Live from CVC: How to spot a hoarder at your veterinary practice

Live from CVC: How to spot a hoarder at your veterinary practice

There are 2,000 new hoarding cases reported annually and 250,000 reported animals victims. Learn about the three types of hoarders and how to recognize them.
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Aug 26, 2013

The first time Jyothi Robertson, DVM, encountered a hoarding case, she didn’t recognize it. She assumed the client was just really passionate about saving animals and that’s why she brought a different cat into the veterinary clinic every time she visited. Plus, no one else at her practice seemed to be concerned.

Now Robertson, owner and principal consultant for JVR Shelter Strategies, is spreading the word on how to spot a hoarder so veterinarians can keep a watchful eye out. She says there are 2,000 new hoarding cases reported annually and 250,000 reported animals victims.

“Think of how many cases aren't even reported," Robertson said to attendees in a session on animal hoarding recognition at CVC Kansas City. “It’s our role to support our clients—but we’re also there to support our patients. We’re their first line of defense.”

Here are the three types of animal hoarders and common characteristics of each one, according to Robertson.

1. Overwhelmed caregivers. These hoarders often accumulate animals from the neighborhood. People in the community will drop stray animals off on their stoop because everyone knows they won’t turn away a cat or dog—even though they don’t have the room or resources to care for the animal properly.

2. Exploiters. These types of hoarders tend to be sociopaths. The general public would be shocked to discover they are hoarding animals because their outward persona is charming and charismatic. They often adopt the role of an expert and can be manipulative and cunning.

3. Rescuers. These people conduct animal hoarding in their rescue organizations and animal sanctuaries. Robertson has noticed a shift in trend toward this type of hoarder, especially now that there’s tax-exemption for rescue organizations.

“These are the people veterinarians are going to be dealing with more and more,” Robertson says.

So when a rescue organization asks you to discount your spay/neuters or medications, Robertson says you shouldn’t agree until you ask questions like:

> How many animals are currently in your organization?

> How many animals do you intake yearly/monthly?

> What is the average length of stay of animals? What’s the longest length of stay?

> Do you take animals from animal control or shelters?

> Can you provide references?

> Which veterinarian do you visit? (Warning: Hoarders tend to jump to from veterinarian to veterinarian, Robertson says.)

> What’s your adoption process? (Roberston says the organization may have an adoption process but it’s so convoluted that it’s impossible for anyone to meet the requirements and actually take an animal home.)

> Can I come visit your shelter or facility? (This is the most important question of all, Robertson says.)

Robertson also revealed some animal hoarding statistics based on G.J. Patronek’s study, Hoarding of animals: an under-recognized public health problem in a difficult-to-study population. The data was summarized from 54 case reports from 10 animal control agencies and humane societies across the country. Below are some of the results.

> 46 percent of the hoarders were over the age of 60

> 76 percent were female

> About half of the hoarders lived in single-person households

> The median number of animals per case was 39

Robertson says hoarders fall into all income levels but many are disabled, retired or unemployed. She says they are generally well-educated people with college degrees and often talk about their special abilities to communicate with animals. In fact, Robertson encountered one hoarder who said when his dog blinked with his left eye he was hungry and if he blinked with right eye he was thirsty. Many hoarders will go to go to shelters and rescue right from the euthanasia ward.

“They feel like they are the only ones who can provide care for animals,” Robertson says.

If you suspect a veterinary client might be a hoarder, Robertson says to document your suspicions and contact your local animal control or humane society.