Animal Hoarding: Searching for a Solution

The images below were taken at a recent hoarding case in Stevens county. Some of the images are graphic but we feel it is important for the public to understand how tragic these situations are. We are not here to place blame, rather we are hoping to educate the public on what steps they can take and what to look for. We also wish to encourage potential hoarders to seek help before they find themselves in such an extreme situation as this. We are not here to condemn nor place blame, we are here to help.

Dog kennels where dozens of dogs were being kept and where they starved to death while surrounded by bags and bags of unopened dog food.

Recently we were called to help in yet another animal hoarding rescue in Stevens County. Tragically the owner had passed away and no one was left to care for the animals. By the time the Sheriff’s office was called it was too late to save many of the animals. 25 bodies were removed and 10 adult Chihuahuas and Pomeranians were taken to Spokane Humane to be treated and rehabilitated. They survived in the only way they could; by feeding off the carcasses of their kennel mates.

One of the survivors whose only recourse was to feed on his dead kennel-mates in order to survive. The other animals in the picture are deceased.

One of the survivors with extreme damage to the eyes. Many of the survivors were in extremely poor health. The owner simply couldn't provide the level of care required for so many animals.

Most of the animals were being kept in cages in a barn, but we also found animals in the house.

Finley at the Sanctuary approx. 4 weeks after being rescued

Annie at the Sanctuary approx. 4 weeks after being rescued.

Finley and Annie were both found in the house. Annie was found in a small carrier literally buried under this heap of trash.

Annie was buried under this mound of trash as if she were being hidden.

She was so severely matted that we could not see her eyes and she could barely open them. She spent 3 days at the groomers where they worked patiently and slowly to free her from her severely matted fur. Both Finley and Annie are with us at the Sanctuary and both are absolute sweethearts despite what they have been through. We are currently seeking loving homes for them.

One of the dozens of animals who died in this very sad situation

The saddest part of this story is that the owner really cared about these animals as was evidenced by the dozen or so unopened dog food bags stored in the barn. With no one to disperse the food and no way for the dogs to get out of their enclosures they simply starved to death.

So why aren’t these cases discovered before they reach this point?
Hoarding cases can overlap or fall between the jurisdictional cracks of numerous state and local government agencies (e.g. mental health, public health, zoning, building safety, animal control, aging, sanitation, fish and wildlife, and child welfare agencies). The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), has been established to study the problem and to increase awareness among mental health, social services and municipal officials.

They have defined an animal hoarder as:

  1. someone who has accumulated a large number of animals, which has overwhelmed that person’s ability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care.
  2. someone who has failed to acknowledge the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation, and even death) and the household environment (severe overcrowding, very unsanitary conditions).
  3. someone who has failed to recognize the negative effect of the collection on his or her own health and well-being, and on that of other household members.

What we’ve found in animal hoarding situations is that other family members; children, dependent elderly persons or disabled adults that are present, are also victims of this behavior. Along with animal abuse, the conditions that we observed meet the criteria for adult self-neglect, elder abuse, child neglect and abuse.

The hoarding typically extends beyond the hoarding of animals, it seems to merge into all areas of the hoarder's life.

The stench of urine, feces, garbage and rodent infestations is unsanitary and becomes dangerous to life and health. Often times the buildings become a fire hazard and completely uninhabitable. Yet the hoarder is usually in denial and can not see the problems that are being created. They believe they are providing “quality” care that exceeds what others can provide. Their identity is tied to their animals and possessions and giving up anything is associated with tremendous fear, apprehension, and grief. They often view the world as a very hostile place for both people and animals so they isolate themselves, mistrust organizations that try to intervene, and hide their animals.

When the sheriff’s dept. entered the house they had to search under garbage bags for the animals that were kept in crates or Rubber Maid containers. Those animals, who included Finley and Annie, came to us at the Sanctuary.

A Step in the Right Direction

Our ultimate goal is to establish a task force in the community which would include the services of:

  • Animal Control
  • Sheriff’s office
  • City Police
  • Public Health
  • Mental Health
  • Child Welfare
  • Adult Protective Services
  • Fire Dept.
  • Veterinarians and Animal Welfare agencies


But in order to truly make this work, we need the help of family, friends, neighbors, clergy, teachers and concerned citizens who notice ‘something’ that just doesn’t seem right.

Even utilities such as Quest, Avista, Cable or Satellite co.’s who send repair technicians can help. We regularly field calls about sick or dead animals, nuisance animals starved for food and attention, and overcrowded conditions.

Again, we are not out to condemn the hoarder, we only want to help, we know you don’t want your animals to suffer, we know that nearly all animal hoarders really love their animals and only want the best for them. We are here to help in any way we can.

By offering food and spay/neutering services we hope to gradually reduce the animal populations and bring about an improvement in household conditions. We are a no-kill animal shelter, any animals that are released to us will not be euthanized.

My frustration lies in not being able to find these situations until it is too late for the people and the animals involved. The animals that we found in this tragic case did not have to die–it was an over-site on many different levels. To simply condemn the hoarder does nothing to prevent similar situations from happening again and again. That is not the answer. Instead we need to work together as outlined above.

We live in a county of more than 2,400 square miles with a population over 43,000, we need you to be our eyes and ears — you can make a difference. You can help to ease the suffering in our community both of our animal and human residents. Call anonymously and any information you give will be confidential.

Thank You,

Nancy Rose, Kennel Mngr.
Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary
(509) 684-1475

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About colvillevalleyanimalsanctuary

The Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of abandoned, neglected, and otherwise homeless companion animals. We provide both crisis and long-term sheltering, medical care, fostering, and adoption services - all with the goal of placing our animals permanently in safe and loving homes. We spay and neuter all of the animals in our care and actively promote, through financial donations and community support, the effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals in Stevens County. By example and through education, we promote and advance the values of responsible pet ownership and the humane treatment of animals.
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