Full Title Name:  The Paradox of Animal Hoarding and The Limits of Canadian Criminal Law

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Kathryn M. Campbell Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2012 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center

The focus of this paper will be on an examination of these many challenges. The paper will begin with an overview of animal hoarding, how it is defined and the impact that hoarding has on the animals kept. The psychological implications of this behaviour will be examined, followed by the legal challenges prosecutors face in pursuing animal hoarders in court. The limits of Canadian criminal law to address animal hoarding will illustrate the difficulties in charging animal hoarders in this country. Finally, the paper will focus on the need for a more concerted approach to this problem by integrating legal, municipal and public health services in an attempt to better address the serious consequences for animals that result from this behavior.


The Paradox of Animal Hoarding and  The Limits of Canadian Criminal Law [ * ]


Animal welfare advocates believe that all animals should live lives free of suffering; this applies not only to the millions of animals used for experimentation and those bred in factory farming but also to companion animals.  Companion animals accompany humans in our daily lives, live in our homes, and in many cases are part of our families.  However, animal hoarders who keep large numbers of companion animals in drastically unsanitary conditions pose particular challenges to animal welfare groups, to public health officials, and to prosecutors who wish to pursue these most egregious cases of animal abuse.  The consequences for the animals of this bizarre form of cruelty are disastrous and result in immeasurable suffering.  The focus of this paper will be on an examination of these many challenges. The paper will begin with an overview of animal hoarding, how it is defined and the impact that hoarding has on the animals kept.  The psychological implications of this behaviour will be examined, followed by the legal challenges prosecutors face in pursuing animal hoarders in court. The limits of Canadian criminal law to address animal hoarding will illustrate the difficulties in charging animal hoarders in this country. Finally, the paper will focus on the need for a more concerted approach to this problem by integrating legal, municipal and public health services in an attempt to better address the serious consequences for animals that result from this behavior.



I. Definitions

“... the most disturbing aspect of hoarding: the psychological blindness of hoarders, their sheer inability to see the reality of what they are doing and how they are living.  Generally speaking, hoarders do not intend to be cruel, and yet the condition of the animals they keep is sometimes worse – and on a larger scale – than those hurt by the most deliberate kind of abusers.”   Carrie Allen [ 1 ]


            Animal hoarding, sometimes referred to as pathological collecting, has been described as a serious mental health issue that has ramifications not only for individuals who hoard large numbers of animals over time, but especially for the many animals who suffer in appalling conditions. Animal Hoarding, as defined by the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University, [ 2 ] constitutes the following:

  • More than the typical number of companion animals;
  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death;
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling.
  • Obsessive attempts to maintain and possibly increase the number of animals in face of these failures and deteriorating conditions. [ 3 ]

What distinguishes hoarders from animal breeders or farmers, who also keep large numbers of animals on their property, is “the condition of the animals, the environment in which they’re kept, and the failure of the hoarder to remedy the negative effects of their collecting." [ 4 ] Farmers and breeders often keep large numbers of animals on their property for specific purposes however, the manner in which these animals are treated (in most cases) is qualitatively different. What seems to differentiate animal hoarders from backstreet breeders or puppy mills, who also keep animals in appalling conditions mainly for profit, is that hoarders believe that they are in fact acting in the best interests of the animals, and are “saving” them from further abuse or possible euthanasia.  

            A study done by Patronek examined the characteristics of a large group of animal hoarders from 54 case reports. [ 5 ]  The first of its kind, this study illustrated that over half of the cases came to the attention of the authorities through neighbours reporting unsanitary conditions, strong odours and noise. The majority of animal hoarders were female (76%), most were single/divorced/widowed (72%), and over half (56%) lived in single-person homes.  Three hoarders lived with children, and two had dependent elderly persons in their homes.  This study also revealed interesting information about the types of animals hoarded: the majority were cats (65%) most likely due to the ease of finding and keeping stray cats and how quickly they breed.  While dogs were implicated in 11% of the cases and birds also in 11%, the average number of animals seized was 39, while in four cases over 100 animals were involved.  Although less common, there have been some cases of hoarding of farm animals, including horses, cows and goats. [ 6 ]

            Animal hoarders are not animal collectors.  This euphemism may have been used in the past to describe the behaviour of animal hoarders but it has become clear that hoarding behavior represents a much more complex phenomenon. In fact, this behaviour raises a number of issues not only for animal welfare agencies, but also illustrates how current protective legislation fails to protect animals from this type of abuse. 

A. Animal victims

            While animal hoarders may justify their actions as being in the best interests of the animals, that they are “saving” animals, the consequences of animals in these hoarding situations are devastating.  In addition to living in cramped conditions, with dozens, sometimes hundreds of other animals, the level of suffering is incalculable.  The kinds of problems that emerge from the hoarding of companion animals, typically cats and dogs include: emaciation, starvation, ammonia burns in their respiratory system from exposure to urine, urine scald, blindness or near blindness, untreated broken bones, missing limbs, lesions from fighting, skin lesions, ear mites and fleas, internal parasites, rotted teeth, mouth disease, maggot-filled fur matting, and eye and ear injuries. [ 7 ]  Moreover, in Patronek’s study, it was not uncommon to find dead animals in the freezers and homes of hoarders; this was evident in almost 60% of the cases studied. [ 8 ]  By the time authorities become involved in many of these cases, the extent of animal suffering has been so egregious that the majority of the animals have to be euthanized.  Some studies have indicated that up to 80% of seized animals from animal hoarding raids are put down. [ 9 ]

