Sunday 26 March 2023

Are cat hoarders criminals?

You might be forgiven for believing that all cat hoarders are criminals because cat hoarding is almost invariably cruel to cats - a violation of animal welfare laws. That is the impression one gets. But it is not necessarily the right one. Although it is fair to say that perhaps 90% of genuine cat hoarders will be neglectful of their cats and through this neglect be cruel to them causing great harm and often including death.

Many cats in truck looking at camera. There were 43 cats inside this U-Haul truck.
Many cats in truck looking at camera. There were 43 cats inside this U-Haul truck. Image in the public domain.

The Cat House on the Kings

But some cat hoarders do such a good job in looking after their cats that they can only be praised. Perhaps the most famous person on the planet looking after the largest number of cats is Lynea Lattanzio who is the founder and I guess manager of America's largest cat rescue based in California called The Cat House on the Kings. 

The last time I checked, they had about a thousand cats in their care. I dread to think what their veterinary and food bill is monthly. She is not a cat hoarder in the conventional sense but clearly, she can't say no to a rescue cat. And that is a quality that cat hoarders have.

But all the cats are very carefully cared for and she is the most admirable woman and a champion of cat rescue.

Over the years they have saved over 30,000 cats and even more than 7000 dogs.

Individual circumstances - case by case basis

Whether a cat hoarder is a criminal or not depends upon the individual circumstances and whether they cause harm to their cats due to a failure to provide a proper environment for them and to provide proper care. Are they breaking the relevant animal welfare laws under which they operate? 

UK - RSPCA - Animal Welfare Act 2006

Interestingly, I recently did a bit of work on this. I asked the question, "how bad does it have to get for the RSPCA in the UK to come out and investigate?"

The question was in relation to multi-cat homes. How bad does the home have to be in terms of gross smells and the place becoming uninhabitable before the RSPCA take action? And I mentioned a neighbour of mine who has 10 cats and there are horrible smells coming out of her home. Her home is just about habitable (but not to some) but it is pretty cruel on the cats in my view. They are all full-time indoor cats breathing ammonia daily.

I described the situation to the RSPCA and they told me that it was not breaking the law under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in the UK. That gives you a guideline as to the point at which a cat hoarder becomes a criminal or simply becomes the owner of a multi-cat environment.

Mental health

If they do break the animal welfare laws of the state (in America) in which they operate then the question that has to be asked next is, "what is their mental state?"

Often, it is arguably inappropriate to criminalise a person with mental health problems. And genuine cat hoarders often have mental health problems. 

They often genuinely believe that they are doing some good by rescuing cats and they simply are unable to truly observe what they're doing objectively. 

So rather than punish them the argument is that they should be treated but at the same time they should be banned from looking after animals until assessed as being competent to do so.

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