Three types of animal hoarders
If anything characterizes animal hoarding, it is the heterogeneity of the syndrome. As with the hoarding of inanimate objects,
which is described as the final common pathway of a variety of psychological disorders,12 HARC thinks there is considerable variation in the precipitating factors that result in animal hoarding. This finding is
critical to intervention, as personal experience has taught us that a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist.
Figure 1. The relative time frame for deterioration of husbandry conditions for different types of animal hoarders.
At a workshop in April 2004, an expert panel, which included mental health, social service, and law enforcement personnel
experienced with animal hoarding cases, proposed that based on differences in how hoarders related to people and animals,
they might be grouped into three types: the overwhelmed caregiver, the rescuer, and the exploiter (Table 2).13 The three types can possibly be distinguished in terms of the pace at which care lapses (Figure 1). The intensity of intervention needed to successfully improve conditions likely varies depending on the type of hoarder
as well (Table 3). For example, if a veterinarian-client-patient relationship based on trust and concern can be developed with overwhelmed
caregivers, veterinarians may be able to help them improve their level of care, reduce the number of animals they have to
a manageable number, and accept help from other appropriate resources. In contrast, such an approach is not likely to be of
use with the exploiter type, who will likely require more aggressive forms of intervention driven by law enforcement personnel.
Barriers to resolution
Animal hoarding is a complex phenomenon that does not lend itself to easy solutions. Barriers to resolving and preventing
hoarding exist at numerous levels (e.g. legal, regulatory, medical, and societal). Lack of awareness of hoarding is the first and most global barrier, and veterinary
professionals can help raise this awareness. The veterinary profession can help address three other closely linked barriers:
Table 3 Intensity of Intervention Required for Different Types of Animal Hoarders*
- A lack of legally mandated husbandry standards for animals kept in private or nonprofit institutional or quasi-institutional
settings such as shelters, rescue operations, foster care, sanctuaries, and hospice.
- A failure to assess the psychological suffering animals experience from long-term crowding and lack of socialization accompanied
by an inability or unwillingness to convey this suffering to authorities.
- A failure to recognize the cumulative effects of long-standing substandard conditions.
Lack of regulation
Animal care in shelters, sanctuaries, rescue operations, foster care settings, and hospices—whether private or nonprofit—is
largely unregulated. The Federal Animal Welfare Act, which applies to dealers or laboratory animal facilities, does not apply
to these operations. National animal welfare groups such as the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are
not umbrella groups for local shelters and have no authority to regulate their activities or set standards of care. Other
than the Colorado Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act (Colorado Statute 35-80-101), I am not aware of any in-depth standards
at the state level that apply to the broad range of facilities and individuals who may provide care for unwanted animals,
particularly long-term. Some states may have generic kennel regulations, but these are typically limited in scope, represent
a minimum standard of care, and do not address issues of long-term confinement.