"There are cases where people are engaging in very formal, large scale efforts and they're actively recruiting to get more and more animals in, when they can't care for the ones they've got, so that's a disturbing trend," Patronek added.
To combat the problem of animal hoarding, a few communities, including Kern County, Calif., and Lee County, Fla., have established task forces to bring together the necessary agencies, including animal and child protection organizations, law enforcement, social services and public health departments.
Trained disaster response teams, run by at least four national animal welfare organizations, are often dispatched to hoarding cases to assist in the rescue and rehabilitation of animals.
Still, many communities struggle to handle these very complicated cases, said Patronek.
"If someone suspects children are not being cared for properly, we certainly don't wait until they're living in absolute filth, or starving, or sick with disease or dying before we go in and do something," Patronek said.
But, that's what happens to animals, he points out, because cruelty laws are crafted to punish people for committing crimes. So if a hoarder is unwilling to co-operate, he said, authorities must wait until a crime takes place, meaning the animals are abused enough or neglected enough, before taking action.
"None of the laws were written to really address this kind of problematic behavior where people accumulate vastly more animals than they have the capacity to care for," he said.
For tips on caring for pets, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Shelley Swaim, animal welfare inspector, North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Veterinary Division; Gail Steketee, Ph.D., professor and dean, Boston University School of
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