B. Human victims

            There are also human victims to animal hoarding.  Beside the hoarder him/herself, there may be children involved, neglected senior citizens and even neighbours who, through the unsanitary conditions, may be exposed to the spread of zoonotic diseases. [ 10 ] It is not unusual for protective social services to be involved in animal hoarding cases, at times they may even alert animal welfare agencies to existing problems.  Neglect and abuse of animals appears to often co-occur with child and elder abuse.  Furthermore, in cases where hoarding has gone on for months and even years, the condition of the home can deteriorate to the point where buildings may be condemned.  The long term harm caused by untreated urine and feces damages can take a huge toll on the walls, floors and foundation of buildings and there are many cases where homes must be destroyed following the seizure of animals. 

II. Psychological pathways to animal hoarding behaviour

            Animal hoarding has been described as a psychological disorder, which manifests in considerable maladaptive functioning for individuals and severe consequences for the animal victims.  There appears to be no agreed upon singular diagnosis amongst the psychiatric community, however, some believe that animal hoarding may represent a form of obsessive compulsive personality disorder. [ 11 ]  In these cases, a symptom of the disorder, object hoarding has been described as an inability to discard items, of seemingly no value; it is often accompanied by an obsessive fear of losing items that will thought to be needed later as well as distorted beliefs regarding these possessions and an exaggerated emotional attachment to them. [ 12 ]  However, Nathanson questions whether or not this label can really be applied to animal hoarders, as it is possible that the collection of objects as opposed to the collection of sentient beings may represent different pathologies. [ 13 ]

          Another explanation for animal hoardings is found in the addictions-based model.  Here, hoarding is compared to substance abuse, whereby animals are substituted for drugs or alcohol, where there is a “...[p]reoccupation with animals, denial of a problem, excuses for their behaviour, claims of persecution, and neglect of personal and environmental conditions." [ 14 ]  Moreover, compulsive hoarding of animals has also been compared to other compulsive addictions like gambling and compulsive shopping. [ 15 ]

            One more recent psychological explanation for animal hoarding behaviour is thought to be the result of attachment disorder, based on attachment theory.  This theory is founded on the idea that individuals develop ways of interacting, in part due to the degree to which their needs were or were not met as children by their primary caregivers. [ 16 ]  Disorders occur when there is some sort of disruption or difficulty in establishing that early bond with caregivers.  Given the importance that companion animals play in many people’s lives, the extrapolation of attachment disorder as a basis for animal hoarding makes some sense. For many, animals serve to fill a bond that is absent with other people.  However, the excessive numbers of animals seen in the homes of animal hoarders indicate that other factors are at play.  Evidently, there are many contributing factors that impact on the development of this behavior and as Nathanson notes,

... [a]nimal hoarding is likely related to a complex, multifaceted spectrum of underlying psychological disorders, the most relevant taking into account the interactive relationship between the human and the animals, along with the driving force of excessive caregiving, which has been associated with attachment disorder. [ 17 ]

            While other psychiatric or psychological diagnoses that have been thought to explain animal hoarding behaviour, including delusional disorder, dementia, and borderline personality disorder, they appear to have received less support as explanatory models. [ 18 ]  The delusional disorder model is thought to be manifest in an inability to see the problematic nature of the behaviour, as many animal hoarders believe they are providing proper animal care.  Related to this is the dementia model, thought to explain the lack of insight animal hoarders show for the poor conditions in which their animals live, and the fact they have no insight into their own blatant irrationality. [ 19 ]  Finally, borderline personality disorder has been proffered as providing a psychological explanation for animal hoarding.  Thought to emanate from severe family pathology, this disorder has been described as manifest in fear of abandonment, difficulty with anger, and unstable interpersonal relationships; animals are thought to fill the huge emotional lacunae these people experience. [ 20 ] While many of these explanations provide some insights into the pathways that lead individuals to hoard animals, as single factor models none appear to explain all behaviour all the time, for everyone.  What these explanations also reveal is that animal hoarding is a complex issue, with psychological and emotional problems at its roots, requiring a nuanced response. 

A. Justification

            When animal hoarders are questioned about their behavior, a number of consistent justifications emerge, including denial, the “Good Samaritan strategy”, posing as a rescue organization and blaming the system.  In the case of Barbara Erickson, an Oregon woman who kept over 550 dogs in her small two-bedroom home, she plead not guilty to animal abuse charges and claimed to have fed, watered and love all her dogs, in spite of the fact that 134 of the rescued dogs had to be euthanized, and most of the over 400 that were saved had behavior problems. [ 21 ]  Moreover in Patronek’s 1999 study of animal hoarders, in 43 cases where the animals were found in extremely poor conditions, the hoarders in over half of those cases would not even acknowledge a problem existed. [ 22 ] Denial is clearly part of a strategy that many animal hoarders use in order to be able to function and often live with their animals in such horrific conditions. Moreover, in a study that examined how animal hoarders justified their wrongdoings, many employed what is termed the “Good Samaritan strategy”, whereby they could “…[l]essen the negativity of their performance by grounding the act in something noble." [ 23 ]  In such instances the hoarders attempted to justify their behavior on the belief that the animals would have been otherwise euthanized had they not stepped in to save them.  In fact, in some cases animal hoarders posed as rescue operations or shelters and were able to amass large numbers of animals based on this justification.  For example, Tammy and William Hanson were convicted on a number of counts of animal cruelty following the seizure of 477 dogs on their property, living in squalid conditions.  Following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Hansons had established a facility known as EDNAH (every dog needs a home) and were able to “rescue” large numbers of homeless animals following the evacuation of the city and surrounding area. [ 24 ]

