One of the arguments that the ASPCA and others frequently use to fight shelter access legislation (or support their own legislation to strengthen the ability of shelters to keep rescue groups out) is the risk that animals will go to hoarders. To hear them tell it, there are hoarders everywhere, hiding under every rock, every nook and cranny!
That argument is always a red herring. Here’s why: there are very few animal hoarders in the world, even though the ones who manage to collect many animals are always news stories because of the shocking visuals. It’s unusual enough that it was not formally defined in public health literature until 1999 and still lacks distinct classification as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry. Today, I did a search on pet-abuse.com, a website that tracks animal cruelty cases in the US. I searched for a radius of 10 miles of my zip code, which would include all of New York City and a heavily populated area of New Jersey as well. Since Jan 1, 2011 in one of the most populated areas in the US there were two cases related to animal hoarding.
Shelters who do a lot of killing will tell you that one of the reasons they don’t work more with rescue groups is the risk of hoarding, but that risk as we can see is extremely low. My local shelter is New York City Animal Care and Control, which has a kill rate of around 1/3 of intake. They and the ASPCA and others will tell you that one of the reasons they need to control rescue access is hoarding, to the tune of killing 1/3 of the animals in their care to prevent it. 1/3 that might – very rarely – end up with a hoarder, getting a definite death instead to prevent that very slim possibility.
It should also be noted that a well-run shelter is a difficult place to hoard animals from. There are fees involved, paperwork, chips implanted to track animals – the shelters I volunteer with stay registered on the chips for their animals and will help them if they are ever found to be in trouble, wherever they are, even if they have to send someone to get them. It would be much easier for a hoarder to acquire “free to good home” animals from the classifieds, pick up free kittens in Wal-Mart parking lots, or even just hang a shingle outside saying “Joe’s Animal Rescue” and watch them come pouring in.
I’m not saying there aren’t hoarders in the world, there certainly are, and we need to learn a lot more about the psychology of animal hoarding and how it can be helped and cured – because untreated the recidivism rate among hoarders is near 100%, making legal intervention a temporary fix at best. I’m not saying that there aren’t hoarders posing as rescuers and rescues, even No Kills, in the world, and they should and are rejected by legitimate rescuers and the No Kill philosophy for the scams that they are.
What I am saying is this: the number one cause of death for dogs and cats in America is shelter killing. It is the largest health risk a dog or cat faces. Hoarding doesn’t even make the list. To defend shelter killing using the slim risk of hoarding as a justification is nothing less than a lie.