What to Do with a Relative Who is a Pet Hoarder
What is a Pet Hoarder?
A pet hoarder is a person who has more pets than they can handle. They might refer to themselves as a “rescue” however a proper rescue, or animal shelter, never keeps more animals than it can cope with and the goal is to find these animals actual homes – not to keep them. The pet hoarder typically has an extremely difficult time getting rid of a pet even if they clearly cannot care for all the pets they have.
Pet hoarders are often “collectors” of a certain kind of pet, dogs, cats, birds, or even exotic pets such as tigers. If your relative is a pet hoarder you need to stop it; address their mental health, and remove the animals so they can be cared for properly.
In the typical pet hoarding situation the person starts out well intentioned, they have no goal of going overboard. They acquire a pet or two, then more, and more. Some are acquired legally, but in some cases the hoarder might go so far as to remove a dog from its yard, actually thinking they are “rescuing” from a home where it is not loved. After a while the animals they have, particularly if it is cats, rabbits, or dogs, start to breed and multiply further.
The hoarders home, and yard, may be filthy with dander, hair, urine, and feces, or it may be relatively clean. The animals are often underfed, rarely vaccinated or wormed, and rarely spayed or neutered, as such disease, inbreeding, and parasites, are common. The animals are apt to be less social than most pets, being as they are surrounded by other animals, and may only get limited amounts of human attention.
The hoarder will defend their actions saying they love the animals, and are the “best” owner the animals could have. In many cases hoarding should be treated as a mental illness.
How to Deal with a Pet Hoarder
Approaching the person and suggesting they get rid of some animals rarely works, but it is worth a try and should always be the first step. You generally have to convince them that the animals are going to a no-kill facility, so you need to arrange with such a shelter to take the animals. In some case you may have to arrange for several shelters to take a few animals each. The shelter might specify what animals they want first, if not it would be best to select the young, unfixed, animals to surrender first.
Encourage them to surrender, or "rehome", as many pets on their own (and with your help) as possible. Younger, friendly, animals will be easier to find homes for than older, shy, or less "cute" ones.
Chances are that the person will not agree to surrender the animals on their own, in which case you have to use the law to remove some, or all, of the animals.
In some areas there are city by-laws in regards to how many animals a person can keep. In other cases it is the condition that the animals are living in that could be used to remove the animals, specifically if they have no food, water, shelter, or medical care. Issues of removing animals not properly cared for are usually handled by an organization such as the SPCA, or Humane Society.
If the person has children living in the house the condition of the home might be cause for concern in regards to the children. Sometimes these laws can be used to force a person to get rid of excess animals, or at least to keep the home cleaner.
It is very important that the welfare of the animal's is held as important. The hoarder does love the animals, to simply disregard their love for the animals will be extra cruel. If the animals are sick, starving, or suffering, it might be kindest to euthanize them but ideally saving some animals should be a goal too otherwise the hoarder may not be able to come to terms with their contributions to the situation.
Removing the Animals
Very often traps will be needed as some of the animals may be too hard to catch, kittens in particular will go feral and will hide.
It may take days, or even weeks, to remove all the animals.
Sometimes the hoarder will claim that all the animals are gone, and actually be hiding a few.
In some cases it can be good to leave one, or two, animals with the person, provided the person is able to care for them and the animals that are left are spayed or neutered.
After the animals are removed the person should be monitored to make sure they do not acquire more. Their mental health should be addressed