            One final type of justification strategy used by animal hoarders involves blaming the system, as though the “system” (criminal justice, animal welfare or otherwise) had a vendetta against them, or was “out to get them." [ 25 ]  From a sociological perspective, this has been likened to a technique of neutralization and serves to focus attention on the system that is persecuting the animal hoarder, rather than on the hoarders own behavior. [ 26 ]  One example of this type of justification was a hoarder, found with 150 dogs, 14 cats, three monkeys and a pregnant pot-bellied pig living in filthy conditions, who denied they were treated poorly and claimed the police were harassing her without cause. [ 27 ]  It is thus not uncommon for animal hoarders to use a number of excuses for their behavior in order to deflect responsibility.  In a study of animal hoarder’s justifications other excuses included appealing to the difficulty of the task, defeasibility (not being fully informed), scapegoating, lack of intentionality, self-handicapping and appealing to accidents. [ 28 ]

            Irrespective of the excuses many animal hoarders come up with when finally caught by the authorities, a further difficulty of this behaviour is its resistance to change.  In fact, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University estimates that the recidivism rate for animal hoarding stands at 100%.  Vikki Kittles is one example of a serial animal hoarder; her most recent conviction followed her arrest in Oregon in 1992 where she was found living on a school bus with 115 dogs, four cats and two chickens in horrific conditions. [ 29 ]  Sentenced to 210 days in jail, 5 years probation and an order to undergo psychiatric counselling, she had previously been charged with animal cruelty in Florida in 1985 for keeping 37 dogs, three cats and two horses in a bedroom of her home. [ 30 ] However, Ms. Kittles had a great deal of experience with the legal system, and was initially able to prevent her animals from receiving medical treatment while she was being tried; at that time under the Oregon law, the dogs were considered evidence and could not be surrendered without her consent.  Her defense was that she was being persecuted for her “lifestyle” choice, “...[i]f she wanted to live among animal feces, that was her right”. [ 31 ]  More recently Kittles had forty-eight cats seized from a small trailer where she was living in Wyoming, although she was not charged. [ 32 ]  The legal system is evidently unable to address what is compelling this woman, and many others like her, to hoard animals.  What is required is a more concerted approach that takes into account the psychological variables that may impact on this behaviour. 

III. Legal implications: Challenges to prosecution

            In Canada, laws that protect animals from cruelty and abuse are woefully insubstantial.  The federal Criminal Code [ 33 ]   contains provisions that address the issue of animal cruelty and each province has animal welfare legislation that can be invoked to address animal cruelty. [ 34 ]  Under the Criminal Code , animals are designated as property and have no real rights, aside from their value as property owned by citizens.  Sections 444 to 447 provide for prohibitions against cruelty to animals and were recently amended in 2008; however the Senate Bill that amended the provisions against animal cruelty changed very little and as in the past, the majority of those who abuse animals will continue to escape punishment.  The Bill, S-203, [ 35 ] which became law in June 2008, simply increased the penalties for animal cruelty crimes and continues to make it nearly impossible to punish the crime of neglect, nor does it criminalize the breeding and training of animals to fight.  Under s. 445.(1), it states now that

Everyone commits an offence who, wilfully and without lawful excuse,

(a)   Kills, maims, wounds, poisons, or injures dogs, birds or animals that are not cattle and are kept for a lawful purpose;


(b)   Places poison in such a position that it may be easily consumed by dogs, birds, or animals that are not cattle and are kept for a lawful purpose.”


The definition here and in sec. 446.1 retains the “wilful” designation which serves as a real and significant barrier to prosecuting cases of animal cruelty in this country.

          Over several years various members of the Liberal government have put forward a number of private member Bills to amend the Criminal Code that have attempted to drastically change the way animal cruelty cases are dealt with.  To date none has gone further than a first reading in the House of Commons, but the latest iteration (Bill C-274 [ 36 ] was introduced in the fall of 2011. This Bill allows for greater ease of prosecution of animal cruelty by replacing “wilful neglect” with a negligence standard and introduces the idea of recklessness with respect to causing unnecessary pain or suffering or injury to an animal (s. 182.2(1)(a)).  It makes it a crime to promote, assist or receive money for fighting or baiting animals, as well as administering a poisonous or injurious drug to a domestic or wild animal (s. 182.2(1)(c-d).  Moreover, promoting, arranging, conducting or assisting in or receiving money for any type of contest or display involving trapping or shooting animals as they are liberated from captivity is criminalized (s. 182.2(1)(e)).  Punishment for all of these offences ranges from fines of a maximum of ten thousand dollars or imprisonment of up to five years. 

