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Know Your Limits: Solving the Rescue Hoarding Problem

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Photo of cats

PetSmart Charities recently interviewed Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty response for the Humane Society of the United States, and Kathryn Destreza, investigations director for the ASPCA Field Investigation and Response Team. We discussed how a growing number of animal welfare organizations are accepting more pets than they can handle and what responsible groups can do to help recognize their own, and their neighbor organizations', limits.

(Editor's note: For the purpose of this article, the term "rescue hoarders" can refer to both shelter facilities or groups that use foster homes.)

How often do you respond to hoarding cases in a year’s time?

Kathryn: [The ASPCA’s Field Investigation and Response Team] probably handles about 10 hoarding situations annually. Adam: Sometimes we may provide financial assistance to a group or we may get complaints from citizens that we pass on to local law enforcement. But in terms of our on-the-ground responses, we handled several hoarding situations last year with several hundred pets each time.

Is there an increase in the number of people in pet rescue work becoming hoarders? If so, why?

Kathryn: Yes. Good groups are out there. They are the ones who know their limits and when to say “no” to more pets. But there are more and more groups getting into difficult situations. Pets are coming in, but they are not heading out. Those groups continue to take in pets regardless of the impact it might have on them or their finances.

How do animal organizations end up in this situation?

Adam: They fear that there are a lot of bad homes out there and pets will be euthanized if they don’t care for them. They see themselves as the only solution. Kathryn: These people want to help pets. But it quickly becomes an issue of trust and a fear of letting go for the people running these groups. They might get as far as reviewing adoption paperwork, but will generally find a reason to deny an adoption at last moment.

How are rescue hoarders who take in too many pets the same or different from people in other hoarding cases?

Adam: While I think they share similar traits, rescue hoarders are more enabled because other animal organizations and the general community give them pets to take care of as well. Kathryn: The main difference between a hoarder and a rescue hoarder is that the rescue hoarder begins with the intent to do a good thing. Because they believe, however, they are the only one who can do this great thing for the pets, they end up keeping pets and not finding homes for them.

What should animal welfare organizations look for when transferring pets to other groups?

Adam: They should keep track of how many pets they are transferring to each groups and ask to see paperwork that shows pets are getting adopted out. Good rescue groups recognize their limits and will refuse to take in more pets then they can handle. The group that takes every pet or says they can take all the pets in other hoarding or cruelty cases may need additional screening before accepting a transfer. Kathryn: Do some research; don’t rely on a pretty website. Visit transfer partners at their foster homes or shelters. Reliable organizations are happy to show you around and talk about their program. Those who act like they have something to hide, may have something to hide. Ask them to provide names of adopters and the vet they work with. Look at their pets. A site visit can help determine if they are a reliable group.

How can animal welfare organizations help transfer partner groups know their limits for the number of pets they can care for?

Adam: Keep communications open with each partner organization. It can be hard for groups to say “no,” so part of the responsibility falls on the releasing shelter to not overburden any one group with too many pets. If the group receives pets from multiple shelters and they can’t say “no,” they could soon be in over their heads. Kathryn: If your shelter transfers pets to foster-based groups, get involved in that community with a meet and greet to get to know each other. You should also do your due diligence by knowing how many pets are going into a rescue group and how many are coming out through adoptions or transfers. (Editor's note: Consider sharing your own numbers to help establish mutual trust and transparency.)

Are there recommendations/guidelines anywhere online to help animal welfare groups define their programs and limit their pet intake?

Adam: Best Friends has a manual on running a rescue or sanctuary group that can be very helpful. HSUS’s Animal Sheltering site has a lot of information on cleaning protocols and operating a facility. Kathryn: Anyone can go to www.ASPCAPro.com to get more information.

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