Animal Hoarding: The Paradox of the Caring Abuser
An Animal Rights Article from


Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., ASI Animals and Society Institute
May 2011 ~ Animal Hoarding: The Paradox of the Caring Abuser

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 from 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.


  • the caretaker who relinquishes his or her beloved feline member of the family to the shelter, often for frivolous reasons;
  • the shelter worker who loves animals and routinely kills them;
  • the bird-watcher who eats birds; and
  • the animal researcher who provides exceptional love and care to his or her family dog and causes significant pain and harm to the dog in the laboratory.

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.

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