          What is particularly signification about this bill is that it also criminalizes the failure to provide adequate care for animals, through either willfully or recklessly abandoning or negligently failing to provide adequate food, water, air or shelter for an animal or injuring an animal while it is being conveyed (s. 182.3(1)(a-b).  It further defines negligence – as “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use” (s. 182.3(2)).  The negligence-based offences carry lesser penalties, with fines not exceeding five thousand dollars and terms of imprisonment not exceeding more than two years.  This bill also allows for judges to prohibit or ban ownership of animals for determined periods of time for either cruelty or negligence based offences after a second or subsequent offence, for a minimum of 5 years and can order costs be paid to an organization where they are ascertainable (s. 182.4(1)(a-b)).  Unlike previous bills of this nature, C-274 introduces the crime of willfully or recklessly poisoning, injuring or killing a law enforcement animal (s. 182.7(2)) and a law enforcement animal is defined as “a dog, horse or any other animal used by a peace officer of public officer in the execution of their duties” (s. 182.7(2)). This latter crime carries penalties of fines not exceeding ten thousand dollars and terms of imprisonment not in excess of five years.  While far-reaching, the likelihood of this Bill becoming law is highly questionable given the history of previous attempts.   

          The current lack of a negligence standard is particularly problematic for prosecuting animal hoarders.  If such a standard was present it could allow for prosecution in cases where the behaviour departed markedly from the standard of care a reasonable person would use.  In the case of animal hoarders, they are generally not wilful or malicious in their neglect of the needs of animals in their care, but rather are often motivated by altruism for the plight of stray animals or love of animals in general.  What becomes problematic is when animal breeding becomes out of control and they are no longer able to care for the growing number of animals in their care.  Courts would likely be more inclined to find for cruelty in cases where large numbers of animals are kept in unsanitary conditions, in spite of a lack of intent. Providing the law with more power may help in addressing animal cruelty, but what is also needed is greater volition on the part of judges to interpret and enforce the law in cases of blatant cruelty.  At the same time, the criminal justice system is only one means of addressing this complex and disturbing problem. 

          Given that there is no actual provision in Canadian law that addresses animal hoarding [ 37 ] it is difficult to get a sense of how often these cases come to court and how they are dealt with.  The results of a search of Canadian case law turned up three reported cases, [ 38 ] whereby the number of animals seized gave a sense that these were likely hoarding cases.  In the case of R. v. Stewart, [ 39 ]   an elderly couple with psychiatric problems living in a small apartment were found guilty of animal cruelty by failing to provide suitable and adequate water and food to 50 cats, kittens and dogs, who were found living in conditions of disease, distress and suffering (under sec. 446(1)(a)).  This was not the husband’s first offence and the penalties imposed by the court included 60 days incarceration for the wife and 75 days incarceration for the husband as well as a reimbursement to the Ontario SPCA of $595 each for the removal and care of the animals. In addition, part of the probation order sought for both defendants by the prosecution was a prohibition from “owning, having the custody or control for any animal for a period of two years." [ 40 ]  However, the defense attorneys argued that mitigating circumstances included the couple’s good intentions in spite of the result, as well as the fact that the harm was due to negligence and oversight and not torture.  At the same time, Moore J. recognized that the defendants lacked insight and empathy to the situation of their animals and the sentences he handed down were meant to send a message of denunciation and general deterrence, which Moore described as being based on the fact that pet owners have a special role of care and trust towards their animals that the defendants had egregiously violated.

            In the case of R. v. MacIsaac, [ 41 ]  a mother and daughter were charged separately with animal cruelty under the Animal Cruelty Prevention Act of Nova Scotia; [ 42 ] the daughter had 27 dogs and puppies and 78 cats, the mother had 24 dogs and one cat in their respective homes, all in situations of filth and neglect, with neither food nor water visible.  Both had been operating shelter/rescue operations.  However, the Nova Scotia law makes it a strict liability offence in such cases,

No owner of an animal or person in charge of an animal shall cause or permit the animal to be, or continue to be in distress. (11(2))

Thus, there is no requirement to establish mens rea or wilful intent in order to ascertain liability in these cases.  In this instance, both plead guilty, but defense counsel had indicated that they were running pet rescue shelters and had incurred substantial financial debts as a result of the animals in care.  In both cases, the defendants had suffered from psychological difficulties, but lacked intentionality; they were described as “victims of their own success” and ended up taking on far too many animals. Ultimately, the sentence reflected denunciation, specific and general deterrence, as well as considerations of their rehabilitation. They both received $1000 fine, a 20 year ban [ 43 ] on owning animals or operating commercial operations relating to animals with a few exceptions (i.e., they were permitted to keep a small number of the current pets they owned and must allow the SPCA of Nova Scotia to inspect their homes at any time). 

            The third case, R. v. Baker, [ 44 ]  involved a seizure of 65 animals living in poor conditions from a property in Ontario, but the appeal revolved around the constitutionality of the warrant in the initial search. Baker was originally acquitted of animal cruelty charges when the Ontario SPCA entered his property to search and seize the animals on the basis that the warrant was not executed properly.  The initial warrant had only authorized one agent of the SPCA and one veterinarian to enter the property, but in fact 6 agents and a veterinarian and two police officers entered the property at that time.  On appeal, it was found that the search was conducted reasonably and there was no Charter breach, thus a new trial was ordered.

