A bill introduced in the New Jersey legislature (A3638) attempts to address concerns about the mental disorder known as animal hoarding.

Unfortunately, like so many laws involving animal cruelty,  the amendments in A3638 to the animal cruelty statute fall short of protecting animals and humans alike.

This bill would establish the animal cruelty offense of animal hoarding and expands the mental health counseling required pursuant to R.S.4:22-17 under the State animal cruelty statutes. Since animal hoarding is a mental disorder, requirements for mental health counseling of those properly convicted of such conduct is reasonable.

However, the definition of “animal hoarding” in the bill does not comport with accepted definitions of this disorder.

Belinda Smith, writing about “Animal hoarding crimes” in The Prosecutor, January-February 2-13, Vol. 43, No. 1, noted:

[a]ccording to the Hoarding Animal Research Consortium (HARC), animal hoarders are not just individuals who own a lot of pets. As defined, hoarders collect a large number of animals, fail to provide adequate food, water, sanitation, and veterinary care, and, more often than not, are in denial about their inability to provide adequate care.

In A 3638-animal hoarding is defined to be:

when a person cares for or has possession of animals in a quantity such that the person fails or is unable to provide necessary care for all of the animals and, due to the failure or inability to provide necessary care, at least some of the animals experience death, bodily injury, or other serious adverse health consequences. However, the bill also specifies that the number of animals in the person’s possession would not be the determining factor of animal hoarding, but could be a factor in determining whether animals have been provided necessary care. (Emphasis added).

 As Smith accurately reported “[a]nimal hoarding cases are particularly challenging for prosecutors because of the defendant’s mental health issues and the large number of animals involved.”

Smith encourages prosecutors to understand what the disease or disorder is before deciding how to charge those accused.

According to HARC, there are three types of animal hoarders: 1) the overwhelmed caregiver; 2) the rescue hoarder; and 3) the exploiter hoarder. An overwhelmed caregiver is usually a breeder who has gotten in over her head . . . By comparison, a rescue hoarder operates on the principle that she is saving the animal from certain death at the hands of a shelter and truly believes she is the only person who can provide the animals with proper care . . . The final category, the exploiter hoarder, demonstrates the strongest traits of mental instability.

There is no doubt that animal hoarding has resulted in harm and death to animals and is a serious problem that should be addressed.

Like most other issues involving animals, the trick is how to address the real problem, prevent animal suffering, and get people with mental disorders the help they need, before they subject animals to harm.