U.S. Supreme Court endorses seizure of hoarded animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2006:
WASHINGTON D.C., Philadelphia–The U.S.
Supreme Court in early December 2005 upheld the
right of humane societies and animal control
agencies to seize animals from alleged hoarders
and charge convicted hoarders for their care, by
refusing to hear the last appeal of Janet Jones,
55, of Hatfield, Pennsylvania.
Jones founded a local animal rescue
organization, Animal Orphans, in 1998,
operating out of her home. In September 2002 the
Montgomery County SPCA seized 96 cats, nine
dogs, several hamsters, rats, and mice, and a
turtle who were found on the premises in
allegedly negligent conditions. Charged in
December 2002 with 105 summary counts of cruelty,
Jones was in November 2003 ordered by the
Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas to pay
the SPCA $45,600 for the animals’ care during the
year while the case was pending, and to forfeit
The sum was within $5,000 of the animal
care costs for 2002 declared on the Animal
Orphans Inc. filing of IRS Form 990. But Jones
appealed. After the Montgomery County Court of
Common Pleas convicted her a second time, the
Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the conviction
in September 2004. The Pennsylvania Supreme
Court in June 2005 refused to hear the case.
Jones then took the case to the U.S. Supreme
Montgomery County SPCA operations manager
Edward Davies estimated that looking after the
animals throughout the appeals phase of the case
had increased the cost to $267,000, but Jones
will only be billed for the original $45,600.
Only 59 cats and three dogs were still
alive and offered for adoption at the end of the
case. “The animals were not only subjected to
filthy conditions, they were malnourished, and
quite a number of them had to be destroyed,”
Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L.
Castor told Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer
Bonnie L. Cook.
“Happily, we were able to place our
friendly cats and found a rescue group for the
FIV/FeLV cats. Now we are left with the feral
cats,” Montgomery County SPCA humane educator
Kim Bonanni e-mailed to other Philadelphia-area
humane organizations in early January 2006.
“Clearly, we are looking for a suitable
placement. We want to give them a cage-free rest
of their lives.”
Happy endings tend to be few in hoarding cases.
“Officers of the SPCA testified in court in 2003
that they encountered an overwhelming odor of
urine inside the home and said walls were stained
with urine,” summarized the Lansdale Reporter.
“Feces coated other surfaces of the house,
according to prosecutors. Some of the animals
were emaciated and had respiratory infections,
according to testimony. Dead animals were
discovered stored in plastic bags in Jones’
freezer and refrigeratorŠThe carcass of another
animal was discovered under an entertainment
center, testimony revealed.”
A three-judge panel from the 6th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in June
2005 upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit similar to
the Janet Jones case, resulting from a May 2001
investigation by the Shelbyville-Bedford County
Humane Society, of Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Investigators seized more than 175 dogs, an
unknown number of monkeys, a raccoon, a fox
squirrel, six birds of native species, and a
variety of livestock from Norbert, Regina, Elaine
and Lorraine Roch. The four members of the Roch
family were among them charged with more than 250
counts of cruelty, theft, disorderly conduct,
resisting arrest and illegally keeping wildlife.
“The federal complaint was filed by the
Rochs after the state won orders to protect some
of their animals,” by placing them in the
custody of court-appointed caretakers, “and
orders for euthanasia of others deemed too
debilitated to save,” recalled Clint Confehr of
the Shelbyville Times-Gazette.
“We agree with the district court’s
conclusion that the claims are entirely without
merit,” the 6th Circuit panel wrote.
Hoarding cases have roughly tripled in
frequency since ANIMAL PEOPLE analyzed the data
from 688 cases in January/ February 1999. While
some of the cases were earlier, most surfaced in
Seven years later, ANIMAL PEOPLE found
423 active cases in 2005 alone: three times as
many as were handled in any one year covered by
the previous abstract.
The tripling case load is not necessarily
bad news. Detailed analysis seems to indicate
that it simply means more hoarders are being
identified and dealt with, sooner.
If there was any actual increase in the
numbers of hoarders in society, one might expect
to see some other changes in the numbers,
indicative of hoarding being more frequent among
a particular growing category of people
recognizable by gender, age, and reason for
having animals. Instead, the gender, age, and
motive distribution of hoarders appears to be
Among the live animals rescued from
hoarders in 2005 were 7,244 dogs, 4,987 cats,
1,890 horses, 494 goats, and 1,253 other
animals including rabbits, rodents, birds,
reptiles, and other livestock.
At least another 2,131 animals were found
dead but intact enough to count at hoarders’
The total of more than 18,000 animals
involved in hoarding cases equals the typical
annual shelter intake from a city of half a
Because the animals seized in hoarding
cases are usually victims of severe neglect,
requiring extra care to rehabilitate, and
because hoarding cases often result in protracted
legal action, the drain on humane resources from
hoarding cases may be the equivalent of the cost
of providing animal care-and-control service to a
city of two or three million people.