            What is interesting is these cases is the role of the so-called “benevolent” intentions of animal hoarders.  In spite of the resulting extreme suffering, it seems their benevolence or good intention is used at times as a mitigating factor in sentencing, as seen in R. v. Stewart and R. v. MacIsaac .  In the case of R. v. Stewart, Moore J., describes the case as clearly not the “worst offence” in spite of the fact that

 ...amongst the various ailments were cats missing fur, ear mites, caked and closed eyes, discharge flowing from eyes and noses...many cats could be heard wheezing, some cats were but skin and bones. Diarrhoea and urine was visible in some areas in the apartment.  One cat, in particular, had severely burnt paws from exposure to urine. [ 45 ]

One shudders to think what would constitute the “worst” offence.  At the same time, Moore J. recognized that the defendants lacked insight and empathy to the situation of their animals.  For most animal hoarders, there is often evidence of compassion and some warped sense of caring for animals which should raise red flags for officials.  For animal hoarders the issues are not simply about cruelty, but rather indicate other deep seated problems that the criminal justice system appears ill equipped to address. 

            A further challenge once animal hoarding cases are actually prosecuted surrounds what happens to the seized animals. Unless the owner voluntarily gives up custody of the animals, which remain their property until otherwise decide by a court, then a huge burden falls on local shelters to either house the animals or find foster homes for them for the duration of the case.  While seizure of animals can occur in any case of animal cruelty, the results are particularly problematic in hoarding cases due to the sheer number of animals involved.  As discussed, the majority of animals seized in these cases will have suffered long term-neglect and many will have to be euthanized.  The ones who survive will likely require a great deal of veterinary attention for their medical needs, but also will need help in socialization, both with other animals and with humans.  The financial costs of rehabilitating these animals are vast and often tax already over-burdened shelters, whose ever-shrinking budgets rely increasingly on private donations. The often diseased and dying animals may be kept with other animals waiting to be adopted, exposing them to disease and causing great overcrowding problems.  Thus, in turn creating hidden costs for shelters that must pick up the slack when animal hoarders are prosecuted.  Moreover, a long period of time can pass between the seizure of animals and the ultimate adjudication of cruelty charges.  

            If charges are brought under the Criminal Code, there is unlikely to be a disposition of goods hearing, so animals must remain in shelters or in foster care until the case is decided.  Under provincial animal welfare legislation, disposition of goods hearings may occur shortly after animals are seized, but prior to the merits of the case being heard.  While this may seem like a better option in terms of the animals long term care, in those cases where charges are dropped or if there is insufficient evidence to move forward, the animals may have to be returned to the owner and placed back in those same conditions of neglect. While seizing animals on a legal warrant to seize property is one way to remove animals from these horrific conditions, having the animal hoarder surrender the animals voluntarily is another route.  In the latter cases, this option may be pursued where there is insufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution, but enough concern that the animals may be at risk.  Given that in most cases, animal hoarders believe that they are saving animals or that they are providing care even in face of horribly neglectful conditions, they would also most likely be reluctant to voluntarily surrender them. 

            Perhaps lessons can be learned from other jurisdictions.  In particular, the state of California has comprehensive animal protection laws, specifically the California Penal Code: Animal Welfare Provisions §597, Cruelty to Animals, provides substantial penalties for animal cruelty where by anyone who “maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures or wounds a living animal or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal” is subject to imprisonment and fines of up to $20,000 (a).  Moreover, the cruelty provisions in this code are quite encompassing and extend to a large number of behaviors including deprivation of food, water or shelter or causing unnecessary suffering.  Thus, anyone who:

 …overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so overdriven, overloaded, driven when overloaded, overworked, tortured, tormented, deprived of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, or to be cruelly beaten, mutilated, or cruelly killed; and whoever, having the charge or custody of any animal, either as owner or otherwise, subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal, or fails to provide the animal with proper food, drink, or shelter or protection from the weather, or who drives, rides, or otherwise uses the animal when unfit for labor, is for every such offence, guilty of a crime punishable as a misdemeanor or as a felony or alternatively punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony and by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000). (b) 

Furthermore, this law extends protection to endangered species, animals in pet shops and animals in confinement.  The California Penal Code also addresses prohibitions against fighting animals, (birds and dogs) and punishments for neglect of animal care.  It is likely that animal hoarders could be convicted under this legislation in a number of places, particularly 597(a) and (b). 

            The state of Illinois, in 2002, amended the Act Concerning Cruelty to Animals to include a definition of “companion animal hoarder” as:

…[a] person who (i) possesses a large number of companion animals; (ii) fails to or is unable to provide what he or she is required to provide under Section 3 of this Act; (iii) keeps the companion animals in a severely overcrowded environment; and (iv) displays an inability to recognize or understand the nature of or has a reckless disregard for the conditions under which the companion animals are living and the deleterious impact they have on the companion animals' and owner's health and well-being. [ 46 ]

Moreover, if convicted of cruelty under this law and having also been designated as a companion animal hoarder, the court may order a psychological or psychiatric evaluation and/or treatment, where deemed appropriate. [ 47 ]  This amendment to the law was inspired by the case of Cheryl Dashke, who in 2000 was found living with 127 neglected animals in a trailer, as well as nine dead cats in her refrigerator.  A lawyer with the American SPCA took a number of photographs of the extent of the neglect, which in turn were instrumental in generating support for the Companion Animals Act of 2002. [ 48 ]   At this juncture it is not known whether this amendment to address animal hoarding has had the intended effect.

