Here’s how to spot a hoarding situation, animal abuse in your neighborhood

Categories: President's Blog

hoarder postThe home was nestled at the base of the foothills. Surrounded by mansion-like houses with pristine entryways, this modest one stood out like a sore thumb. The home needed a good paint job and the roof was in disrepair. The weeds on the front lawn were high, and lounging in the middle of them were a whole bunch of cats. Older cats and kittens spread out on the lawn as if they were wild animals living in the jungle. There were way too many cats to count during the initial review by the Pasadena Humane Society animal control officer who had been dispatched to investigate a possible case of animal cruelty. Multiple callers had made complaints of the home stating that there were neglected animals and that a welfare check was needed for the animals and the senior who lived at the home. The final call to the reporting hotline was from the daughter of the homeowner who lived out of town and had been hearing from neighbors that something was wrong at mom’s house. She asked for help.

The officer walked up to the front door to make the initial contact. He could hear footsteps but it took a while for the door to open. “Can I help you?” the lady said from inside the door. “I’m from the Pasadena Humane Society and I would like to talk to you about your cats,” said the officer. Reluctantly, the elderly woman opened the door. The officer asked questions, but realized pretty quickly that the woman was disoriented. She looked thin. From the doorstep, he peaked inside and could see a home that was dirty and cluttered with many more cats inside. The cats, too, looked thin and sick. The stench of urine was strong.

The officer had a flashback to a recent training he had attended on hoarders. As listed on the Tufts University Hoarder Consortium website, an animal hoarder may be defined in the following manner:

  • Having more than the typical number of companion animals.
  • Failing 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 injury or medical condition.
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and human occupants of the dwelling.
  • Persistence, despite this failure, in accumulating and controlling animals.

He wasn’t sure that this is what he was dealing with, but he knew that this case would require a coordinated response. Heading back to his truck, he called the police, code enforcement and adult services. The authorities arrived quickly and focused on the woman’s needs. She has been living on a fixed income and was using all of her money to care for the cats, neglecting her own needs. With symptoms of a stroke, the paramedics took the woman to the hospital, but not before she pointed out which cats were her favorite.

The rescue turned to the cats. For the next few hours, cats were placed in carriers and removed from the home. Over 30 cats were taken that day. Rushing them to the Humane Society clinic, the initial exams showed that the cats were thin, missing patches of hair and quite a few were pregnant. A plan was made for the care of each of them, which included medication, some good food and time in foster care. Volunteer caregivers arrived quickly to take the moms and babies without moms, so that they could receive some TLC in a home. The shy and scared ones were placed in a quiet room where staff behavior experts and volunteers could make them feel more at ease. The healthy cats were spayed/neutered and placed up for adoption. The pet owner ultimately moved to her daughter’s home and was reunited with her 3 favorite cats, who were now healthy, vaccinated and spayed.

Hoarding is a complex issue that requires a multi-pronged approach to address. It can be especially difficult when seniors are involved as there are many issues that impact their behavior, including lack of income, loneliness, dementia and abuse. The Pasadena Humane Society has created a new program called Helping PAWS that is designed to help pet owners in crisis. Offering low or no-cost spay/neuter surgeries and access to other resources. Helping PAWS is dedicated to preventing animal neglect and strengthening families by keeping pets in their homes. If you need support or know someone who is looking for help, visit pasadenahumane.org/helpingpaws.


About Julie Bank

Julie Bank is President/CEO of the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA. Her animal welfare career spans almost thirty years working in leadership roles in local and national nonprofit and governmental animal control organizations in New York, Arizona, Oklahoma City and California. She is a nationally recognized speaker and writer on animal issues, and has traveled extensively educating and supporting organizations and communities with their animal welfare efforts. Each blog post originally appeared as part of Julie's weekly column for the Pasadena Star News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune.