Is your veterinary client a hoarder?
Hoarding is not about the number of animals a person owns; it’s about the care of those animals, says Dr. Julie Levy, PhD, director of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program. If a client has five animals and neglects them, that could be considered hoarding.
So what are some signs a client could be an animal hoarder? Levy says one of the most significant is lack of recognition that the pet is receiving inadequate care, along with a compulsion to keep acquiring animals even when the owner can’t care for them properly. According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), a veterinary client could be a hoarder if he or she:
- Has more than the typical number of companion animals.
- Fails to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in illness and death from starvation, spread of infectious disease, and untreated injuries or medical conditions.
- Denies his or her inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling.
- Persists, despite this failure, in accumulating animals.
“It’s important for veterinarians to get involved and deal with these cases formally because the courts can require mental health care, counseling and supervision and put a restriction on the amount of animals they can own—if any,” Levy says.
She says if veterinarians don’t go through the court they won’t have the authority to monitor the client long-term. “Veterinarians need to maintain an awareness that animal hoarding happens in every community,” Levy says. “You can have compassion for the hoarder but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t intervene. The cruelty is real for these animals and they deserve to have a good quality of life.”