Animal Law

Hoarding Pets Yes You Can Have Too Many Friends

Many of us have a pet or two. They're our friends, companions, and a part of our families, and so they're well-cared for and loved. Some pet owners go too far, however, and keep more animals than they can properly care for.

Pet Hoarding

Pet hoarding is when someone keeps dozens or even hundreds of pets in their homes or on their property, and often with tragic results. For instance, in September 2010, local police officers and agents from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals arrived at the Philadelphia home of Denise Merget. They were there on reports from neighbors about odors and other problems connected to Merget's cats. Merget pointed a gun at the officers, screaming, "No one's going to take my cats!"

Eventually Merget was arrested and no one was hurt. And the cats? Over 75 cats were removed from her home. About two weeks later, officers recovered 20 dead cats from a freezer in the vacant home of Merget's mother.

Classic Example

Merget's is a classic example of pet hoarding. And it's not the only one. In fact, it's becoming such a problem there's a pet hoarding TV show to help raise awareness about the problem. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are 900 to 2,000 new cases of hoarding each year affecting about 225,000 animals.

Pet owners don't always know what they're doing, either. According to, pet hoarders think the animals need them and they're giving them they care the need. That's even though in many cases the owner's home is unlivable, covered with animal waste and trash, and the animals get little or no medical care. It's also common to find dead animals frozen on the premises or simply lying about - the owners' can't part with them.

The Law

In the vast majority of states, pet hoarding is covered by state or local animal cruelty or abuse laws. By not providing the proper care for their pets, such as adequate shelter, food, water, and medical treatment, pet owners may face fines, jail time, or both. Pet hoarding may lead to violations of state or local health and zoning laws, leading to the closure or condemnation of the house. And if the owner has children living in the home, he may face child neglect or endangerment charges.

Strangely enough, Merget hasn't been charged with any crime connected to pet hoarding. She's been charged with crimes connected to pointing a gun at law enforcement agents. Of course, with serious charges like that, maybe she doesn't need to be charged with animal cruelty, too.

It may have been a different story if Merget lived in Illinois, though. That state has one of the few laws - and maybe the only one - dealing with animal hoarding specifically. Under the Illinois Companion Animal Hoarder Act, pet hoarders face fines and jail time and must undergo psychological or psychiatric testing and treatment.

What You Can Do

Know the signs of pet hoarding. According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, the signs are:

  • Having more than the typical number of pets or animals
  • The inability to give their pets the minimal amount of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and medical care, often resulting in starvation, illness, and death
  • Being unable to recognize or admit to the inability to care for the animals and the impact it has on the animals, the household, and family members

Take action if you think someone's hoarding pets and making an unsafe environment for the owner, his family, or the neighborhood. Report the problem to your local police department, health department, or humane society or shelter as soon as you notice a problem.

Pets depend on their owners for everything. It's the owner's responsibility to make sure pets get what they need to live safe and healthy lives. Everyone has an obligation to stop animal abuse and cruelty whenever and wherever we see it.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I report animal abuse anonymously?
  • What should I do if the local humane society doesn't investigate a complaint I made about suspected animal abuse?
  • Do humane society employees or officers need a search warrant before they come onto my property or enter my house to investigate a report of animal abuse?
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