Animal hoarding: Its roots and recognition - Veterinary Medicine
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Animal hoarding: Its roots and recognition
Because you are likely to encounter an animal hoarder, familiarize yourself with the signs of hoarding and build relationships now with the authorities you can turn to for support.


One consequence of failing to legally mandate husbandry standards for these types of institutional or quasi-institutional settings is that assessments of proper care become obvious targets to dispute. When called on to evaluate husbandry in these settings, veterinarians must make use of available objective standards to bolster their professional judgment. Guidelines for companion-animal care in shelters and animal rescue operations recently issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) are available.14 The Tufts Animal Care and Condition (TACC) scales can also be a useful tool when triaging large numbers of animals and succinctly summarizing their conditions.3,15,16 Veterinarians should not underestimate the value of their own professional opinions as animal care experts, drawing on these other resources when appropriate.

Unrecognized psychological suffering

Confirming the extent of poor husbandry is an important step in establishing that animal neglect has occurred. However, veterinarians, other animal care professionals, and most pet owners intuitively recognize that meeting the letter of the law regarding husbandry may not preclude poor welfare. Particularly in a hoarding situation, there may be substantial suffering from long-term crowding, intensive confinement, lack of exercise, and lack of socialization. Demonstrating this poor quality of life may be particularly critical in cases in which the basics of food and water are minimally present and the medical conditions are not dire, or when problems may be less severe for some animals than others (e.g. newly acquired vs. those in long-term care). Ironically, saving animals from euthanasia is likely the most common defense proffered for even the most egregious lapses in care (e.g. those resulting in large-scale starvation and death as a result of being '"saved"). Such a defense should be rejected out of hand.

How can veterinarians help stop animal hoarding?
Veterinarians are in a position to educate authorities about animals' psychological suffering because of our expertise and training. A large body of scientific literature is available regarding the importance of addressing the behavioral needs of animals in zoo, laboratory, and farm settings to ensure psychological well-being; much of this information is accessible in a recently edited volume on assessing quality of life and mental well-being in animals.17 Ultimately, veterinarians need to be confident in their professional judgment and should avoid the temptation to make excuses for substandard care or be swayed by a hoarder's claims of good intentions.

Failure to recognize harm or neglect of multiple animals

Finally, I believe a substantive difference exists between the neglect of an individual animal and the suffering that may occur when multiple animals are kept together for extended periods in conditions of crowding, squalor, poor medical care, and lack of socialization. Suffering is magnified in large groups of neglected animals because these animals may be stressed by aggression from other animals, may have to fight for food or protect litters, may be exposed to contagious disease, and may endure the proximity of predator species.

When multiple individual indicators of well-being (body condition, coat, sanitation, health, behavior) simultaneously deteriorate to varying degrees over a period in many animals, such deterioration is often not recognized (or is impossible to establish under current cruelty laws) as part of an overall pattern of chronic neglect and suffering, which is far more severe than deterioration of any individual factor. When the focus is on evaluating each animal only individually, without the context of environment and duration of neglect, important considerations may be lost.

We need to find more effective ways to establish the extent and duration of neglect necessary for conditions to finally deteriorate into a hoarding situation. Veterinary input is critically needed to help courts understand the big picture, in which the whole may be much worse than the sum of its parts (see boxed text "How can veterinarians help stop animal hoarding?").


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