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Human/Animal Bond

Hoards of Herds
June 19, 2012 (published)

“Allowing rescued horses to deteriorate due to inadequate care, resources or space is no favor to them and can progress to the point of cruelty. Those who take in every animal, regardless of their ability to provide care or refusal to recognize when an animal is suffering, are hoarders, not rescuers.”-- American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities

In our practice there were clients that the veterinarians would fight over to see, and clients we would fight to avoid. Animals, money, and sentiment are funny bedfellows. Get the right mixture, and you have something truly special – a loving, amazing home focused on animal welfare. Get the mix wrong though, add a few too many animals, move a decimal place the wrong way in the bank account, or add too large a dollop of sentiment, and you have a recipe for disaster: a hoarder.

The stereotype of the animal hoarder comes straight from Animal Planet. You know the picture: 70 cats, dogs on the roof, ducks in the bathtub and toilet.  Animal control officers swoop in with nets and crates and box up critters and miscreant alike.  The human in charge is always portrayed as in little better physical or mental shape than the animals.

With livestock medicine, indications of hoarding can sometimes be a bit more subtle – people rarely have problems with horses walking on the counters or goats peeing on the carpet. Still, over the years, I developed a private list.


  1. You are living out of your car because your social security check is going to your horses.
  2. You have to tell the vet, “Watch out for the pig” while navigating the 7-foot corridor between the piles of junk lining your driveway.
  3. Your “balanced equine diet” consists of rice straw supplemented with pig feed.
  4. Your horse's hooves have grown so long that by the time you scrape together money for the farrier, he has to use a band saw to trim them.
  5. You ask for the “rescue discount” on the castration of 30 buck kids born on your property (to other goats that were born on your property.) This is called breeding, not rescuing.
  6. The ground level in your corrals is 2- to 3-feet above the surrounding elevation. That stuff is referred to as manure, not bedding.
  7. You have to call out a vet to use the pole syringe to anesthetize the mustangs/donkeys you “rescued” from Bureau of Land Management last year because the halters seem to be attracting flies and there’s a funny smell, but you can’t touch the animals. For the record, that funny smell was the rotting tissue from the halter cutting into the head.
  8. You’ve decided that 4-foot high barbed-wire/T-post fences are adequate to contain several 18-hand, 1-ton draft horses instead of a minimum of 5.5 feet.
  9. You can’t understand why the veterinarian asks you to put away the blind Great Dane, the ankle-biting Chihuahua, the gauze-eating Labrador, and the yipping terrier while she attempts to suture the laceration on the hind leg of the half-broke, emaciated Arabian.
  10. The pregnant veterinarian has to climb over the pallets of dog food and up the half-nailed stall wall in order to get into the donkey’s pen because there is no gate, and the manure has built up too much to swing the panel out. By the way, not the best time to comment on said veterinarian’s weight.

I’ve encountered all of these situations in private practice and many more. Some of the scenes I will never forget, and most of them I wish I could. The truly tragic part of animal hoarding is that it usually begins with the best of intentions on the part of someone who loves animals and wants to provide for them, yet is unable to see when the balance has tipped into blackness.

Although the perception of a hoarder is of someone with millions of motley animals, I would be inclined to define hoarding as the possession of any animal(s) without the means to properly care for it or them. Whether it is one animal or 100, if the well-being of the animal(s) or human(s) suffers because of inadequate resources, facility, or capabilities, we have entered the realm of hoarding.

1 Comment

June 20, 2012
"Whether it is one animal or 100, if the well-being of the animal(s) or human(s) suffers because of inadequate resources, facility, or capabilities, we have entered the realm of hoarding." I'd have to say over 80% of my clients are hoarders by that definition.


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