What is it about?

This study looks at the characteristics of people convicted for animal hoarding-related offences by the RSPCA in NSW, Australia. Animal hoarding is difficult to prosecute as many jurisdictions (including NSW) lack a legal definition of animal hoarding, and offenders typically suffer from mental health condition(s).

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Why is it important?

Animal hoarding impacts animal welfare, human wellbeing and the environment which may be unsanitary and unsafe. People make assumptions about the characteristics of animal hoarders, for example the archetype of the "crazy cat lady" in the media and popular culture. We found that persons convicted of animal hoarding were women and men, and animals involved included farm animals as well as dogs and cats. This study documents the animal welfare impacts of hoarding, as well as the costs to investigating and prosecuting agencies. Animal hoarding is truly a One Welfare/One Health issue. For this reason we argue that a multi-agency response is critical.

Perspectives

As a veterinarian I encounter people who accumulate animals. Some of these people become overwhelmed, and some persist in accumulating animals despite being unable to care for those that they already have. I was familiar with stereotypes of animal hoarders in the media, but this belies my lived experience that it can be challenging to spot an animal hoarder. We undertook a retrospective study of convictions for animal-hoarding related offences because these are on the public record. Animal hoarding is heartbreaking. Animals often suffer terribly, frequently (as we found in our study) without necessary veterinary care. These are truly heartbreaking situations as neither the animals nor the humans are better off for this relationship. The homes of these persons are often inhospitable, and present a local environmental risk because of disruption to utilities, accumulation of rubbish, biological hazards and behaviour of animals that may be distressed or forced to fend for themselves. This study contributes to a body of work aimed at trying to understand animal hoarding, and address it.

Anne Fawcett
University of Sydney

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Characteristics of persons convicted for offences relating to animal hoarding in New South Wales, Australian Veterinary Journal, September 2014, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/avj.12249.
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