top of page

The Laws of Overwhelm

A variety of laws, not just your local anti-cruelty, may apply to Overwhelm situations.

For example, if you are a foster for one or more companion animals, and you have an agreement with the rescue/shelter for which you are fostering, the rescue/shelter may be in breach of that contract if it fails to provide you with sufficient resources, as outlined in your foster agreement. Foster agreements should always include how much either monetary or in-kind assistance you will receive for the care of the fostered companion animals. If the rescue or shelter for whom you are fostering is suffering Overwhelm, it may not be sending the resources necessary to properly care for the companion animals in your charge.

Similarly, a rescue or shelter may have a breach of contract claim against a foster who allows themselves to become Overwhelmed and finds themselves unable to adequately provide for the animals in the foster's care. This may mean use rescue/shelter's resources for non-fostered animals, rehoming fostered animals without the rescue/shelter's consent or agreement, or even using rescue/shelter monetary assistance to purchase the "wrong" items (e.g. non-prescription food, off-label flea and tick medication).

Shelters may have contractual obligations to their municipality as well. Often to win a municipal contract, shelters must agree to take in every animal that crosses their threshold whether it has the resources to care for that animal or not. There may also be "euthanasia" goals which stipulate that so many percentage of "adoptable" dogs are adopted rather than euthanized. A shelter or rescue may quickly find themselves in breach of its municipal contract if it is euthanizing too many animals because it is Overwhelmed, or for turning animals away when there simply isn't space.

Various locations may have zoning or other ordinances which limit how many of certain animals may live on a property, licensing may be required for additional animals. Further, many homes in the United States are subject to Homeowner's Association or other covenants tied to the land which limit how many and what type of animals are permitted to live on your property.

So while the criminal code is important when considering Overwhelm issues, a variety of other civil laws may apply as well. It is important to speak to a local attorney in your area to determine whether your organization, or an organization you suspect, is currently facing Overwhelm.

As discussed in our section on contrasting Overwhelm situations with Hoarding situations, Ohio's criminal code applies the same cruelty statute:

"Whoever 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

If you are in Franklin County and you suspect a rescue, shelter, or foster is Overwhelmed to the point of causing cruelty, please call 9-1-1 and report the matter to Columbus Humane. If you are in a different jurisdiction, please email the Animal Legal Defense Fund's Criminal Justice Program at

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

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 accumula

Help is available for both people who fear a rescue, shelter, sanctuary, or foster has become Overwhelmed. If you are concerned that someone is "underwater" and that companion animals may be suffering

"Shelter Overwhelm" refers to a situation in which animal shelters or rescues become overcrowded with more animals than they can properly care for or accommodate. This can be due to a variety of reaso

bottom of page