Shedding light on animal hoarding

In this month’s peer review section of the AVJ, University of Sydney researchers report on their collaboration with RSPCA New South Wales to shed light on animal hoarding.

“Essentially, animal hoarding refers to the practice of keeping ‘more than the usual number of animals’ at less than the expected standard of care,” said co-author, Sydney University lecturer and veterinarian Anne Fawcett.

Honours student Michelle Joffe collected and reviewed data about convicted animal hoarders and their animals from RSPCA prosecuted cases over a 6-year period. The majority (over 70%) were female, most were middle-aged and a large proportion claimed to be pensioners or unemployed.

“Animal hoarding cases are challenging and costly for agencies to investigate and prosecute,” Michelle said.

“The more we can find out about potential risk factors for hoarding, the more agencies will be able to  intervene earlier,” she said.

RSPCA NSW Chief Inspector, David O’Shannessy, said that the research was also important in enabling inspectors to appreciate the effect of hoarding on animal victims, of which hundreds may be involved in any one case. The number of animals on the properties of hoarders ranged from 6 to 500.

Alarmingly, animals were in need of veterinary care in every single case – with deceased animals found on the premises in 40% of cases.

This image was taken by RSPCA NSW inspectors.

The owner eventually pleaded guilty to animal cruelty to 18 cats, all of which were found to be suffering from numerous conditions, including conjunctivitis, severe matting, malnutrition, flea infestation, dermatophytosis and periodontal disease.

The 58-year-old owner was issued with a 12-month good behaviour bond with the conditions that she take medication and attend counselling.

In addition, she was prohibited from buying, acquiring or taking custody of any cat for 5 years.

“The more we learn about animal hoarding, the better we are able to manage the animals whose behavioural, social and psychological welfare is compromised, albeit unintentionally, at the hands of animal hoarders,” Inspector O’Shannessy said.

Co-author and PhD candidate Mark Westman said that the study revealed some differences between animal hoarders in Australia and those in overseas studies.

“Hoarders in Australia were more likely to live in rural or semi-rural areas and they were more likely to hoard large animals,” he said. “That is something we need to look into further.”1

Emma Malcolm
Communication and Marketing Manager

Reference:

  1. Joffe M, O’Shannessy D, Dhand N et al. Characteristics of persons convicted for offences relating to animal hoarding in New South Wales. Aust Vet J 2014;92:369–375

This article appeared in the October issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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