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Contrasting Overwhelm and Animal Hoarding

While Overwhelm occurs when an animal shelter or rescue organization takes in more animals than they have the resources to care for, animal hoarding is a psychological disorder where a person accumulates a large number of animals and fails to provide them with adequate care, food, water, and medical attention.

The conditions in hoarding situations are often unsanitary and hazardous to the animals' health, with overcrowding and lack of sanitation leading to the spread of disease. Animal hoarders often have a compulsive need to collect and care for animals, which results in them taking in more animals than they can manage. People who engage in animal hoarding often have difficulty recognizing the poor conditions in which they keep the animals and may refuse help from animal welfare organizations or government agencies.

While both shelter overwhelm and animal hoarding involve the accumulation of a large number of animals, the difference lies in the level of care provided to the animals. Shelters facing overwhelm strive to provide care insofar as they can, and find homes for the animals, while animal hoarders often fail to provide even the most basic care and necessities for the animals in their possession due to psychological or emotional conditions.

Causes for animal hoarding are still not well understood, and may be a combination of factors and conditions which leads to hoarding behavior. These conditions include, but are in no way limited to:

  1. Psychological disorders: Hoarders often suffer from psychological disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, or anxiety, which can drive their need to accumulate and care for animals.

  2. Trauma or abuse: Some hoarders may have experienced trauma or abuse in their past, leading them to seek comfort and companionship in animals.

  3. Lack of social support: Hoarders may feel isolated and alone, and animals may become their only source of companionship and social interaction.

  4. Financial instability: Hoarders may feel that they can provide animals with a better life than they have themselves, or they may take in more animals than they can afford to care for.

  5. Cognitive decline: In some cases, elderly individuals may develop animal hoarding behavior as a result of cognitive decline or dementia.

Animal hoarding is complicated from an animal rights, animal welfare, and psychological care perspective. The causes are often multifactorial, hoarders may have a combination of the above factors, and each case is unique. It's important to address the underlying causes of hoarding behavior to prevent its recurrence and provide help to both the hoarder and the animals in their care.

In Ohio, hoarding may violate our Anti-cruelty law. Here, animal cruelty is "[w]hoever overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, cruelly beats, mutilates, kills, or causes or procures to be overloaded, overdriven, tormented, deprived of necessary sustenance, cruelly beaten, mutilated, or killed, any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so treated, or, having the charge or custody of an animal, inflicts torture or cruelty upon it, or fails to provide it with food, water, or shelter from extreme weather conditions." Ohio Revised Code § 959.13

Ohio's anti-cruelty law applies to both individual acts of cruelty and to the prolonged neglect or mistreatment of animals, which can occur in cases of animal hoarding. It's important to note that animal cruelty laws can vary by state and by local jurisdiction, so it's important to consult with local authorities or an attorney for specific information on the laws that apply in a particular area. Some states have laws that specifically address animal hoarding:

  1. California: California Penal Code § 597t defines animal hoarding as a misdemeanor offense and prohibits individuals from owning, possessing, keeping, or having custody or control of over a certain number of animals. The law also allows for the seizure of animals from hoarders and requires that hoarders receive mental health counseling.

  2. Illinois: The Illinois Animal Welfare Act includes a section specifically addressing animal hoarding. The law defines animal hoarding as the accumulation of more than a typical number of animals, failure to provide adequate care, and a failure to recognize the negative effects on the animals, environment, or person's health. The law allows for the seizure of animals from hoarders and requires that hoarders receive counseling.

  3. Massachusetts: Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 272, Section 77B defines animal hoarding as a criminal offense and prohibits individuals from owning or possessing more than a certain number of animals. The law allows for the seizure of animals from hoarders and requires that hoarders receive mental health counseling.

Local ordinances may also limit the number of certain animals per dwelling, zoning, and Homeowner's Association (HOA) covenants may also apply. It's important to talk to a lawyer local to your jurisdiction if you have concerns about a hoarding situation.

Here are some resources for those suffering with, or loved ones of someone suffering with, animal hoarding behavior:

  1. Hoarders Anonymous: Hoarders Anonymous is a 12-step program that provides support for people who struggle with hoarding behavior. Their website provides information on meetings and resources.

  2. Clutterers Anonymous: While not specifically focused on animal hoarding, Clutterers Anonymous is a 12-step program that provides support for people who struggle with clutter and hoarding. Their website provides information on meetings and resources.

  3. Animal Hoarding Project: The Animal Hoarding Project provides resources and support for animal hoarders, including information on intervention, treatment, and support groups.

  4. No-Kill Advocacy Center: The No-Kill Advocacy Center is a nonprofit organization that works to promote no-kill policies and provide support for animal welfare organizations. Their website provides resources for animal hoarders, including a directory of resources and support groups.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you witness animal cruelty.

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