She was 9 months old when I adopted her and she had been with the foster mom for 6 months. She was kept in a very large cage in the garage with 10 other older cats because the woman had another 10 cats in her house. She was very kind but the cat wasn’t socialized at all nor have I been able to socialize her to the degree that my other cats, even the shy one, is. I commented on that and she said she didn’t have time with all those cats. I don’t think she was a hoarder but she certainly accepted more animals than she could handle. I often wonder about those older 10 cats she has living in her garage. I don’t know the answer. Shelters are pushed to the limit these days.

    1. And I’m guessing that she also became defensive and a bit aggressive when you mentioned that. That’s awfully common in the “animal welfare” community. And yet, that same person most likely abhors puppy mills, who use the same sort of living arrangement for animals.

    2. This is a serious issue. With some fosters there is a fine line between. Helping, being in over one’s head and hoarding. As with all other aspects of animal wefare, we need education, advocacy abd legislation.

  4. I never thought of hoarding as the No. 1 problem but you make a strong case. So much needs to be done on so many different levels from tougher spay/neuter laws to moving toward no-kill shelters across the country. The question is: where to start? Much love, The Scottie Mom.

    1. Tougher spay/neuter laws are important, but they won’t stop hoarding.

      To stop hoarding, we first have to see it for what it is. It’s animal cruelty at its worst. Too often, we dismiss it as someone over their heads, but that is NOT what hoarding is. Hoarding is sociopathic behavior.

  5. We have had a lot of this in our news lately. They have arrested a number of people engaging in this practice. With the weather conditions being so bad lately it has spot lighted how people are treating their animals and have more that they can take care of.


    1. So I guess we can say something good has come of the horrible weather- more animals are being removed from hoarders. Hopefully those hoarders are also being prosecuted.

  6. I haven’t thought of that we might enable hoarders but after reading today’s post, I agree with you, it’s possibel….How sad….we believed that our money went to help poor animals but it might be wrong… 😦

  7. This article is very eye opening! I thank you for writing it. The pictures in the article made the point. Your rings so true. In Ohio, this is almost a everyday situation in my state. Dogs, felines and other animals. It breaks my heart. May I reblog your blog on this…

  8. This is the reason I don’t donate to animal charities unless I have personally seen or know someone else who has personally seen, how they are run. It breaks my heart when I see these sorts of cases here in the UK. I used to think that it wasn’t a problem we had here until it was discovered a lady in my town had over 90 animals in her little terraced house.

    Something needs to be done but I really don’t know what. I do believe these hoarders are mentally sick but I also believe they need help. Someone needs to develop some way of rehabilitating these people and they need to be banned from keeping animals.

    ~ Amy

  9. I can truly understand where you are coming from but the one thing no one addresses is that hoarding comes from very deep seated mental issues! until we deal with the mental issues surrounding hoarding the hoarder they will re offend! Something needs to be done and until they find the solution the hoarder shouldn’t be allowed to have pets!

  10. I couldn’t make myself watch the video. The photos upset me enough! Hoarding is such a complex issue. Most hoarders really believe that they are helping. You are right. They are sick people and should be treated as such. Animal cruelty is not taken seriously enough in this country. Look at Mike Vick. He should be rotting in prison, yet he’s collecting millions upon millions. I don’t believe he is contrite in the least bit. He was running a concentration camp for dogs. It appears that the notorious Heidi Fleiss is a hoarder of birds. She lives in isolation in the California desert where she is free to accumulate dozens of exotic birds. It’s common knowledge, yet where are the authorities? She’s a notorious drug abuser as well. How can she effectively care for all these birds, most of whom will likely outlive her? What happens then? It makes me sick.

  11. I agree with you guys.
    And hoarding is such a horrible thing especially when it comes to animals. And it has sickened me to a maximum point when you see those hoarding shows on tv, and they find several dead animals in the houses and whatnot….I can’t even stand to watch them.
    I’m glad you brought this issue forward of enabling it as well!
    Have a great day!
    ((husky hugz))
    Frum our pack at love is being owned by a husky

  12. I’ve seen a couple of those Hoarders shows – only one was an animal hoarder first (the rat guy). The others seemed genuinely surprised that several dead kittens were under the mountains of trash in their home. I do hope this type of show helps others identify hoarders and get them help – because these type do not realise they have a problem.

    But. The sociopathic element cannot be ignored. I’m too damn broke to give money to any charity, private or not. I’m too proud to ask for help myself, too. Part of my hesitation to ask for help is because I don’t ever want to meet a kind soul who has more money than sense. As much as I might need a bit of cash, if someone offered me $10,000 I’d refuse it, and then feel horrible that someone with less integrity would take advantage. Hell, drop that to $1,000 and I’d feel the same way!

