Animal rescue; something that is respected and crucial in today’s society to ensure that humans enact their duty to other species, and in some cases, even prevent their extinction. Rescuing animals involves removing animals from past or present harm and aiding in their recovery back to health—both physical and mental—if needed. However, sometimes it can be misinterpreted. Is animal rescue always about rescuing animals, or can it, in some circumstances, be a guise for animal hoarding?
Animal Rescue vs Animal Hoarding
By Kathryn Leckie
What is animal hoarding?
Hoarding is already an illness; an emotional need to obtain things, and incorporates a lack of capability to discard these things. However, pairing this illness with living creatures increases the severity of the situation, and places the issue somewhere in between addiction and animal cruelty. Not only is the happiness of the hoarder and the family affected, but innocent lives are heavily impacted too. The RSPCA recognises animal hoarding as somebody who has a ‘high number of animals but are unable to provide adequate standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care. Hoarders often care about their animals deeply but they don’t see or understand that their behaviour actually results in animal neglect.’ Animal hoarding is not a case of deliberate animal cruelty but instead is usually unintentional.
How could animal rescue be misinterpreted?
Animal hoarding is an illness, and sometimes illnesses can be masked or misjudged by those they inhabit. In a recent article, animal hoarders were categorised into breeders, caregivers whose circumstances changed, rescuers, and exploiters. ‘Rescuers’ seems to be the most complex class of hoarding, as it begins with good intentions. It does not stem from losing control, underlying issues or selfish hoarding, but instead begins with the indifference to the truth and the mindset that the animals are better off with them, and that they are in fact rescuing them. From then on, the amount of care needed becomes too much, and the individual may be oblivious to their reality. So when does the selfless act become cruel? When it becomes less about them, and more about you. It is important to ask yourself, “Is the animal’s health and wellbeing suffering because of your needs or wants?”
When the animals are put in harm’s way.
Less harm is not always an option. Just because the animal is in a position that is ‘not as bad’ as before does not mean that it is being ‘rescued’. Moira Macmillan now realises she was an animal hoarder and confesses that ‘people keep dumping unwanted chickens on me. I was given a couple of roosters … and I couldn’t bear to see them die. That’s how it started; it just creeps up on you slowly.’ Once the number of animals increases without the same incline of care, the line between rescuing and hoarding diminishes.
How does hoarding affect local shelters, reputable rescue groups and the animals themselves?
Finding the resources, funding and staff to care for a sudden influx of animals due to hoarders would be a struggle for any shelter or rescue group to handle. A huge number of animals—which in some cases would reach into the hundreds—on top of the animals that are already in their care could ultimately mean that they cannot get the amount of personal care they really need. Pets Haven, an animal rehoming shelter, has had numerous counts of hoarded animals come into their care, and in one case fifty animals at once. In their experience some of the animal’s temperaments have been extremely tainted, therefore making it impossible for them to be adopted out, and they have had to rely on permanent foster carers or breed specific rescue groups to take them on. Their previous owners literally cared so much it hurt—permanently. Not only are animal’s temperaments at risk, but hoarded animals often have appalling health issues. Pets Haven describes the hoarded animals as usually being riddled with fleas, worms and having matted fur. Occasionally they will have abscesses from fights with the other animals and accidental pregnancy due the hoarders not desexing their animals. Of course, some health conditions that hoarded animals are found with could also be fatal, and if the hoarders have not treated even the simplest of issues, they can escalate dramatically. Unfortunately, not all shelters and rescue groups are ‘pro-life’, so not all of those that are affected by hoarders get a chance to have their loving forever-home, whether it be with a foster carer, adoptee, or a loving rescue group.
So what can we do as individuals? Raise awareness. If you know someone who may be mistreating their animals—even unintentionally—speak up, and help them understand that their actions are harmful. Sometimes people need an outsider’s point of view to help them see what’s happening inside. But as a group, community and society we need new laws that will protect the welfare of all parties involved, including the ‘hoarders’, by making it harder to fuel their addiction. Miss Ockenden states that ‘no criminal conviction can be made where mental impairment is involved – therefore no banning orders.’ But what about lenient banning orders, that remain only temporary until a medical professional can deem the individual capable and well enough to rescue an animal or give it a loving, pain-free home.
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