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Animal House: The Dangers of Animal Hoarding

When it comes to owning pets, how many is too many?

In recent weeks there have been more and more headlines about people hoarding animals.

There are even television shows dedicated to the worst of domestic hoarding.  The benefit of television is that after the shock and awe of how terrible the conditions are, after a few commercials we see the happy ending where all the animals get saved and the house gets cleaned up. 

If only this was the norm. 

The reality that reality T.V. doesn’t show us is that in order for a person to gather that many animals and for the situation to get that bad, it takes years.

Generally these cases start with local officials getting involved and having to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy collecting evidence, writing reports, going to hearings before any real action can be taken. 

In one case a few years ago, the hoard was so bad that the neighbors had been complaining for two years and ultimately when the animals were removed the house had to be destroyed as it was so filled with feces that there was no way to make it habitable again. 

In this particular case the hoard was cats, and when the wind blew the stench of urine was so bad it could be smelled from three houses away.  So, not only was this a tragedy for the animals, living in completely unsanitary conditions, this hoard was actually preventing a neighborhood from enjoying the peace and comfort of their own homes.

So the question really is when does it become too many animals? This is a question that is often discussed amongst animal rescue people and there are many different opinions. 

As an owner of five dogs, I am far from hoarding, but do ponder the question is one more one too many? 

Generally speaking, the condition the animal is living in is one determining factor.  An animal should be in a clean, safe and sanitary environment, and being cared for properly.  This certainly includes enrichment of the animal.  When an animal owner has a number of animals to the point where they are unable to provide the adequate care for the animal, and able to keep the environment clean and sanitary, but is still willing to take on more animals, this is generally the start of a hoard. 

There is no magic number of animals that constitutes a hoard.  An owner will believe that they are doing the right thing for the animal and that they are caring adequately for the animals they are in charge of.  In most cases the animal owners do not see the conditions they and the animals are in, the same way someone else would.  Again these are the worst case scenarios. 

When contemplating adding an animal to a home where there is already at least one, there are a few things to consider when trying to decide if it is a good idea. 

First and foremost is time. In bringing another animal into the home, this animal will need additional time to be walked, groomed, played with, fed and cleaned up after. 

The second consideration should be the cost of care for the animal. Can a family afford the cost of the veterinary appointments, flea, tick and heartworm prevention, as well as any emergency care? 

Along with this is licensing the animal (if a dog). 

An additional consideration is the cost of boarding the animal if the family goes on vacation. 

Space is another factor. Is the home in which another animal will reside have adequate amount of room? A 1,000 square foot home may be fine for two dogs, but is it large enough for three?  The backyard and neighborhood may also be a consideration as well. Is the environment suitable for multiple pets? 

Lastly and most importantly, is rescuing an animal and placing them in a less than suitable environment really rescuing the animal at all? In wanting to rescue an animal, the potential owner needs to consider the long-term benefits of where the animal will be versus where it could be instead. 

Having pets in our home and enjoying the love and companionship they provide is a wonderful experience. 

Animals in our homes offer many benefits to our relationships and even our health.  But, being a pet owner comes with responsibility and the ability to make the right decisions for the animal and the humans. 

As I finish this article I sit with my therapy dog Ferris curled up next to me, with Herbie our retired search and rescue dog curled up behind me, as I look at Mister our rescue bully breed sleeping at me feet.  Next to Mister I see “Girlfriend” our foster puppy playing with her new found toy, her tail.  Behind her sits Putney, a 13-year old terrier that didn’t have the greatest life but spends what time she has left comfortable and loved. 

Is one more one too many? Probably for us, yes. 

But that decision is only one we can make, considering all the factors and what would truly be best for the animal and our family. 

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