Welcome feline fanciers! Skye Blake here, reporting in about an important topic you should understand… animal hoarding.
It’s a problem in the world of animal shelters, rescues and sanctuaries.
How do you know if a rescue is legitimate or a hoarding situation?
What Is Animal Hoarding?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “People with hoarding disorder have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save the items.”
This is true with animals as well as other possessions. There can be a thin line between rescuing animals and hoarding them.
You may have heard of individual hoarders living in filthy, often unbelievable conditions, not realizing they’re causing pain and suffering to themselves and their animals.
This can also be the case with people running a rescue group, shelter or sanctuary.
A Normal Shelter
It’s common for animal shelters and rescues to barely make ends meet.
They depend on either a few employees or volunteers for daily animal care and fundraising, begging for transport and other help on social media.
Those in charge are primarily concerned about taking good care of each animal and can make the difficult decision to refuse new animals until they can safely make more room.
Those in charge are aware of the difficulties and are open to changing how they operate, accepting help to improve their ability to care for the animals.
This includes better access to vet care, understanding the need for euthanasia in certain cases, and setting up behavior and enrichment programs.
Most importantly, they have or are willing to set up adoption procedures and fees that protect the animals but don’t discourage adoption.
It can be a difficult balance.
The exception to adoptions is sanctuaries.
Since they’re set up to give animals a home for the rest of their lives, they don’t normally promote adoptions.
In this case, proper care of the animals and the ability to say “no” when they’re at capacity is crucial for a well-run operation.
At a public shelter where they are required by law to take every animal that comes in, they have procedures and make the hard decisions about euthanasia to make more room.
They also work with other shelters, sanctuaries and rescue groups to save as many animals as possible.
Check out a discussion of public vs. private shelters at “Kill vs No-Kill Shelters – Which is Better?“
It might not be easy to spot a hoarding situation because some hoarders are charming and fun.
They attract people who work with them, becoming enablers, even being hoarders themselves.
The difference between a struggling shelter and a hoarding situation is the attitude of the people in charge.
Hoarders, just like other rescues, can be struggling to make ends meet, asking for money and help on social media, and taking in too many animals.
But hoarders are very possessive and unable to see or accept that they’re hurting and even killing the animals they think they’re helping.
Because they’re using the animals to fill a need within themselves, they’re blind to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and unchecked breeding.
At a normal shelter, those in charge are making every effort to give the animals good care and get sensible adoptions done as quickly as possible.
Hoarders, however, don’t like giving up any animals and can be extremely hostile, even if those animals would go to good homes and ease the burden on the hoarders themselves.
Often the authorities have to get involved.
Here’s an example of the problem and the difficulty dealing with hoarding in a shelter situation. “Cat charity CEO quits over colleague keeping 18 cats in house“
In this case, the chair of trustees is allegedly not abiding by the rules the shelter and having too many cats in sub-standard living conditions.
What to Do If You Suspect Hoarding
If you have concerns about the possibility of animal hoarding in a particular organization, use our checklist to evaluate it…
If you believe the animals are in danger, being neglected or otherwise suffering, contact your local animal control officer.
Check “animal control” at the website for your local government. If there’s no animal control officer in your area, call the police department.
Use 911 or other emergency numbers only if the animals are in imminent danger (injured, freezing cold with no shelter, in the sun with no water or shelter, etc.) and there’s no satisfactory attempts being made to get them help.
If you have concerns about a hoarding situation but see that the animals are safe for the moment, call the main police number.
Find out more about shelters, rescues and sanctuaries at “Animal Shelters – What’s the Scoop?“
If you’d like to learn about adopting, take a look at “How to Adopt a Cat“.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
So, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“13 Most Inspiring Animal Welfare Organizations“, Dog Product Picker, December 13, 2021
“30 Great Animal Organizations Worthy of Your Donations 2020” – Best Choice Reviews
501c3Lookup.org – U.S. IRS 501(c)(3) Non-profit List
“Adopting a Pet From a Rescue (And Why the Rules Sometimes Seem Wacky)” – Petful
“Animal Shelter and Rescue Program“, Mass.gov
“Animal Shelters & Rescues for Pet Adoption“, Petfinder
“Animal Shelters & Rescues Work Together“, Best Friends Animal Society
“Animal Welfare Act Quick Reference Guides“, Animal Welfare Information Center, NAL, USDA
“ASPCA Grants“, ASPCA
“Behavioral Assessment in Animal Shelters” by Sheila Segurson D’Arpino, DVM, DACVB (maddiesfund.org), 2007
“Cat charity CEO quits over colleague keeping 18 cats in house“, Animal Welfare, The Guardian
“Cat Rescue Groups | Life Saving Organizations and Resources” (cat-lovers-only.com)
Charity Navigator – Advanced Search
“Choosing a Reputable Rescue Group” – RedRover
“Donate to a rescue animal’s wishlist | CUDDLY“, cuddly.com
“Facility Design, Shelter Animal Housing and Shelter Population Management“, Library – University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program (uwsheltermedicine.com)
“Game Changer Celebrates Facility’s 50,000th Spay-Neuter“, Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, Mercola, January 21, 2021
“Game Changer Wants to End Pet Homelessness and Suffering (mercola.com)“, Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, February 25, 2021
“How to Start a Rescue or Other Animal Nonprofit” (bestfriends.org)
“The Importance of Animal Shelters“, Richell USA, November 25, 2019
“Laws Regulating Rescue and Foster Care Programs for Companion Animals“, Animal Legal & Historical Center (animallaw.info)
“NYC Pet Adoption Guide: Animal Shelters For Dogs And Cats” – CBS New York (cbslocal.com)
“Original Purpose of Animal ‘Control’ Shelters, that you might not know” by Donna, bostonterriernetwork.com
“Position Statement on Responsibilities of Animal Shelters“, ASPCA
“Rescue Bank” – (greatergood.org)
“Rescue Best Practice Guide” (humanepro.org)
“Rescue or Rotten?” – Catwatch Newsletter
“Shelter Resources“, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
“Shelter/Rescue Transport Programs” – Animal Shelter, Inc. of Sterling (sterlingshelter.org)
Shelters and rescues FAQ“, The Humane Society of the United States
“Starting A Pet-Adoption Organization“, Petfinder
“Understanding Your Local Government & Animal Control Information for Cats“, (alleycat.org)
Updated March 2, 2023