From experience I can tell you it is definitely a divisive topic. What I might call hoarding another might call collecting, but while collecting is a hobby, hoarding tends to be a compulsion. For sure it is now recognized in the DSM as Hoarding Disorder. So a person might have trouble parting with some items because they have some minute sentimental value or they help trigger some pleasant memories, but then it can get out of control and they start collecting empty plastic bottles, used take away boxes, plastic shopping bags and other useless items that have no sentimental value. At the other end of hoarding you find the continuous acquisition of new items without considerations for their usefulness, need or financial burden. This is an animal welfare awareness blog, so you must be wondering why I am talking about hoarding. Well, hoarding of objects is often associated with pet hoarding too, and sometimes pets are the only subject of the compulsive collecting. As with many things one has to draw a line somewhere in the sand between enough and too many. Here's where the MSPCA draw the line.
The short and simple way to differentiate between enough animals and hoarding is to assess how well the owner is providing the animal with its 5 welfare needs and whether providing those needs interfere's with the human's well being. I feel your struggle to remember the 5 welfare needs, so here they are again.
Now, obviously every animal's needs are different. So the species as well as the individual needs to be considered when assessing what an animal needs. When it comes to diet species, age, and dietary intolerance are the obvious things to consider. The other 4 needs are on the other hand very intertwined. For simplicity of argument I will use the cat as an example. The cat's ethology which we already wrote about here, makes it a solitary hunting species, with some ability to tolerate other cats and animals that varies between individuals depending on their position on the domestication scale, with every individual having their own fixed ideas on how big their territory needs to be and how many animals they are willing to share it with. But we also discussed how the cat is not only a hunter but a prey animals too and needs to apply its wired-in strategies to feel safe and avoid unnecessary stress.
So going back to their 5 welfare needs, their environment needs to have enough hiding places and high ledges for all the cats to feel safe. It needs to be big enough for all cats to avoid each other as much as they need to according to how they are naturally wired. They need enough litter substrate to perform their natural toileting motor patterns (dig, deposit, hide) and several litter trays so they can always find a clean one that the cats perceives as safer.
Failing the above already the deprives them of the need for a suitable environment and the need to perform normal behavior, but it gets worse. The stress of being deprived of thiese needs leads to cat to become stressed and stress leads to lower immunity to disease. Sadly with a higher concentration of cats, there is increased exposure through cross contamination and squabbles, when the cat is less able to fight it. This means they are not protected against pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Now when we are talking about hoarding of animals, there is often the tendency to have more animals than one can afford to medicate, vaccinate and at times even feed properly. Some hoarders justify missing a feed by saying everyone has to go hungry sometimes or they might feed soemthing that barely passes as food just to ease theor conscience. So now these cats getting sick because the hoarding itself, are probably not going to receive the necessary veterinary care or nutritional support, and have probably not been vaccinated against the most common diseases. When bearing in mind the tendency to continuously acquire more animals, hoarding exposes the most vulnerable cats to all sorts of disease and to make matters worse, the spiraling numbers usually mean many of them don't get neutered and kittens will be born in these horrible conditions.
I say horrible and most of you will think of filth and squalor and the smell of ammonia. One hopes that someone would have done something about it before it gets that bad, because animal hoarding most often starts off looking like this:
Progresses to this:
And eventually even this:
And doesn't always look like this:
Sometimes, it even looks like this:
How to recognize hoarding:
- An individual possesses more than the typical number of companion animals.
- The individual is unable to provide nutrition and/or sanitation and/or shelter and/or veterinary care.
- The individual is in denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling.
- The individual refuses to willingly reduce the number of animals and/or to stop taking in more.