Indeed, hoarding cases cost the humane
community about as much each year as the
emergency evacuation of New Orleans after
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and
September 2005, with comparable inputs of both
volunteer and professional labor.
Animal hoarding appears to have attracted
notice at least as far back as the Middle Ages.
While many accounts of “witch” persecution were
fairly obviously just pretexts for seizing
widows’ land, in at least some cases whole
houses and the animals in them were burned,
along with the “witches,” to rid communities of
accumulations of excrement, carcasses, and
vermin, which had become a noxious nuisance even
by the standards of the notoriously unsanitary
The stereotypical witch was an aging
widow or spinster who furtively kept many
non-working animals in conditions of filth,
mumbling “incantations” to herself and cursing
neighbors. Her behavior might today be
recognized as depressive or schizophrenic.
The “witch” stereotype persists as the stereotypical animal hoarder.
Superficially, there is truth in it.
Perdue University professor of animal
ecology Alan Beck and colleague Dooley Worth
found in a 1981 study of 31 cases handled by the
American SPCA and the New York City Bureau of
Animal Affairs that 23 of the 34 people involved
were female, and 24 were unmarried.
Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium founder
Gary Patronek has reported similar findings from
studies of about 50 hoarding cases, mostly in
the U.S. Northeast.
Randy Lockwood, who has investigated
hoarding for both the Humane Society of the U.S.
and the American SPCA, guesses that two-thirds
of hoarders are female.
However, each of these investigators
focused on neglect of dogs and cats, excluding
mass neglect of animals kept for economic
purposes, such as breeding, farming, and
operating pet stores.
Looking only at mass neglect, without
prejudice as to motive for having animals,
ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1999 found that females were the
alleged perpetrators of 450 incidents (59%),
and males of 338 (41%). Responsibility was
shared between genders in exactly 100 cases
(15%). Nearly two-thirds of the alleged
perpetrators lived alone.
Proportionately, the 2005 findings were
almost identical. Among the 409 alleged hoarders
who were identified by gender, 239 (58%) were
female; 170 (42%) were male. Just over
Among 156 hoarders in the 1999 abstract
who claimed to be animal rescuers, 77% were
female. ANIMAL PEOPLE evaluated the 2005 data
somewhat differently, but found that among 248
hoarders without a visible economic motive for
keeping animals, 66% were female.
Among 158 hoarders in the 1999 abstract
who were identified as pet breeders, 55% were
female. This too changed little. Among 54
breeders in the 2005 abstract, 54% were female.
Among 125 hoarders in the 1999 abstract
who claimed to be farmers or who kept horses
other than as rescuers, 65% were male. Among
81 farmers or non-rescue horse keepers in the
2005 abstract, 54% were male, including 56% of
the horse keepers.
The gender split among pet store owners
charged with hoarding was even in both years.
Of 307 hoarders in the 1999 abstract who kept
animals for an economic purpose, 173 (55%) were
male. Of 161 hoarders in the 2005 abstract who
kept animals for an economic purpose, 85 (53%)
In short, there was no significant change in the
gender patterns of hoarding from 1994-1999 to
Virtually all of the alleged hoarders
included in both abstracts became responsible for
large numbers of animals many years before
running into trouble, typically soon after a
death in their immediate family.
Hoarding thus appears to associated with
acute depression, afflicting someone who has
intensive involvement with animals. Other people
might merely neglect themselves and their
physical surroundings. People with animals
neglect them, too.
The proportions of rescuers, breeders,
farmers, and pet store owners, their gender
balance, and their age stratification all appear
to reflect nothing more noteworthy than their
relative proportions in society.
Male hoarders in both abstracts appeared
to be more likely than women to get into trouble
for mass neglect early in life:
Ages of alleged animal hoarders
1999 2005 1999 2005
Under 30 8% 11% 15% 13%
30 to 39 12% 13% 14% 15%
40 to 49 27% 39% 27% 34%
50 to 59 26% 19% 16% 21%
60 to 69 15% 14% 16% 14%
70 and up 16% 11% 12% 3%
However, above age 59, the differing
age skews by gender are chiefly suggestive of the
earlier average male age of death, especially
among single people and depressive personalities.
Probably fewer men are caught hoarding animals
after age 50 only because fewer of those who
might hoard are still alive.
The most meaningful change in the age
stratification of hoarders is that middle-aged
female hoarders seem to be running into trouble
sooner. This may reflect increased public
recognition of hoarding behavior.
