Recidivism, the repetition of an offence, in animal hoarding is thought to be nearly 100% without intervention. Effective treatment of animal hoarding to change the behavior is one element needed to prevent recidivism. Unfortunately no diagnosis has yet been established in the diagnostic manual used by psychologists (DSM-IV-TR) and thus there is no established psychotherapeutic treatment. Even with the diagnostic void, some treatments have been used to address various disorders that have been found to co-exist with animal hoarding and thus it is recommended that psychological assessment and treatment be ordered in animal hoarding cases.
While research continues on diagnosis and treatment, it is increasingly important to insure that other safeguards are in place. Prevention of animal hoarding through public education seems to be at the foundation as are local laws which give humane officers the ability to intervene on behalf of the animals when appropriate.
Public awareness about animal hoarding and animal hoarding education can help authorities intervene before a case becomes extreme. In the book, Inside Animal hoarding: The story of Barbara Erickson and her 552 dogs, the reader can identify multiple times when intervention may have been possible if only those who were present at the time had understood what they were looking at and how they could have helped. Unfortunately, friends, neighbors and other members of the community did not have the appropriate information to assess the situation and act on their own instincts that something was awry. This book is a good resource for the general public as well as those in the animal welfare field to begin or expand their understandings of animal hoarding.
The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium is a good resource for in-depth learning about this phenomenon. Their information can be found on the Tufts University website and we provide a link on the resources page of this website. An in-depth resource for those who intervene in animal hoarding cases can be found at the HARC website and is called, Animal Hoarding: Structuring interdisciplinary responses to help people, animals and communities at risk.
While jail time is often a part of the sentencing process its effect may pale when compared to a well crafted probation. With recidivism rates thought to be near 100% it is essential to consider a lengthy probation when sentencing animal hoarders. Normative probation guidelines in animal hoarding cases have not yet taken shape, but some conditions which showed promise in a recent Oregon case are as follows:
- Limit animal ownership to one or two pets which must be spayed or neutered and implanted with an identification chip, and provided regular veterinary care.
- Establish unannounced visits by the probation officer to check for compliance and follow up on any non-compliance issues.
- Disallow any other animals on any other premises owned or occupied by the defendant.
- Require participation in counseling sessions and adherence to the counseling plan.
When determining the length of probation keep in mind that under the best of circumstances it is difficult to change entrenched behavior patterns in a short time period. A longer probation may allow more opportunity to establish new patterns of behavior.
County laws can hinder or help animal hoarding interventions as found in a recent case Oregon. The laws governing animal ownership and care were vague, providing that citizens could own as many animals as they could reasonably care for. It did not allow law enforcement to enter a home without probable cause for a search warrant in order to check on the care and welfare of the animals. Once an extreme case of animal hoarding had been uncovered and it became clear how the law inhibited intervention and actually enable the animal hoarding to continue, and the law was immediately changed. Now it allows for up to ten pets to be housed without a license. If over ten pets are owned, the house is regarded as a shelter and is subject to regular inspection without a search warrant.