The last decade has given us a new breed in television that some love or hate: reality television. “Animal Hoarders” is a reality-based television show that documents the disturbing practice of animal hoarding.
At the Ontario SPCA’s annual Educational Conference last month, hoarding expert Elaine Birchall addressed the challenges of animal hoarding in animal welfare. Animal hoarding is defined by the accumulation of animals to the extent that:
1. failure to provide minimal nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care
2. failure to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals or the environment
3. failure to act on or recognize the negative impact of the collection on their own health and wellbeing
While the number of animals a community resident may own are controlled by municipal by-laws, many municipalities have ambiguous numbers especially in rural communities. The laws can become difficult to enforce when people who have good intentions attempt to house many animals and claim to be an animal shelter. There are no current regulations or licensing for individuals who manage their own shelter environments, which Birchall noted may add to the hoarding mentality.
There are different psychological models that pattern the behavior from which animal hoarders may have which contributes to their unhealthy addiction. Hoarders can suffer from neglectful or otherwise traumatic childhood years, and they use animals as a form of unconditional love. People who hoard animals may consider the animals in their care to be the only source of personal value and self-worth.
A common feature that most animal hoarders share is the inability to recognize the animals in their care are sick, injured or even on the brink of death. This makes the treatment and rehabilitation of animal hoarders very difficult, and requires long-term counseling and subsequent monitoring. While many hoarders mean well, they mistakenly believe they are the “only option” for the animals they have rescued. The costs of food, bedding, litter, medications and general care for the number of animals hoarded (which inevitably balloons due to unchecked litters of babies and new animals being brought into the house) can cause the situation to spiral out of control. Many hoarders become overwhelmed and unable to manage the bills and care the animals require. This can lead to filth, starvation and death.
The goal of this session was to educate officers, agents and staff on what constitutes hoarding, the warning signs of a potential hoarder, communications and best practices for dealing with hoarders. For those who would like to see Birchall’s presentation on animal hoarders, it is available for free online at http://www.hoarding.ca.
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