IV. Remedies: What can be done?

            In terms of prevalence, the American SPCA has estimated that there are 900 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States, victimizing over a quarter million animals annually. [ 49 ]  While it is difficult to estimate the actual numbers in Canada, the three reported cases are clearly just the tip of the iceberg and countless other cases go unnoticed and unreported.  In fact, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies now contains information about animal hoarding on its website, in order to better educate the public about what constitutes animal hoarding, as well as how to find out more information about this problem. [ 50 ]  However, educating the public is only the first step in addressing hoarding, so devastating for large groups of animals. What is required is a concerted effort from different agencies, working in conjunction, to address the problem to the extent that it does not reoccur.

            Some argue that animal hoarding is “beyond the law" [ 51 ] and that it will continue to occur in spite of animal cruelty legislation aimed at addressing it.  Given the inherent difficulty in addressing animal cruelty more generally in Canada, the outlook for addressing animal hoarding is somewhat bleak.  As argued earlier, animal hoarding may be viewed as a manifestation of a mental health problem and perhaps should not be investigated and prosecuted in the same way as other animal cruelty cases.  The Illinois amendment to include companion animal hoarding as a category under its animal cruelty legislation also includes a provision for a court to order a psychiatric/psychological evaluation and/or treatment, which illustrates a recognition of the extreme nature of this behavior and the need for a more nuanced response than simply punishment through the criminal law. However, while animal hoarding behaviour may have roots in some form of psychological disturbance or pathology, the fact that a court can actually order evaluation or treatment may cross an individual’s civil liberty rights.   On its face, this provision is laudable, however, it may raise other concerns that conflict with recognized constitutional rights. 

            As noted early, what appears to be problematic about animal hoarding is that such cases tend to fall between the cracks of multiple jurisdictions – federal/provincial/municipal governments, departments, agencies and services. [ 52 ]  Early rationales offered for not intervening in many of these cases was that it was a “lifestyle” choice and not a public health or mental health issue. [ 53 ]  There is now a greater recognition that this issue has mental health implications with concomitant implications for animal welfare, one that requires a co-ordination of services from law enforcement, animal protection and mental health professionals.

V. Conclusion

            It appears that the criminal law in Canada is unable to adequately address the issue of animal hoarding and is equally ineffective in dealing with cases of animal cruelty more generally.  As long as the criminal law fails to embrace a negligence standard, and continues to require evidence of wilfulness, the majority of animal cruelty cases will likely never make it to the courts.  The resultant effect is that scores of animals will remain abused, neglected and maltreated.  Even if the criminal law were to be modified at some time in the future to allow greater flexibility in prosecuting those who abuse animals, it is unlikely that animal hoarders will be caught in this web, given the many psychological antecedents to this behavior.  Yet, a negligence standard would be difficult to apply to animal hoarders as their capacity to understand the suffering of hoarded animals in their care may be clouded by their own suffering, and the likelihood of this behavior repeating is extremely high.

            While federal legislation, found in the Criminal Code , has changed very little since 1892 when it was first enacted, several provinces through various animal welfare statutes are attempting to fill in the gaps, but with less reach and less clout.  However, there is some overlap as certain offences deemed “illegal” in provincial statutes may also be pursued as “criminal” through the Criminal Code . Given this overlap, when abuse occurs charges may be laid under either the provincial or federal legislation or both. It has been noted that :

In general, provincial laws usually have broader, stronger protections for animals than the Criminal Code and include specific standards of care that animal owners must adhere to (which the code does not). Because of this, enforcement officials in provinces that have broad, comprehensive animal welfare legislation tend to lay charges under the provincial law more frequently than under the Criminal Code." [ 54 ]

Moreover, prosecutions under provincial regulatory statutes, for regulatory offences, are easier to prove and often do not require evidence of intent or fault as do offences under the Criminal Code. 

         A comprehensive report in 2011 comparing the animal protection laws of states, provinces and territories, by the Animal League Defense Fund noted that Alberta, Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are the “best provinces and territories to be an animal abuser”, whereas Ontario has the strongest animal protection legislation and Saskatchewan has greatly improved its enforcement in recent years. [ 55 ]  For the weaker provinces, the difficulties include minimal fines and penalties, a limited range of protections and a lack of basic care standards, whereas the so-called stronger provinces have stiffer penalties for offenses.

