You know you’ve seen them … shirts, mugs, bumper stickers … all with a cute picture and the term Crazy Cat Lady (or Crazy Dog Lady). Cute indeed, and many of us are indeed “crazy” about our pets.  We may even have more than one, or more that one type.

The big question is this – what is the exact number of pets that switches you from an avid pet lover into the dark realm of pet hoarder?  And is there a difference?

Pet Owner vs Animal Hoarder

There is indeed a difference. Pet owners (no matter how many pets there are in the household) are responsible. The animals are fed and housed appropriately, and the housing is not filthy.  Animals are vetted when the need arises, vaccinated according to the owner’s beliefs, kept on heartworm medication, and dewormed. They are altered unless the owner shows and breeds the animal. The animals are healthy, well fed, socialized and happy.

Then there is the animal hoarder.  This is a mental illness, not just a behavior.  The animal hoarder collects animals, not out of malice – they do have good intentions.  Typically, they start “rescuing” and as the number of animals increases, the level of care decreases.  They simply cannot afford to provide the proper care, and feel overwhelmed.  As a result, the animals suffer.  Most are in poor health, kept in unsanitary conditions, not fed well, left to reproduce at random and receive little to no veterinarian care.

That is not to say that the hoarder doesn’t love the animals – they would protest vehemently if you said otherwise! Unfortunately it’s not only the animals that suffer, there is human suffering as well.  Families see an increase in stress and financial difficulties as the number of animals grows and gets out of control. Loved ones suffer as well, both physically and emotionally.  When the animals are housed within the family home of an animal hoarder, the home often becomes filthy and living conditions deteriorate.  The chance of disease and infection rises rapidly, as does breathing problems such as asthma and allergic reactions.

Helping the Animal Hoarder

There are many things you can do to help a friend or family member who is an animal hoarder:

  • Reach out to the hoarder, offering your help – remember, hoarders often feel overwhelmed and isolated.
  • Contact the local animal control office and make them aware of the problem.
  • Find a social services agency to obtain help for the hoarder.
  • Get the animals help – they need proper care.
  • After the animals are removed help the shelter housing them – share information about the adoptable animals by word-of-mouth or a social media site.
  • Check out “The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium” – it’s a website dedicated to finding solutions to the animal hoarding problem for humans and animals alike.

The key difference between multiple pet owner and  animal hoarder is that feeling of being overwhelmed, both mentally and financially.  The actual number of animals doesn’t define the person.  There’s far more to it than that.  Stop and take a look at the overall picture and you’ll be able to make the determination.  Loving care or haphazard care?  Frazzled or doting?  Sanitary or filthy? The answer will be clear.