When Does Cat Rescue Become Cat Hoarding?

This is a difficult subject. It is an attempt to find the moment when a person who starts out as a cat rescuer crosses the wire to become a cat hoarder. There is quite an overlap between rescuing and hoarding. The former can merge into the latter.

There are clear cut cases of cat hoarding where the person started out as a cat rescuer. And there are clear cut cases of brilliant cat rescue on a large scale.

There are, though, many cases in the middle. Are these people rescuing or have they slipped into hoarding? Toxomplasmosis has been cited as a possible cause of cat hoarding. Mind you, toxoplasmosis has been blamed for a lot of things! Cat hoarding could sometimes be due to a combination of:

  • love of animals;
  • uncontrolled compassion and
  • a need to satisfy a personal emotion that results in the inability to let go of anything – insecurity born out of loss e.g loss of a loved one.
  • lack of practical skills.
Cat hoarding - lots of cats!

Picture by Amy Qualls-McClure

This is my sliding scale – green=good | red=bad | black=in between

  1. The best kind of cat rescue. A large number of cats are cared for as if each one was cared for individually in a nice home by a good cat guardian. Sustainable funding. Good food. Good access to veterinary care. Cats are neutered. Cats are generally healthy. Perhaps the classic large cat rescue organization that is at the top of the tree is The Cat House on the Kings. There are others. I can think of one in Brazil. There is no killing. They are, therefore, genuine rescue.
  2. Genuine desire to rescue cats. In general cats are well cared for. Rescuer is knowledgeable and does not hesitate to seek veterinarian advice. Cat numbers put stress on rescuer. Finance is on the edge. Slight lack of best practice management. For example, management of infectious diseases not ideal. Many cat professional shelters are actually in this bracket it seems to me. Cats are kept in cages and many are euthanised rather than rescued. Cats are stressed. Assessments as to cat character are sometimes dubious.
  3. Normally run by an individual who cares about cat welfare but who gets in over his/her head despite a desire to rescue cats. The motivation to rescue is blurred with e.g motivation to make a living out of cat rescue through donations or to satisfy an emotional need. Compassion combined with borderline practical skills and an impractical approach.
  4. Person not sure if he or she is a cat rescuer of simply can’t let cats fend for themselves². Little control over intake or placement. Little consideration as to how to fund the rescue operation. As a consequence there are cat health issues and people start to criticise. Things become a little disorganised. This person is a borderline cat rescuer. She/he is on the cusp of becoming a hoarder and will possibly end up being a hoarder. The person’s mentality is in question. Does the former Caboodle Ranch fit this position? It can be hard to tell because the truth is hard to find.
  5. We are now entering the zone of cat hoarding. I feel hoarding is about the mental state of the person doing the rescue. What is their motivation? How much in tune with reality and their own emotions are they? Are they able to see what they are doing objectively and assess the situation? It may be that the person is mentally stable and sensible but has simply lost control and might even regret it but can’t stop. When they finally are forced to stop and perhaps charged with animal cruelty they realise they have done wrong.
  6. At this level on the sliding scale it is just about the degree of mess, squalor, death, mayhem and fifth that the cats are living in, which the cat hoarder cannot see or does not wish to see. There are many examples. The mentality of the person is questionable. It is not really about cats or cat rescue but about the person’s mental condition. Even today the experts don’t really know what is going on in the mind of the true cat hoarder. The hoarding of cats is simply a symptom of the psychological condition of the person. If it wasn’t cats it would be something else. There are other forms of hoarding. Here is a classic example: Tiger Ranch Cat Sanctuary in Tarentum, Pa., owned and managed by Linda Bruno. She appears to have believed that is was a land of milk and tuna (both of which incidentally are not good for a cat in large doses!). The 29 acre ‘sanctuary’ was more like hell. She had taken in 7,000 cats in 18 months and rehomed 23. The smelly, filthy buildings on the estate were packed with cats, of which many were too sick to feed themselves. 107 dead cats were found. Thousands were believed to be buried. 391 were alive¹. This sort of hoarder is at least slightly delusional believing that other people don’t understand and they genuinely feel persecuted. The worst of it is that they end up hurting cats, doing the exact opposite to what was intended or declared to be the intention and the objective. The true hoarder does not see that simple fact. They are blind to what they are doing or in denial of it.

