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VACTF Manual: Chapter 5 - Special Cases

Animal Hoarder


Animal hoarders (also called "animal collectors") are defined as "people who accumulate large numbers of animals, fail to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care, and fail to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals or the environment or the negative impact of the collection on their own health and well-being." Animal hoarding cases are complicated and require cooperation and coordination among police officers, veterinarians, animal shelter personnel, health department officials and social service agents.

Normally, this type of case will come to your attention when you receive complaints from persons seeing starving animals and smelling bad odors coming from an individual's property.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

When investigating the complaint, you may find large numbers of animals in extremely bad physical condition. In some cases, they may be lacking food, water, and shelter. In other cases, though they may receive some food, they are denied medical care, and as a result, are suffering intensely. Sometimes, all these conditions are present. In general, the conditions will be filthy and the animals overcrowded.

What to do

When you investigate this situation and it appears that you have an animal hoarder, consider this approach:

Enlist the aid of the local humane society and veterinarians and coordinate a rescue operation to render aid to the animals - humanely euthanize those that need it (see Title 13, Section 354(c)), and then depending on the number of animals remaining, remove the salvageable animals to selected shelters until the case is adjudicated.

Planning the rescue effort

Cases involving large numbers of animals, particularly farm animals, involve a lot of planning. Prior to the rescue effort, we recommend the following procedures:

  1. Contact the Department of Agriculture before taking any enforcement action involving livestock or poultry. This is required by law under Title 13, Section 354 (3) (a).

  2. Contact a local reputable humane society to determine its capacity for holding animals. Given the limited capacity of any shelter, it may be necessary to contact shelters outside the area to allow for enough housing for the seized animals. Ask the humane society if it can coordinate the effort.

  3. Contact the appropriate people (e.g., veterinarian, animal control officer, humane society staff) to form a rescue team. Be sure to instruct all people involved in the rescue effort not to discuss the case beforehand. In addition, consider contacting other expert witnesses who might be helpful to your case (such as wildlife experts, reptile experts, or exotic bird experts) when non-domestic animals are involved.

    If it appears that any air or water pollution is taking place or wildlife is involved, consider contacting the Department of Fish and Game.

  4. Ask the humane society to bring collars, tags, animal carriers, white cards, black markers, and any other items necessary to perform animal identification, to the scene. (See also pg 219 in Appendix III, Forms and Supplies List, "Equipment and Supplies for Animal Rescue Operations").

  5. Photocopy an adequate number of "Veterinarian's Statement" forms and "Agreement Between Lead Organization" forms to take to the scene. A complete list of equipment and supplies for animal rescue operations is also available. (See pgs 216 and 217 in Appendix III, "Forms and Supplies List" for masters of these documents.)

  6. Arrange a date for proceeding with the rescue. Keep this very confidential; animal hoarders have a network which will spring into action if talk of a rescue effort gets out. And the animals you hope to rescue will be gone from the premises - into the hands of another hoarder.

  7. Apply for a search warrant; specify all the buildings on the property you wish to enter and the treatment procedures you wish to use on the animals.

  8. Advise the Deputy State's Attorney (DSA) or State's Attorney (SA) who is assigned to the town where the case is occurring of your plans. Have the DSA or SA review your search warrant for completeness. Also, ensure that he or she is willing to prosecute the case.

Executing the Search Warrant in an Animal Hoarding Case

When the police execute a search warrant, it is permissible for non-police personnel to assist them. This type of assistance is almost always necessary when large numbers of animals are involved. We recommend the following procedures:

  1. On the day you plan to execute the warrant, alert all people assisting in the case (including humane society personnel, veterinarians, volunteers, health department officials, etc.) and arrange for them to meet you prior to the time of the animal rescue in an area where you will not attract attention and a good distance away from the property where the animals are kept.

  2. People should be formed into teams and assigned duties before entering the property. Persons should be designated to handle the animals, ID them, and assist the veterinarians. One or two police officers should collect any additional evidence, photograph the scene, etc.