          When adjudicating hoarding cases, some judges have allowed hoarders to keep one or more spayed or neutered animals following prosecutions for hoarding. [ 56 ] This occurred in R. v. MacIsaac [ 57 ]  whereby the defendants were allowed to keep a number of pets they had owned previous to the seizure of the other animals, subject to periodic visits from the SPCA.  This approach recognizes and acknowledges not only the strong emotional attachment hoarders have to their animals, but also the increased likelihood that hoarders will seek out and own animals anyway, in spite of an ownership ban. What this paper has underlined is that the law is clearly not enough, that enforcement is sporadic at best and most hoarders simply go on to re-offend.  However, one innovative means of addressing the issue of animal hoarding, developed by the Massachusetts SPCA, involves working in conjunction with social workers to intervene immediately with first-time hoarders.  The idea behind this strategy is to work directly with animal hoarders in developing trust and connecting them with community services that will help them in living with their compulsive behaviour. [ 58 ] While these efforts are admirable, what may be needed is a task force approach, as recommended by Avery, [ 59 ]bringing together all interested parties, including animal welfare agencies, mental health agencies, child and adult protection services, municipalities, fire and police departments, veterinarians and the legal system. Such a taskforce would need to convene only in cases where animal hoarders are identified and with some co-ordination, each agency could bring a certain expertise to the table and address a particular need represented by the behaviour of animal hoarders.  While perhaps initially a costly endeavour, by better addressing the problem of animal hoarding through more specialized services, the long-term savings could be enormous in terms of preventing recidivism.  The possibility of preventing mass scale suffering of these animals demands no less.

I would like to thank Tara Santini, Alanna Devine and Peter Sankoff for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.  This paper is dedicated to Kathleen Marie Smith, who loved animals and was troubled by hoarding.  

[1] Found in Anita Wolff, Prisoners of “Love”—the Victims of Animal Hoarding, online: Advocacy Britannica < http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2009/02/prisoners-of-love-the-victims-of-animal-hoarding>.

[2] Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), online:  <http://www.tufts.edu/vet/cfa/hoarding>.

[3] G. Patronek,  “Hoarding of Animals: An Under-Recognized Public Health Problem in a Difficult-to-study Population” (1999) 114 Public Health Reports, 81. [Patronek]. 

[4] S. Davis. “Prosecuting Animal Hoarders is Like Herding Cats” (2002) 28 California Lawyer, online: < http://www.tufts.edu/vet/cfa/hoarding/index.html >.

[5] Patronek, supra note 4 at 81.

[6] One man faced animal cruelty charges for his neglectful treatment of a number of goats over several years and in three states (Vermont, Ohio and West Virginia).  In Ohio, animal welfare agents seized 220 live goats from his property, found 80 goat carcasses, nine dead goats in a freezer, as well as another goat in his house.  Ohio SPCA, online: < http://www.ohiospca.org/rescued-animals/man-loses-custody-of-goats-after-journeying-through-at-least-four-states-2 >. 

[7] L. Avery,  “From Helping to Hoarding to Hurting: When the Acts of ‘Good Samaritans’ Become Felony Animal Cruelty” (2005) 39(4) Valparaiso University Law Review [Avery]; C. Berry, G. Patronek, and R. Lockwood, “Long-term Outcomes in Animal Hoarding Cases” (2005) 11 Animal Law, 167; D. Campbell, “A Call to Action: Concrete Proposals for Reducing Widespread Animal Suffering in the United States” (2009) 15(2) Animal Law, 1.

[8] Patronek, supra note 4 at 85.

[9] Avery, supra note 8.

[10] Patronek, supra note 4 at 82.

[11] R. Lockwood,  “The Psychology of Animal Collectors” (1994) 9 American Animal Hospital Association Trend Magazine, 18;  G. Partonek, & J. Nathanson,  “A Theoretical Perspective to Inform Assessment and Treatment Strategies for Animal Hoarders” (2009) 29 Clinical Psychology Review, 274;  A. Reinisch, “Understanding the Human Aspects of Animal Hoarding” (2008) 49(2) The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 1211;  M. Winsberg, K. Cassic, and L. Koran, “Hoarding in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Report of 20 Cases” (1999) 60 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 591. 

[12] R. Frost & R. Gross, “The Hoarding of Possessions” (1993) 31 Behav Res Ther, 367.

[13] J. Nathanson,  “Animal Hoarding: Slipping into the Darkness of Comorbid Animal and Self-neglect” (2009) 21 Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, 307.  [Nathanson]

[14] R. Frost.  “People who Hoard Animals” (2000) 17(4) Psychiatric Times; See also R. Lockwood.  “The Psychology of Animal Collectors” (1994) 8 Trends, 18.

[15] E. Meagher, R. Frost, & J. Riskind, Compulsive Lottery, Scratch Ticket, and Keno Gambling: Its Relation to OCD, Hoarding, Impulsivity, and the Urge to Buy . (1999) Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, Toronto, Canada .

[16] J. Bowlby. A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory .  (London: Routledge, 1988).

[17] Nathanson, supra note 14 at 317. 

[18] Patronek, supra note 4 at 81; Hoarding Animals Research Consortium, online: <http://www.tufts.edu/vet/cfa/hoarding>.

[19] Reinisch, supra note 12 at 3. 

[20] A. Arluke & C. Killeen,  Inside Animal Hoarding: The Case of Barbara Erickson and Her 552 Dogs.  (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2009).

[21] Ibid, at 154.

[22] Patronek, supra note 4 at 84.

[23] M. Vaca-Guzman & A. Arluke,  “Normalizing Passive Cruelty: The Excuses and Justifications of Animal Hoarders”  (2004) 18(4) Anthrozoos , 344. [Vaca-Guzman & Arluke]

[24] In 2006, Tammy Hanson was convicted on 20 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals, and received a 1-year sentence in the county jail and $10,000 in fines, including $5000 in restitution to be paid to the Humane Society of the United States, the maximum amount allowed under Arkansas law. The restitution was an attempt to defray the costs of over $100,000 incurred by the Humane Society in sheltering, caring for and fostering the seized dogs from EDNAH. KY3, online: < http://www.ky3.com/news/local/69192467.html

[25] Vaca-Guzman & Arluke, supra note 24 at 345. 

