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.


What to do if you encounter an animal hoarder

Every veterinarian in companion-animal practice is likely to encounter animal hoarders at some point. You will need to judge each situation individually, carefully considering the degree to which you wish to become involved.

Veterinarians have an ethical duty to report suspected animal abuse, and in 14 states there are statutes protecting them from civil and criminal liability for reports made in good faith. But reporting animal abuse is not always as simple in practice as it sounds in theory. Although every state has statutes that criminalize animal abuse, the enforcement of these laws is by no means uniform and often exists at the local, rather than the state, level. For example, in many communities, investigative authority may rest in a local humane society or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) with police powers or a municipal animal control office, which is often based within the police department. Some communities may have no separate entity for enforcing these laws, which are then left to the appropriate arm of the local police, sheriff, or municipal animal control. So before you encounter a case, identify and become acquainted with the appropriate authorities in your area. Given the sensitive nature of these cases and legitimate concerns about confidentiality, developing a working relationship with the executive director, board president, administrator, or chief investigative officer will help you better understand how a case will be approached, what options are available for intervention, and what role, if any, you as the reporting veterinarian might be expected to play as the case unfolds.

Veterinarians may be reluctant to report hoarding for a variety of reasons, including concerns about breaking confidentiality, unwillingness to become involved in a protracted legal proceeding, fear of retaliation, or a belief that an adversarial process is not likely to serve either the client or the animals well. This reluctance is another reason for consulting with the appropriate investigative agency before a case arises and for becoming involved in, or initiating, a community-wide interdisciplinary task force that has the mandate and ability to address suspected cases of animal hoarding and abuse. By understanding each other's concerns, we can creatively resolve abuse problems in a manner everyone is comfortable with. The benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to addressing animal hoarding are described in an informative report, available online at no charge at

Some veterinarians may choose to become more directly involved in hoarding cases, helping with animal rescue and evacuation, collecting evidence, and providing expert testimony. These areas of involvement increasingly require specialized expertise, and veterinarians are strongly advised to become familiar with principles of animal evacuation and rescue, evidence collection, and courtroom testimony. An excellent reference for these issues is the recent shelter medicine textbook edited by Drs. Lila Miller and Stephen Zawistowski of the ASPCA in New York.16 For additional information about animal hoarding, consult the HARC Web site,

Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD
Center for Animals and Public Policy
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Tufts University
North Grafton, MA 01536


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