Animal hoarding is recognized as a complex public health problem challenging cities and communities across the country and impacting tens of thousands of animals each year. It is defined by the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium by four characteristics:

  • A failure to provide the minimum standard of sanitation, space, nutrition, and veterinary care for animals
  • An inability to recognize the impact of the above-mentioned failure on the welfare of the animals, human members of the household, and the environment
  • Obsessive attempts to accumulate or maintain a collection of animals in the face of progressively deteriorating conditions
  • Denial or minimization of problems and living conditions for people and animals

Animal hoarding is now understood to be as much a human behavior and mental health problem as it is an animal welfare concern. The condition is now also recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5). The condition is closely linked to the elderly. In addition, the effects of animal hoarding seriously impact the environment and community. Left untreated, there is a near 100% recidivism rate. Traditional responses often continue to disregard the complexities of these cases and focus primarily on animal removal. Done by itself, this is a costly and short-term solution that burdens the animal welfare community, since most hoarders return to collecting animals.

What Social Workers and Their Agencies Can Do

Social workers have a long history working with the most disenfranchised and isolated groups, which makes them particularly helpful in addressing animal hoarding cases. Their unique skills can find solutions early on that go beyond animal removal. To fully address hoarding, there must be a commitment between multiple agencies and disciplines. Social workers can:

  • Conduct a home visit to assess conditions and evaluate the situation
  • Provide education regarding proper animal care
  • Implement a “Coordinated Response” between animal welfare, human welfare, public health, and safety organizations
  • Engage other organizations (such as Health Department, Animal Control, Environmental Affairs, Agriculture Department, Humane Law Enforcement, Mental Health Services, Child Protection, Department of Buildings, etc.) to participate in a case conference and intervention
  • Engage animal welfare organizations to conduct spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and wellness exams (and determine if any animals are adoptable, if the hoarder will release them)
  • Provide linkages to human services, such as Adult Protective and Mental Health Services
  • Provide linkages to family and friends, if appropriate

Additional Interventions

  • Have the hoarder document information about each owned animal (including name, type of animal, age, behavior, etc. This will further inform an assessment of the hoarder’s ability to care for their animals)

  • Help the hoarder to visualize an improvement and develop goals to reach an improvement through motivational interviewing

  • Help the hoarder identify animals appropriate for adoption
  • Offer eviction prevention assistance and referrals to legal assistance, if necessary
  • Coordinate a heavy duty cleaning
  • Consider alternative temporary placement for animals, including vet offices, boarding facilities, or temporary crates in a safe place in the environment
  • Work with the hoarder to sign an animal surrender form to transfer ownership
  • Consider formal arrest for animal cruelty, if necessary
  • Arrange for emergency animal removal, if necessary
  • Closely monitor the situation on an on-going basis, before, during, and after interventions