Animal associations

Animal hoarding is becoming more common in Boise, advocates say

A woman living between shelters and her car stays with 12 cats in her vehicle.

Another family kept about 266 birds – including chickens and parakeets – in their Weiser home, along with dozens of other animals, before police raided the property last year.

These are just two examples the CEO of the Idaho Human Society cited of animal hoarding, an obsessive compulsion to collect animals. Those who work with animals in Treasure Valley say they are seeing an increase in such cases and more animals are at risk as a result.

Idaho Humane Society CEO Jeff Rosenthal said economic factors play a big role in the prevalence of animal hoarding, and Treasure Valley’s notorious housing crisis is already leaving its mark. He said those who are barely able to care for large numbers of pets are more likely to struggle in times of economic adversity – when the worst effects of hoarding become visible.

It’s not exactly that they’re more common, he said, but the economy can make these crises worse.

“People who hoard animals, they’re always on the brink of disaster,” Rosenthal said. “When we see economic stressors, like inflation and housing, we tend to see an increase in both animal hoarding and instances of animal neglect.”

He also said it’s an even bigger problem in more rural areas of Idaho. Convicted hoarders often move to these areas to fly under the radar as they continue to acquire dozens of animals.

One of the latest examples was a case of 28 Yorkshire terriers and poodle mixes apprehended from a home in Elmore County in June 2021, found in the squalid conditions where they were being raised.

Looking at the clean and groomed dogs Thursday at the Humane Society, it’s hard to tell how dirty their previous condition was, spokeswoman Kristine Schellhaas said. They arrived at the shelter in a much worse state, their fur matted with excrement.

As of Thursday, the owner of the dogs had been charged with 22 counts of animal cruelty and violating commercial kennel requirements. Elmore County Judge Brent Ferguson was due to rule Thursday on whether she would be allowed to keep any of the animals.

But Rosenthal said there were many more cases than reported in the media. Often the Humane Society will handle a case without making it public, as hoarders almost always struggle with mental health issues.

Boise order expands definition of ‘animal cruelty’

Animal hoarding is an issue that has recently caught the attention of local authorities. Last year, the Boise City Council approved an ordinance, sponsored by former City Councilman TJ Thomson, that expanded the city’s definition of animal cruelty to include hoarding.

Thomson said he rescued his dog from a hoarder in California and wanted to make sure the problem could be eradicated in his own community. He said the inbreeding that happened with his own dog left him blind and diabetic.

“I think there are a lot more examples than reported cases,” he said. “It’s not based on the number of animals you own, but rather on providing minimum standards of nutrition, hygiene and veterinary care to the animal.”

Rosenthal and Thomson said strengthening state animal cruelty laws would help stem the problem. Idaho ranks 49th among US states in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s ranking for the strictest animal cruelty laws. Idaho has been at the bottom for years.

Unlike other states, Idaho law does not treat animal cruelty as a crime, and there are no rules preventing those convicted of cruelty from owning animals in the future. Rosenthal said he’s seen cases of animal hoarders moving to Idaho from other states because of its more lenient hoarding laws.

“It’s hard to rely on a state like this to maintain the safety and health…of our pets,” Thomson said.

They also said residents can help by learning about the signs of animal hoarding and letting authorities know when something is wrong.

If the terriers became available for adoption after the trial, Schellhaas said, interested people should not call the Humane Society and instead visit its website. It will take months of medical treatments before some become available, assuming the court grants the Humane Society possession of the animals.

This story was originally published February 24, 2022 12:42 p.m.

Joni Auden Land covers Boise, Garden City and Ada County. Do you have a story suggestion or a question? Email [email protected]