Cat Hoarding: Court Order Versus Owner Surrender

Since there are so many case of cat hoarders making the news these days, I’d like to address what happens to the cats, as well as the hoarder, once the authorities get involved.

Cat hoarding: what happens after authorities are involved?
Cat hoarding: what happens after authorities are involved?
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

A lot of people believe that just because a local Animal Control unit, or cat rescue becomes involved, that the person hoarding a large number of cats will automatically not be allowed to keep her cats or get new ones. This isn’t the case. Vicki, made the following comment on my article “Self-deception and deceiving others in cat hoarding” about Alexandra and Sharyn Wingate, who were arrested back in October on animal cruelty charges

“The idea people have that police or AC actually follow up is an illusion…at least in this area.They don’t follow up, they simply threaten to follow up. Did you know that animal control cannot “take” animals from someone? They have to be surrendered to animal control by the owner…unless there is a court order. The surrendering is done through intimidation and deception tactics. They imply that the animals were seized but they are surrendered.”

The sad truth is that yes, there are most likely still cats in her home, and unless a judge flat-out bans the Wingate women from taking in more cats, I’m afraid Alexandra and her mother will get into trouble again within the next year or so (see cat hoarding repeat offenders). There’s a difference in ordering psychiatric treatment for hoarding (which is a mental condition) and outright banning that person from keeping cats.

Only a court order can halfway tempt a hoarder to stop taking in more cats. A court order is a legal document or proclamation in which a court tells a person to perform a specific act or prohibits him from performing an act (called an “injunction”), sets a court date, or legally establishes something.

For example, a court order may require an individual to pay a specific amount of money to another party. It may also prohibit a person from doing something, such as walking across another party’s property. In the case of cat hoarding, a judge must make it illegal for a cat hoarder to obtain more cats, and be willing to enforce a penalty should that order not be heeded. A court order can also be issued as part of the sentencing at trial as a condition of the sentence.

A lot of cat hoarders who are raided are coerced (for lack of a better word) into turning their cats over to the local shelter or to a rescue. There’s no judge involvement since the hoarder willingly did what’s considered an “owner surrender.” This can be a good thing for the hoarder to do, as it removes responsibility of the cats from that person to someone who can help the cats removed from the home.

These cats can immediately be put up for adoption. They may also be killed immediately, should a shelter decide to do so. It can also be a bad thing, not only because of the immediate disposal provision tied into owner surrenders, but because it doesn’t usually result in mental health treatment. It also doesn’t prevent the hoarder from starting over. And as Vicki stated, Animal Control may threaten to do periodic checks on the home in the future, but police or Animal Control are often too busy to bother.

It also ties up the cats in the legal system anytime a court order is issued to seize the cats. Unless the hoarder is later willing to sign an owner surrender, these cats must remain in the custody of what’s usually the local shelter until the case goes to trial. There’s a dog case going on in South Carolina at this time, where the dogs seized back in February 2014 are still sitting at Anderson County P.A.W.S. waiting for their owner to go to trial.

A lot of people also don’t realize when a court order removes animals from a property, any who are unspayed/unneutered must remain that way. The Humane Society of Pulaski County in Arkansas was put in charge of caring for the 137 dogs taken from Sandra Nance of Texas, whose number grew to 180 (spay/neutered wasn’t allowed, as the dogs were still considered Nance’s property) since she was ordered by the court to turn them over and decided to fight for their return. Sandra Nance was originally convicted on five counts of animal cruelty, but her husband was found not guilty. The case took two years to make it through two trials, and ran up some major expense for the HSPC to care for.

The answer to the hoarding situation may well be the same as to shelter overcrowding. If all household cats were “fixed,” then shelters wouldn’t be overwhelmed. This would cut back on the need for those with a hoarding mentality to feel they’re the last chance a cat may have. Until the reproduction problems are corrected, the hoarding situation is only going to get worse.

Please feel free to add to or comment on any of this, especially how you feel about court order vs. owner surrender.

Source: Examiner article by Elisa

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21 thoughts on “Cat Hoarding: Court Order Versus Owner Surrender”

  1. Alexandra and her mother has never stolen one animal in their life. Unfortunately, I am just coming across this article today….

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