Of the hoarding cases known to ANIMAL
PEOPLE that were before the courts in 2005, at
least 22% brought a conviction. The actual
conviction rate may be much higher because of
non-reported plea bargains.
This is a big improvement from 1999 and
earlier, when ANIMAL PEOPLE found that people
who were convicted of neglecting individual
animals typically drew stiffer sentences than
people who neglected many. The conviction rate
then, in reported cases, appeared to be under
Conviction rates vary markedly with the
reasons why hoarders have animals. Convicted in
2005 were 57% of the pet store owners, 41% of
the breeders, 30% of the rescuers who had formed
humane organizations, 25% of the horse keepers,
17% of the hoarders who “rescued” or otherwise
kept dogs and cats without institutional
arrangements, 16% of the hoarders whose victims
included children, elderly people, or disabled
people, and 16% of the hoarders who specifically
hoarded pit bull terriers, an emerging
phenomenon that was not even visible in 1999.
Of the 19 pit bull hoarders identified by
gender, 13 were male; 11 were under age 40.
Breeding, rescuing, and fighting were often all
mentioned as motives by the suspects. Several
appeared to be doing all three, by their own
definitions, having “rescued” fighting dogs for
stud use, with intent to use some of the
offspring to fight.
A further indication that hoarding is now
better recognized, bringing earlier
intervention, is that the percentages of
hoarders collecting dogs and cats are down,
along with the numbers of animals found in their
What this suggests is that people who
start out with large numbers of dogs or cats seem
to be getting less time to diversify into
hoarding other species.
Hoarders caught with dogs were 54% of the
1999 sample, but only 50% of the 2005 sample.
Hoarders who kept dogs had an average of 54 in
1994-1999, but only 35 in 2005, a 54%
Hoarders caught with cats were 33% of the
1999 sample, but only 30% of the 2005 sample.
Hoarders who kept cats had an average of 48 in
1994-1999, but only 39 in 2005, a 23%
Among the remaining hoarders in the 2005
abstract, 27% kept horses, averaging 18 apiece,
virtually unchanged from the 1994-1999 average of
Nine percent hoarded birds, averaging 31
each, while 14% hoarded other species,
averaging 19 each.
Dead animals were found in 22% of
hoarding situations, up from 17% in 1994-1999.
This difference may also reflect earlier
intervention, giving starving animals less time
to consume each other’s remains.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that in 1994-1999,
28 alleged hoarders, including about a third of
the women under age 40, kept a total of 44
children in approximately the same conditions as
the animals in their custody-often caged,
starved, in filth, suffering from untreated
illness and injury.
Eleven alleged hoarders kept a total of
12 senior citizens in such conditions. The human
victim was in nine cases a parent.
In 2005, 24 alleged hoarders in 12 households kept 44 human victims.
The alleged people-hoarders included
seven men and 17 women: 55% of the women under
age 40. The victims were 41 minor children,
two senior citizens, and one mentally
handicapped 47-year-old man.
In two more cases teenagers were charged
as accessory offenders even though they had
barely reached the age of majority, to remove
the teenagers from situations that they seemed to
have had little to do with creating, but had
been unable to escape.
The number of cases involving human
victims surged fivefold over the 1994-1999 rate
of discovery. This might indicate either a
general decline in the state of U.S. social
services, or the outcome of cross-training,
which has enabled many more humane workers and
animal control officers to respond effectively
when they see neglected humans at a hoarding
ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1994-1999 made no effort
to distinguish individual self-defined “rescuers”
who were caught hoarding from hoarders who had
established nonprofit organizations, opened
“shelters” and “sanctuaries,” set up web sites,
and/or took other measures to institutionally
Yet many of the most prolific hoarders in
the 1994-1999 abstract fit that definition.
Since ANIMAL PEOPLE did not separately
count “institutional” hoarders then, we cannot
say definitively whether there are more of them
now, or whether they now hoard more animals.
Anecdotally, our impression is that
there are more “institutional” hoarders.
Yet the total number of animals suffering
at their hands appears to be down. All 37
“institutional” hoarders in the 2005 survey had
fewer animals, combined, than just the most
memorable half dozen had among those who were
caught in 1994-1999.
However, puppy mill operators, caught
with an average of 84 dogs apiece, were the only
hoarder category to keep more dogs, cats, or
horses than “institutional” rescuers turned
Seventeen institutional dog-and-cat
“rescue” hoarding situations, involving eight
male and 19 female perpetrators, kept an average
of 71 dogs and 56 cats (about half again as many
as the average for individual dog and cat
hoarders), plus one bird, with 32 dead animals
found on their premises.
Ten institutional horse “rescue” hoarding
situations kept an average of 39 horses–and
surrendered 23% of all the horses who were
rescued from mass neglect during 2005.