What possesses people to possess hundreds of pets?

The term “animal hoarding” refers to the compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them that results in accidental or unintentional neglect or abuse.

Most hoarders of animals fall victim to their good intentions and end up emotionally overwhelmed, socially isolated, and ultimately alienated from family and friends. The problem causes immense suffering for both animals and people. It also creates great expense for local animal shelters and may require regional and national efforts to find homes for large numbers of animals.

Hoarders also have an intense emotional attachment to the animals in their care. Their behavior helps them avoid the pain of letting go of things that seem very special, even when the clutter prevents comfortable living. Many object hoarders believe that things should be saved for some special event, even though the event never happens. This is true for animal hoarders, too. They imagine the wonderful way in which they will heal love, and nurture their pets, while overlooking the terrible effects of having too many of them.

Studies on animal hoarders show that their behavior frequently begins after an illness, disability or death of a significant other, or another difficult life event such as a trauma during their youth.


They appear to seek out social relationships with animals and people. They view their animals as the sole or major source of love, and they emphasize how much they give and receive from their animals. Those I treat seem to have a great capacity to give love and are beloved by their family and friends. For many, keeping their animals appears to guarantee a conflict-free relationship. They often refer to their animals as their babies, and they confuse their loving the animals with the reality of their inability to provide a safe, clean, and healthy home for them.

Many see themselves as a rescue service for animals that others reject. Their hoarding may give them a special role as a person who saves the animals that are unloved by others. Their hoarding provides them a special identify that helps them feel special, loved, and important. Consequently they feel unable to give up their animals for adoption because they believe no one else will provide the intense love that they feel for them—despite the fact that the hoarder can’t provide adequate food, shelter, safety, or veterinary care.

Some terrifying facts

  • Every year 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities.
  • At least 250,000 animals are affected each year.
  • Eighty percent of animal hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the premises.
  • Seventy percent of animal hoarders who come to the attention of authorities are females who are single, widowed, or divorced; although community-sampling studies find an equal ratio of males to females.
  • One hundred percent of hoarders relapse without treatment.