  3. If an arrest warrant was issued, only the police should enter the property initially for the purposes of executing it. Volunteers and others should be secured away from the scene until the police inform you to enter the premises.

  4. Next, secure the scene, and allow shelter personnel, veterinarians, etc. to tend to the animals.

  5. In general, perform tasks in the following order, so the animals can be processed, and use a video camera to capture each animal's condition (but bear in mind that the circumstances at the time will govern how you carry out the operation; for example, if the weather is bad, you may have to remove the animals to wherever you are taking them and identify and photograph them there).

    1. Persons responsible for handling the animals must assign each animal an ID number, and place the number on a "Veterinarian Statement" form. Different types of animals can be identified and numbered as separate groups; for example, the first cat to be identified could be 1C, the second cat 2C, etc.; the first dog could be 1D, the second dog 2D, etc..

    2. Using a thick, black felt-tip marker, write the ID number that has been assigned, on a large white card or sheet of paper. Place the card in front of the animal without obscuring the body, and photograph the animal.

    3. Place a collar on each animal. Specify the animal's ID on a small paper/plastic tag, and attach the tag to the animal's collar. With kittens and puppies and other tiny animals, secure them in carriers and mark the carriers clearly with the IDs of the animals within.

    4. Have a veterinarian examine the animal and fill in its "Veterinarian Statement" form. Specify the physical problems with the animal and its disposition on the form, e.g., euthanized (specify reason), etc. The veterinarian should sign each form. To save time, the veterinarian can dictate information to a clerical assistant as the animals are being examined. Then at the end of the rescue effort, he or she can personally sign all the forms.

    5. If animals are being transported to various shelters, complete the "Agreement From Organization or Individual" form to keep track of the whereabouts of the animals.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: In some cases, especially where many animals are involved, some animals may appear more neglected than others. Nevertheless, all the animals should be seized, if possible, because the conditions in which the animals are being kept are causing the problem. And it is usually only a matter of time before the healthier ones will be in poor condition as well.

  6. Process the defendant at the police station. The owner may be in violation of Title 13, Section 352, as well as other sections of the law.

    After reading the defendant his or her constitutional rights, attempt to obtain a statement by asking the following types of questions:
    • When was the last time the animals were fed and watered?
    • When was the last time the cage, stall, barn, etc. was cleaned?
    • When was the last time they were seen by a veterinarian?
    • Who is their veterinarian?
    • In the case of horses, sheep and goats, when was the last time they were seen by a farrier?

    Keep in mind that a lack of sufficient funds is no excuse for neglecting an animal, and neglect constitutes cruelty.

  7. After the rescue operation is completed, ensure that the defendant receives a copy of the search warrant as well as a copy of the inventory receipt for any animals or property seized.

  8. Deliver original copies of both the executed search warrant and inventory receipt to the issuing court within 5 working days.


[photos coming soon]

Example 9 - Animal Hoarder

The Complaint
A complainant called the State Police and stated that the animals at a private shelter were suffering from health problems and were being denied medical care. In addition, the shelter operator would not allow volunteers or employees to take animals who needed to be euthanized to a veterinarian.

The complaint was corroborated by a veterinarian who had visited the shelter and noticed that the animals were suffering from various maladies and in need of medical care.

The Response

  1. An officer visited the premises and verified the statements of the two complainants.

  2. The officer discussed the situation with the State's Attorney's office and applied for a search warrant to enter the premises. In addition, he did the following:
    • Contacted several veterinarians in the area to assist at the scene when the search warrant was executed.
    • Contacted various humane societies in the area and arranged for them to be present with vans to remove the salvageable animals.

  3. On the day the warrant was executed, the officers assembled the various humane societies at the edge of the property for a briefing and assignments.

  4. The officer presented the owner of the shelter with the search warrant.

  5. The animals were identified and treated.

  6. The animals who were deemed not saveable were euthanized by a veterinarian; the others were removed to the humane societies involved in the effort. The destination of each animal was documented.

Charges Brought
The owner was charged with 100 counts of violating Title 13, Section 352.

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