The cable TV show “Hoarding: Buried Alive” has given audiences worldwide a glimpse into the troubled lives of those who struggle with hoarding — a compulsion to collect that is so severe it creates an unhealthy, even dangerous environment for the hoarders as well as those who live with and near them. Amid the piles of clutter and garbage, many hoarders also keep an unmanageable number of dogs, cats and other pets. About 40 percent of the people who hoard items also hoard animals, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
While hoarding might be good fodder for reality TV, authorities wrestle with how best to handle these situations, which can lead to violations of health and zoning codes, landlord-tenant disputes and criminal investigations of child neglect and animal cruelty. Each year, there are an estimated 900 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding in the U.S., according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). In March 2016, the Sheriff’s Office of Maricopa County, Arizona removed 103 animals from a home where a man and woman were alleged to be hoarding animals. Just days earlier, a Cleveland TV station reported on the rescue of nearly 70 animals involved in three apparent hoarding cases. A North Carolina man was charged in March 2016 with 55 counts of animal cruelty after authorities found he had been hoarding more than 50 dogs at his home.
It is unclear whether hoarding has become more common, but some government agencies indicate it might be — at least in their part of the country. In Boston, for example, housing inspectors have seen a “significant” increase in hoarding cases in the past five years, according to a city Web page. Scholars continue to research the effects of the disorder, which the American Psychiatric Association designated as a distinct form of mental illness in 2013. Community and government agencies throughout the U.S. have developed task forces to coordinate responses to hoarding that are both sensitive and responsible.
Journalists writing about hoarding should become familiar with local laws and ordinances related to hoarding, safe housing and animal care, as they can vary significantly among cities and states. Some important resources are the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the Institute on Compulsive Hoarding and Cluttering at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. A number of animal rights groups, including the ASPCA and The Humane Society of the United States, assist with animal rescue efforts and are familiar with the consequences for animals. The Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University maintains an online repository of information on animal law in the U.S.
“Hoarding, Housing, and DSM-5”
Weiss, Kenneth J.; Khan, Aneela. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, December 2015, Vol. 43.
Summary: “Hoarding of objects, trash, or animals has the potential to harm hoarders and others. Law enforcement and civil concerns arise, leading to situations ranging from health code violations to child abuse and potential eviction proceedings. DSM-5 [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] included hoarding disorder among the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. This change has created an opportunity for individuals who engage in severe hoarding to request reasonable accommodation from landlords, because their condition represents a disability under the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts. We review the legal implications of hoarding disorder, tracking recent case law and arguments made in such disputes.”
“Community Hoarding Task Forces: A Comparative Case Study of Five Task Forces in the United States”
Bratiotis, C. Health & Social Care in the Community, 2013. doi: 10.1111/hsc.12010.
Abstract: “During the past decade, many community task forces have formed to address hoarding problems that come to public attention. Such task forces provide a societal-level intervention to assist people with the most severe cases of hoarding, who do not voluntarily seek or want help for their hoarding behavior. This qualitative study of five U.S. hoarding task forces included sites selected for their diversity of purpose, approaches to hoarding intervention and community geography, composition and resources. Data were collected during the period of September 2007-March 2008. The case study methodology used multiple forms of data, including semi-structured interviews, analysis of documents, small group interviews and investigator observation. This study captured the perspectives of public and private sector service providers such as mental health, housing, social service, public health agencies and community enforcement organizations (fire, police, legal, animal control) to examine how task forces organize and operate and the emerging practice and policy changes. Study findings suggest that structural factors (e.g. leadership, purpose, funding and membership) impact hoarding task force viability, that participation on a task force influences practice and policy decisions about hoarding, and that social work can expand its role in task force leadership. Task forces may be a mechanism for improving community policies about hoarding and mechanisms for addressing other social problems across multiple sectors.”
“Prevalence of Hoarding Disorder in Individuals at Potential Risk of Eviction in New York City: A Pilot Study”
Rodriguez, Carolyn I.; et al. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2013. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31823f678b.
Abstract: “This study estimated the prevalence of hoarding disorder (HD) in individuals seeking help from Eviction Intervention Services Housing Research Center (EIS), a not-for-profit community organization in New York City (NYC) that aids clients with housing problems including eviction. One hundred fifteen EIS clients were screened for HD. The prevalence of HD among those seeking help from EIS was 22 percent (clinician-rated) and 23 percent (self-rated), which is nearly 5 to 10 times greater than the rate of hoarding (2 percent to 5 percent) in the general population. Of individuals seeking help from EIS who met the criteria for HD (n = 25), 32 percent were currently in legal eviction proceedings (i.e., threatened with imminent eviction), 44 percent had a history of previous legal eviction proceedings, and 20 percent had been evicted from their home one or more times, yet only 48 percent were currently seeking mental health treatment. Almost a quarter of individuals seeking help for housing problems from a community eviction prevention organization met the criteria for HD; only about half of these individuals were receiving mental health treatment. Future studies are needed to determine whether HD treatment can reduce the risk of eviction and homelessness in NYC.”
“General Public Health Considerations for Responding to Animal Hoarding Cases”
Castrodale, Louisa; et al. Journal of Environmental Health, 2010, Vol. 72. PubMed PMID: 20235404.
Abstract: “Animal hoarding is an under-recognized problem that exists in most communities and adversely impacts the health, welfare, and safety of humans, animals, and the environment. These guidelines address public health and worker safety concerns in handling situations where animal hoarding or other dense concentrations of animals have caused unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Because animal hoarding situations are often complex, a full response is likely to be prolonged and require a cross-jurisdictional multiagency effort. Each animal hoarding case has unique circumstances related to the types and numbers of animals involved, the physical structure(s) where they are being kept, and the health status of the animals, among other factors that must be taken into account in planning a response. Some general public health considerations and associated recommendations for personal protective equipment use are presented that apply to all cases, however.”
“Comparison of Object and Animal Hoarding”
Frost, Randy O.; Patronek, Gary; Rosenfield, Elizabeth. Depression Anxiety, 2011. doi: 10.1002/da.20826.
Abstract: “This paper discusses the similarities and differences between object and animal hoarding. People who hoard animals appear to meet the basic diagnostic criteria for hoarding disorder. Their homes are cluttered, disorganized, and dysfunctional. They have great difficulty relinquishing animals to people who can more adequately care for them, and they form intense attachments (urges to save) that result in significant impairment. However, they differ from people who hoard objects in several ways.”
“Health Implications of Animal Hoarding”
Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, Health & Social Work, 2002. doi: 10.1093/hsw/27.2.125.
Abstract: “Animal hoarding is a poorly understood phenomenon, the public health implications of which are not well documented. In this study, professionals dealing with hoarding cases submitted 71 case report forms. The hoarders’ residences were characterized by extreme clutter and poor sanitation that impaired ability to maintain functional households. Appliances and utilities were frequently nonfunctional, and animal excrement sometimes accumulated to the extent that the homes were unfit for human habitation. The majority of cases satisfied criteria for adult self-neglect, and dependent elderly people, children, or disabled individuals were present in many of the residences. Animal hoarding may be a sentinel for a range of medical, social, and economic problems. More research addressing the causes and features of animal hoarding is needed to shed light on appropriate interventions.”
Keywords: pets, hoarding disorder, collecting, compulsive, OCD, animal rights, animal control