I want to say that Elisa Black-Taylor who managed her own modest cat rescue is not a cat hoarder. She is intelligent and aware of what she is doing and of the welfare of the cats. She admits to making some mistakes but she genuinely rescued cats from death row and despite the dearth of applicants to take on her cats, she managed to rehome a decent number. These cats were rescued. It could be said that people who criticise strongly have themselves emotional problems in relation to animal welfare.

If a cat’s life is saved and that cat is given even a few weeks love and care before dying surely you can say that he or she was rescued. Of course the target is to rescue and provide for the cat for the remainder of her natural life; the ideal. But rescue takes many forms.


  1. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38978396/ns/health-pet_health/t/when-animal-rescuers-become-animal-hoarders/#.T_22gHBfU8g


2. High levels of compassion can lead to a person not being able to resist adopting a cat that needs help. It is uncontrolled, though, and possibly combined with some personal emotional need born out of a personal experience, perhaps the loss of a loved one.

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When Does Cat Rescue Become Cat Hoarding? — 3 Comments

  1. I have concerns about a local non-profit rescue in my area. There are over 600 cats living in what I call a prison. I believe the owner is a hoarder, at heart. Fleas, diarrhea, removal of eyes- due to fighting, URI’s, FIV and FIP cats stuck in a small, rarely cleaned, un-vented space -that is over heated from the heat of a freezer’s motor. The owner thinks that “no kill” means kill nothing…example 10 month old cat hit by car back leg removed, other leg useless, can not use litter box. No one is giving him therapy, washing his body-his back-end is scalded from urine and feces, no one is going to adopt him and he has 10yrs plus of that life, this is not humane. another 3 month old kitten with sphencter issues and feces clumps on his anus for days causing it to be raw and painful. Both of these animals are sweet and beautiful but they do not deserve to live for years like this with no one taking good care of them, I think not, they should be given a good death. No kill to me means that mass numbers of healthy, adoptable animals are saved and provided an adequate quality of life and those who can not be provided that are humanly euthanized per case by case. I want animals to be saved and to find a loving home but, this place has crossed the line into a horrible prison…no fresh air, no sunshine, no affection, daily exposure to Clorox fumes, wet floors, damp, wood chunks – from a tree removal service as liter, kittens with ringworm and no scheduled treatments, dead cats daily from neglect, anemia from fleas, feral’s that should have been neutered, their ears tipped and put back in their colonies. This place has its heart in the right place but their priorities wrong. The owner, in my opinion, has gotten in over his head with no end in sight. He is not a professional and is conducting this shelter as such. Yes, the animals get food and shelter but, the lack of quality of life is overwhelming. I need help to resolve this issue…what do you do? I’m scared to call “PETA” will they come in and kill every animal? I do not know but some one needs to come in and make this man hit the marks of proper, humane care of these animals. The Hugh things that can easily fall through the cracks as unimportant is happening here…Example, change of diet-when old food is running out and a new type of food is going to be used, the new food should be integrated into the last of the old food over a 3 or 4 day period and the diarrhea would be less or none-a small step to stop a large problem. If you try to enlighten the owner of these type of things he does nothing but what he has been doing. Tapeworms do not get treated, flea control is not an issue to him. His love of animals only extends into saving their lives and not to the quality of their lives-he is missing the mark by a long, long shot. Please help me help him but mostly to help these cats. This rescue is in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina in Georgetown County

  2. Look for a no kill shelter and ask for help. Call Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. Number (435) 644-2001. They will at the very least advise you and lead you to the next step. Good luck. It is a worthy cause.

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