Sunday, January 07, 2001

How to deal with animal hoarders

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's no easy fix for animal hoarding. The key is coordination among agencies, experts say.

        “Since both human as well as animal victims are involved, it is important for a broad spectrum of the social safety net to help with these cases,” says Gary Patronek, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

        Here are some ways to approach the problem:


        If hoarders refuse to permit inspection of their homes, officials can obtain search warrants with evidence that animals are being harmed.

        Hoarders' pets tend to be suffering from disease or infection. But in Ohio, the animal-cruelty law doesn't address this type of neglect. In Kentucky, the law is broader, but few police or dog wardens are trained to investigate hoarding.

        In a five-county area of Northern Kentucky, only two animal control officers have experience obtaining search warrants in such cases.

        Some say prosecution isn't the answer, anyway, because hoarders are often emotionally troubled rather than criminally inclined.

        Others say judges can impose conditions that help hoarders. They can require counseling, for instance, or ban the person from owning pets.

Pet restrictions

        Some cities limit the number of animals people can own.

        Fort Thomas is considering restricting households to two dogs and two cats. The ordinance also may prohibit people from disturbing neighborhoods with barking animals, stenches or unsanitary conditions. Police would gain authority to make sure the animals in a home are permitted under the ordinance.

        Such laws give officials a way into problem homes. But restricting the number of pets also penalizes responsible owners. An alternative is to permit more animals than the limit if owners agree to periodic inspections.


        Animal control officers or humane society volunteers can gain the trust of hoarders and convince them to relinquish animals. Although this may lead to euthanization, some people manage to find alternatives.

        In southeastern Indiana, several volunteers in the animal-rescue community have been working for months with an elderly woman who hoards dogs. The volunteers have been removing dogs a few at a time, paying to have them sterilized, then returning them until better homes are found.

        They also have obtained dog food for the hoarder and built doghouses on her property. One of the volunteers, Carole Vatter, says the goal is to save the animals.

        “It's not their fault,” she says.


        • The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium: Based at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, members include sociologists, veterinarians and psychiatrists. More information can be obtained at

        • The Humane Society of the United States: Phil Snyder, director of the Central States regional office, conducts workshops on hoarding. (630) 357-7015.
        • Communities Networking for People and Animal Welfare: A Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky group that promotes cooperation among agencies helping people and those protecting animals. Members include animal control officers, advocates for children and battered women, mental-health specialists and animal activists. The group has not discussed hoarding at length but may do so in the future, says member Barbara Boat, director of the Childhood Trust. (513) 558-9007.


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