Animal Hoarding:
The Paradox of the Caring Abuser

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Animal Hoarding:
The Paradox of the Caring Abuser

[Ed. Note: Please also read Animal Hoarding May Not Only Be About the Number of Animals, Animal Hoarder Sentenced to Jail and Psychiatric Evaluation and Animal Hoarding Project to learn more about individual cases of animal hoarders and studies about causes and solutions.]

From Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., Animals and Society Institute (ASI), May 2011

Animal hoarding is an enigmatic phenomenon, pithily captured by the following question:

How is it possible for animal hoarders to insist on their love and devotion to their animals and yet to be severely neglecting … at the same time? (Personal communication, Sue-Ellen Brown, April 2011)

The animal hoarder is a “caring abuser,” adapting a term I used to describe animal advocates (The Caring Sleuth: Portrait of an Animal Rights Activist. Society & Animals, 2, 2, 1994).

Using number of animals abused as a criterion, hoarding is the second most common form of non-institutionalized and socially unacceptable abuse. To understand the paradox it presents, it is helpful to see it in the context of other contradictions in society’s treatment of animals. For we have various love/hate or love/kill relationships with animals.


I do not wish to normalize or diminish this serious and largely unresolved policy and treatment problem --recidivism rates continues to be very high (Patronek and Nathanson, 2009, Clinical Psychology Review, 274-281). However, like hoarders, many other subpopulations live with contradictions which require considerable psychological maneuvers --compartmentalization, denial, and the extreme form of disavowal of reality that characterizes hoarding. Further, the practices effecting these other contradictions, ironically, often provide the basis for the typical hoarders “story” justifying her (70-80% females) behavior: I must rescue and keep these animals for others will abandon or euthanize them. Clearly, society’s current treatment of animals is a sustaining context for this public policy dilemma.