Animal Hoarding: A Definition

Though only identified as recently as 1999 in Public Health Reports (Patronek 1999), animal hoarding is a term that we hear quite often in the media. News stations show us video footage of people who are housing many animals, often in poor and unsanitary conditions. Animal hoarding is a topic that has piqued the interest of many, and as an organizing company, we have received calls in the past from local radio and news stations looking for more information on the topic in order to produce news segments.

The International OCD Foundation has a good amount of information posted on the topic of animal hoarding. Here are a few of the highlights they have listed. Hopefully this will help shed some light on the subject.

Definition

Animal hoarding is more than just having a large number of animals, although numbers do need to be taken into account. The published definition of an animal hoarder (Patronek 1999) is someone who:

  • Accumulates a large number of animals, and
  • Fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care, and
  • Fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and death) or the environment (severe overcrowding and extremely unsanitary conditions), and
  • Fails to act on the negative effect of the collection on their own health and well-being and that of other household members.

Explanation

Initially, due to the striking similarities between people with OCD with a hoarding compulsion and animal hoarders, we sought to understand animal hoarding as a form of OCD. Whether that is still the best model is uncertain, since the compulsive care-giving of living creatures seems to have qualitative differences with the hoarding of inanimate objects.

We are just beginning to understand how animal hoarding evolves, from both personal accounts of animal hoarders as well as those of their adult children, parents, siblings or friends. A common theme across many of these stories is a history of unstable or inconsistent parenting, trauma, neglect, or abuse during childhood. This history is also shared by people with other types of addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse. A very interesting perspective is provided in the book “Addiction as an Attachment Disorder” by Richard Flores.

 

Counseling and therapy

Little is really known about which kinds of therapy work best. There are very few psychologists, counselors, or psychiatrists who have any expertise in animal hoarding. That said, it is important that the therapist have experience diagnosing and treating a wide variety of disorders, since identifying any co-morbid conditions will be important for addressing the animal hoarding. We do believe that without some kind of long-term treatment and monitoring, that the chances that the behavior will return nears 100%. Many of the principles outlined for treating compulsive object hoarders likely apply in these situations. What is also important is that the therapist be provided information about animal hoarding and the conditions of both the animals and household that led to the referral for therapy.

 

Jenny Power, Absolutely Organized

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