In March of 2013 TSPCA received a report regarding a large number of dogs being kept in unfavourable conditions. The owner of the dogs was indeed feeding them, but was failing to provide adequate care. Upon receiving the call, TSPCA inspectors paid a visit to the site to better understand the situation.
Once on site TSPCA inspectors found more than 20 dogs that were not being provided with proper shelter or clean and adequate food and water. The dogs were either confined to cages or kept for long hours on chains. The area was very dirty, full of dangerous items, garbage and junk and was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. After TSPCA inspectors discussed in detail with the dogs’ owner about all the issues at hand, the owner agreed to allow the TSPCA to assist in finding new homes for 4 dogs and agreed to help in continuing to look for other homes for the remaining dogs.
This was a clear case of animal hoarding which is very different from normal animal sheltering situations. But how can one differentiate between hoarding and sheltering? And what should be done if you encounter it?
What is animal hoarding？
Animal hoarding is defined as the following.
1. Having more than a reasonable amount of animal companions.
2. Being unable to provide the basic nutritional requirements of the animal (sanitation, medical care etc.), which in the long term often results in hunger, injury, disease and/or death.
3. Hoarders deny the fact that their animals aren’t given proper care and deny their behavior adversely affects their animals, families and neighbours.
4. Despite these problems, hoarders will continue to acquire new animals and are unwilling to let any of their animals go to a better home.
A study conducted in Spain has shown that 75% of the animals kept in hoarding situations were unhealthy and inflicted with the following ailments: animals were found to have wounds, parasites, infectious diseases etc. Animals that have come from hoarders were more prone to have social phobias and aggression. The American Medical Association has also listed hoarding as a mental illness.
What’s the difference between being an animal lover and an animal hoarder?
In Taiwan there are a large number of stray dogs and cats, thus increasing the number of people who are committed to operating shelters for both cats and dogs. However, both animal lovers and animal hoarders could both have a large number of animals in their care, so how do we differentiate? Animal hoarders are often unable to provide adequate care for their animals and usually deny that they don’t provide proper care for the animals in question. Animal lovers with a large number of animals still do provide the care needed even if the costs are high.
What can be done if hoarding is suspected?
1. Make a note of the area the animals are being kept in, the food they are being given and their physical appearance and behaviour. All observations made must be recorded in detail and photographed as evidence. If you suspect someone is hoarding animals, please notify the Taiwan SPCA for assistance. TSPCA’s experienced inspectors will assess the situation to see if in fact hoarding is taking place and how we can be of assistance, whether that be educating the owner, offering assistance or removing the animals from the site.
2. Educate your friends and family about hoarding. Let them know that hoarding is a mental condition and all people who find themselves in these situations are also suffering. Offering assistance or contacting the TSPCA are both good ways to help the animals and the hoarders. TSPCA also has downloadable posters, which can be put up in your community to educate the public about such things and the laws in Taiwan:
3. Finally, in order to rehome large numbers of hoarded animals into safe environments where they will receive proper care we all must work together. Public and private shelters always have limited space and would be put under a lot of pressure to make space for these animals. Therefore, as the number of animal hoarding cases increase, TSPCA also requires support from the public in being temporary foster families as well as assisting in finding adoptive families for these animals.
4. Support government law enforcement agencies. Hoarding must be seen as a serious issue that infringes on the 5 freedoms of animal welfare and should be treated very seriously. NGO and government intervention should be required to prevent the animals from needless suffering.
Finally the Taiwan SPCA reminds everyone to ensure you have the time, space and financial ability to keep animals before taking on the lifelong commitment. Animals require adequate companionship, exercise, space, food and veterinarian care, which over time can become costly. If you are unable to providing these basic needs, then you are not suited to keep an animal, however you can still help animals by volunteering at shelters or animal organisations. If you know anyone who fits the hoarding profile please offer them your assistance or contact the TSPCA for help.
Animals five freedoms:
· Freedom from thirst and hunger ~ by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
· Freedom from discomfort ~ by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
· Freedom from pain, injury, and disease ~ by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
· Freedom to express normal behavior ~ by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animals' own kind if applicable
· Freedom from fear and distress ~ by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental, psychological, and emotional suffering
Sources and further reading
1. Calvo, P., Duarte, C., Bowen, J., Bulbena, A., & Fatjó, J. (2014). Characteristics of 24 cases of animal hoarding in Spain. Animal Welfare, 23(2), 199-208.)
2. 動物囤積研究協會 (Animal Hoarding Research Association)
3. 美國防止虐待動物協會 (American SPCA)
4. SPCA(HK)香港愛護動物協會 (SPCA Hong Kong)--<你是否囤積動物？(Do you hoard animals?)>2014.04.05專欄