[26] G. Sykes & D. Matza.  “Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency”. 1957 22 American Sociological Review , 640, referred to in Vaca-Gusman & Arluke, supra note 24 .

[27] Vaca-Guzman & Arluke, supra note 24 at 346. 

[28] Ibid, at 342. 

[29] “From fire to frying pan: How forfeiture laws mistreat abused animals”. (2001) 1 The Animal’s Advocate.

[30] Ibid.

[31] J. Marquis,  “The Kittles case and its aftermath” (1996) 2 Animal Law, 197.  Her case also inspired the “Kittles” Bill, enacted by the Oregon legislature in 1995, which amended animal cruelty legislation making serious animal cruelty a felony, and allowed the state the right to treat and care for animals seized pending case resolution. 

[32] “Animal abuse: Wyoming needs to toughen animal cruelty legislation”. Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, online: <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-15846021.html>.

[33] R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, An Act Respecting Criminal Law.

[34] Most provinces have statutes that specifically contain provisions that deal with the safety and welfare of animals, although they vary widely in terms of the issues covered and level of enforcement.  See, for example: Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 372; Animal Protection Act , R.S.A. 2000, c. A-41; The Animal Protection Act , R.S.S. 1999, c. A-21.1; The Animal Care Act , C.C.S.M. 1996, c. 84; Consolidation of Dog Act (Nunavut) R.S.N.W.T., 1988, c. D-7; Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act , R.S.O. 1990, c. O.36; Animal Health Protection Act, R.S.Q. c P-42; Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, R.S.N.B. 1973, c. S-12, s. 0.1 - 32(2); Animal Cruelty Prevention Act , 1996, c. 22, s. 1 (NS); Animal Protection Act , R.S.N.L. 1990, c. A-10; Part iv: Animal Protection Section of Animal Health and Protection Act and Companion Animal Protection Act . c. 2001 C-14.1; Animal Protection Act , 2002, R.S.Y. ch. 6.  However, while provincial legislation does focus on the issue of “distress”, it does not have the reach of federal law and the penalties are less onerous.

[35] An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals)

[36] An Act to amend the Criminal Code (animal cruelty), First Reading, September 19 th , 2011.

[37] It could be argued that the various municipal by-laws throughout the country that limit the number of animals that can be kept in a residential   dwelling indirectly address the problem of animal hoarding.  In fact, a recently amended by-law in the city of Montreal, Quebec concerning dog and animal control (R.B.C. M., c. C-10) limits the number of cats (four) and dogs (two) that can be kept in a dwelling.  Ostensibly this was amended to address complaints about occupants of dwellings who were keeping large numbers of cats and to avoid “public-health issues.” Ville de Montréal, online:

< http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=4377,6055912&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL >.

[38] A Quicklaw search of all 93 “animal cruelty” cases in Canada, as of February 17 th , 2012, revealed only three that could be classified as probable animal hoarding cases.  This was done by a process of elimination: cruelty cases with one or two animal victim(s) were eliminated, as were those cases where large numbers of animals were seized from breeders or farmers, leaving only three cases where large numbers of animals were seized from individuals or couples.  While an imperfect methodology that would likely not stand up to scientific rigour, this method was used to gain some sense of how these cases are dealt with by Canadian courts.  However, the focus was solely on reported cases, which serves as another level of filtering and does not account for all actual cases of animal hoarding where charges had been brought or those cases where charges may be initiated and later dropped. 

[39] [2008] O.J. No. 5493. 

[40] Ibid, at para. 26. 

[41] [2008] N.S.J. No. 648

[42] S.N.S. 1996, c.22

[43] A lifetime ban on owning cats was recently instituted for a Saskatchewan man who had forty cats seized (10 were immediately euthanized) from his property living in horrific conditions; he was also fined and ordered to pay restitution to the Saskatchewan Humane Society.  This lifetime ban seems somewhat unusual, and perhaps difficult to enforce, given how easy it is to come across stray cats. 

Regina Leader Post, online: < http://www.canada.com/reginaleaderpost/news/city_province/story.html?id=a2f048c9-0c12-42e4-879e-822f2a7400d0 >.

[44] [2004] O.J. No. 4102

[45] Ibid, at para. 13.

[46] 510 ILCS 70/2.10

[47] 510 ILCS 70/3; 510 ILCS 70/3.01

[48] Honoring Animal Victims: Landmarks in Legislation.  Animal Legal Defense Fund, 2009-02-10 , online < http://www.aldf.org/downloads/ALDF_Honoring_Animal_Victims_Landmarks.pdf >.

[50] Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, online: < http://cfhs.ca/athome/animal_hoarding/

[51] Avery, supra note 8 at 13. 

[52] Patronek, supra note 4. 

[53] Ibid, at 86.

[54] Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, http://cfhs.ca/law/provincial_legislation/

[55] S.K. Otto, Animal Protection Laws of the United States of America and Canada, (Animal League Defense Fund, 2011). 

[56] Avery, supra note 8 at 14. 

[57] [2008] N.S.J. No. 648.

[58] Avery, supra note 8 at 14.

[59] Ibid.

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