Recognizing an Animal Hoarder

by Ragtimelil

What is an animal hoarder? How can you recognize the signs that someone is going over the line?

We all know how horrible puppy mills can be with crates stacked on top of each other and dogs living in filth. Hoarders, people who collect animals to the point where they can’t take care of them, can be just as bad. Recently, there were over 100 dogs removed from a nice, upscale house in Tomball, Texas. The dogs, mostly Shih Tzus, had eye ulcers, hair loss, were infested with fleas and living in filthy crates. In Pennsylvania, 185 Chihuahuas and several other dogs were seized. The Ericksons, in 2003, were in the news for hoarding 552 dogs in miserable conditions.
A few months before, 298 dogs were seized in Willis, Texas. The owner was attempting to rescue mostly aggressive dogs and give them a safe place, but it spun out of control. The reports were that dogs were in cages too small and standing in filth.

Kennel Size

Sled dog team

The number of dogs does not make someone a hoarder by itself. Susan Butcher, winner of 4 Iditarod dog sled races, had at one time, 150 dogs. She was not a hoarder. Her dogs were cared for and she even brought them into her house on a rotating basis.. She bred and trained them for racing.

I raced sled dogs for a short time and it was not uncommon for racers to have 20 – 60 dogs. Serious racers might run 10 dogs on a team and were always trying out different combinations to see which team would be the fastest. Although any sport has its bad apples, the people I knew took excellent care of their dogs. The dog houses might be chewed and weather beaten and the dog yard bare from pounding feet, the dogs were fed only the best of food, received medical care and were treated with love.

Some people have the money and facilities to have a large kennel. I've been to kennels that housed a large number of dogs that was clean and comfortable for the dogs and where they got attention and exercise. Often they had employees to help with taking care of the dogs.

Becoming a Hoarder

German Shepherd

People with fewer animals can mistreat them.One of the definitions of a hoarder is the failure to provide minimal standards of sanitation, space, and nutrition for the animals.

Some years ago I had a neighbor, who I will call Rose, who had about 15 cats, and about 10 dogs. Most of them were in the house, but still were infested with fleas. The yard had broken glass on the ground, was never raked up and water buckets that had water that was black and scummy. She would become enamored with a certain breed, buy some dogs or cats for breeding and then lose interest. In the years I knew her, she bought German shepherds, Bernese mountain dogs, pit bulls, and French bulldogs.  If she wasn’t a true hoarder, she was certainly borderline.



Sometimes people close to the hoarder make excuses for the conditions.


Rose’s mother was reaching the point of needing constant care. She had to make trips out of the state to take care of her and arrange for her to move into a care facility. I knew this was stressful for Rose and exhausting. I tried to help out by cleaning out the kennels one time while she was away. They were disgusting, filled with feces. I scraped them out, washed them down and set up a bucket and scooper so Rose could keep the kennel clean. Within days of her return, I realized she had no desire to keep up with cleaning anything. Her saving grace was that when she got bored with a dog, she would often sell or give it away.

Minimum Standards


Another characteristic is the failure to realize the suffering of the animal.

She also had horses, 20 horses on two acres. Needless to say, there wasn’t a blade of anything green in the pasture and not much for shelter either. She did have a barn, but only a few stalls. The run-in sheds were large, but there were so many horses that they wouldn't all fit under the shed. I sometimes saw wet, cold horses standing in a freezing rain, backs hunched and shivering. When I said something, she said they were just fine, and the truth was, she did provide shelter.



My first clue about her collecting was when I went with her to look at a horse she wanted to buy.

The barn we visited was spotless. The horse was brought out into a nice indoor arena with a soft, sandy floor. The seller rode the horse, but Rose didn’t. She had her eyes glued to the gelding and was licking her lips. Finally she pulled out her checkbook and wrote out a check.

When she got the horse home, she put him out with the others and never rode him. She rarely rode any of her horses. In fact, she was seldom in the barn at all. Her husband would do barn chores, until he finally got fed up and moved out. Rose gave a horse away to a young girl and boarded it in exchange for feeding the horses once a day after school. Rose said she would do the morning chores. I know she didn’t always, but at least the horses were fed once a day.


I soon realized that Rose was a closet alcoholic. She was attractive, funny and charming most of the time, but I discovered another side of her. She had always been unreliable. More than once she signed up, and paid for, for one of my dog obedience classes. She might show up for one or two if any at all. Then she showed up a couple of times drunk. I was mortified to admit I even knew her.



Another characteristic of a hoarder is denial of conditions.


I moved away and lost track of Rose until one day I saw her on the news. The SPCA had seized some of her horses for malnutrition. I saw an interview on TV and could tell she was drunk. She was claiming she had vet references and didn’t know what all the fuss was about.I was pretty sure the young girl had taken her horse to another barn and was no longer feeding Rose's horses.

What to Do

The first step is to protect the welfare of the animals. Make a call and get help for the animals and the hoarder. The owner may or may not be prosecuted. Authorities are finding out that hoarding is associated with mental health issues rather than an intent to commit criminal activities. Prosecuting doesn't always solve the problem. There are treatments that are helping people overcome their compulsion.

Updated: 11/27/2012, Ragtimelil
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