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12 cats in a car, 266 birds in a home. Animal hoarding rises in Idaho, IHS head says

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 25, 2022

By Joni Auden Land Idaho Statesman

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 Idaho Human Society CEO cited of animal hoarding, an obsessive compulsion with collecting animals. Those working with animals in the Treasure Valley say they are seeing an uptick in these cases, and a greater number of animals are at risk as a result.

Idaho Humane Society CEO Jeff Rosenthal said economic factors play a large role in how prevalent animal hoarding becomes, and the Treasure Valley’s notorious housing crisis is already leaving its mark. He said those barely able to take care of a large number 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 worsen these crises.

“Folks that hoard animals, they’re always on the edge of disaster,” Rosenthal said. “When we see economic stressors, like inflation and housing, we do tend to see an uptick both in animal hoarding and in animal neglect cases.”

He also said it’s an even larger problem in Idaho’s more rural areas. Convicted hoarders often move to these areas to go 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 an Elmore County home in June 2021, found in squalid conditions where they were being bred.

Looking at the dogs Thursday, clean and groomed at the Humane Society, it’s difficult to tell how filthy their previous condition was, spokesperson Kristine Schellhaas said. They arrived at the shelter in much worse shape, their fur matted with feces.

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

But Rosenthal said there are many more cases besides those mentioned to the media. Often, the Humane Society will handle a case without making it public, since hoarders nearly always struggle with mental health issues.

Boise ordinance expands ‘animal cruelty’ definition

Animal hoarding is an issue that’s recently caught the attention of local officials. The Boise City Council last year approvedan ordinance, sponsored by former City Council member 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 stamped out in his own community. He said the inbreeding that occurred with his own dog left it blind and diabetic.

“I think there’s a lot more instances of it than get reported,” he said. “It’s not based on the number of animals you own, it’s based more so on the providing minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care to the animal.”

Rosenthal and Thomson said strengthening the state’s laws on animal cruelty would help curb the problem. Idaho ranks 49th among U.S. states in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s ranking for strongest laws against animal cruelty. Idaho has ranked among the bottom for years.

Unlike other states, Idaho law doesn’t treat animal cruelty as a felony, and no rules prevent 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 laws on hoarding.

“It’s hard to rely on a state like that to maintain the safety and health … for our companion animals,” Thomson said.

They also said residents can help by educating themselves on the signs of animal hoarding and to tell authorities when something seems off.

Should the terriers become available for adoption after the court case, Schellhaas said, those interested should not call the Humane Society and instead check its website. It will take months of medical treatments before some become available, assuming the court awards the Humane Society possession of the animals.

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