  13. *SHUDDERS* I amm horrified after reading this report Rumpy & Jen!! Looking at all thos dogs jammed in together brought tears to my eyes…then reading about that cat woman really finished me off!!
    I agree with you 150%!! Hoarding is sick! Period! It has nothing to do with rescuing & loving the 4 keggeds or providing stability & care for them…
    I think limits hould be in place….I know there would be hoarders still but they would be easier to spot perhaps???
    Thank you for such an insightful blog on this subject…the one we do not talk about!
    Sherri-Ellen & Nylablue xx

  14. I think we do when we let them take a problem off our hands, which they do in their sick way. Animals need to be rescued, they do it, we don’t need to and turn our back even when we know they are not caring for them and are often abusive. We see them as a no-kill facility. Not “we” as in you and me, but “we” as in society. But the attention they get for “rescuing” feeds their need.

    Plus, the law supports the hoarder keeping the public out of their space to see what the conditions are. I know a woman who is hoarding, and has been off and on for decades. She is elderly and her daughter lives with her. Fifteen years ago their house burned down when they were away. It was said to be an electrical fire, but the electricity had been shut off for two years. They had taken a bus to do some shopping. It’s said neighbors burned the house down because it smelled so bad, killing eight cats because they were kept in cages throughout the house. They had also fed 20 or so cats outside the house but never spayed or neutered in a small neighborhood. She had the house rebuilt over a period of years and I’ve counted as many as ten different cats in the filthy front windows recently. They don’t feed any cats outdoors, but take them all in and if they aren’t spaying and neutering it’s a total disaster. Both ladies smell like cat pee. They won’t speak to anyone about their cats and all they’ve done is protected by laws of privacy and possession. I’m not even sure where the cats come from and if some are really neighbors’ pet cats who are permitted outdoors. But aside from a neighbor calling the health department, which would be bad news for the cats, we can’t do a thing.

    Then there’s the woman “caring” for a colony outdoors but won’t get them spayed or neutered because she’s concerned they’ll develop an infection if they are outdoors after their surgery. Then she wants help with a cat’s prolapsed uterus and orphaned kittens.

    I don’t donate to or promote any plea that doesn’t fully disclose who they are and that they are working with a rescue or shelter and more than one person is involved. The ones I post I know personally and are all involved in local rescue. I don’t know what the answer is, except that there be fewer pets who need homes. We know where that goes.

    1. I have had one argument today with someone who threw up the “at least they’re not dead” defense. I don’t buy it. I don’t agree with PETA on some issues, but I do agree with their stance that there are things worse than death. And the way those animals are forced to live in hoarding situations is, to me, far worse than humane euthanasia.

  15. You are so right … and that’s why I am very slow to send money or give support until I am sure I know the whole story. I think a lot of the time, we too easily buy into a sad story and a couple of photos of abused dogs.

  16. I’m an animal control officer and deal with hoarders and borderline hoarders fairly regularly. I also have a family member who is a hoarder. I live in Florida and am quite familiar with the Caboodle Ranch case. I agree it’s a problem, and I agree that we — Society — don’t deal with it effectively. However, I don’t think there is an easy answer. Honestly, I have never dealt with a hoarder and felt that I did great job. Instead, I feel like the Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dike.

    Want to know something depressing? Hoarders have a distinct smell. I can’t describe it, but once you smell it you “know.” It permeates everything. I can walk through Walmart (it’s always Walmart) and tell you right away that a particular person is a hoarder.

  17. I’m glad you’ve raised this. These people are experts at manipulating emotions. Too much happens as a response to emotion without engaging brain. We all need to take a step back and try to think rationally sometimes – it isn’t always easy to see that someone is purposely pulling at our heartstrings.

  18. I think one very valid point you missed in this article is that the BIGGEST thing society does to enable hoarders of animals is humans dumping their animals in the first place and not spaying/neutering animals. I have read about a good deal of cases in which, once people in the community heard someone had a lot of animals, they began dumping the ones they didn’t want at these houses. They seem to think that this is a better option than taking said animal to a shelter/rescue. The shelters and rescues are not just overflowing because of hoarders, they were already overflowing because of irresponsible owners.
    Now I am not in any way defending hoarders, but placing a bigger piece of the blame on society.

  19. I always ask people to go see a place with their own eyes before donating… drop in unexpected, meet the animals, meet the people in charge, if they find a problem report it immediately… and then follow up! I always check out other rescuers very carefully before I will work with them because these sorts of situations can happen anywhere, and are beyond heartbreaking.

  20. A tough situation. I think there should definitely be more laws for offenders, but at what number of pets do we cut people off? If they’re well-cared for, they don’t count as hoarders. What about laws that require you to register pets over a certain number and have house-visits? It’s tough. I wish people weren’t so cruel to animals and then pretend that they’re doing good. As always, there are ill people out there. :/

What would you like to add to the conversation? Bark at me in a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s