This truly breaks my heart. There’s no other way to put it.
Last month, authorities that tried to execute a search warrant in connection with alleged cat hoarding at a woman’s Virginia Beach home made a horrific discovery. According to published reports, they found more than 100 dead cats in her freezer.
“Our hearts go out to the animals inside the home,” Meghan Conti, a Virginia Beach Animal Control official, told the media. “But they also go out to the resident. This isn’t just your everyday owner — this is someone who really has some concerning problems.”
Authorities, who were forced to wear masks to combat the overwhelming odor of cat urine, also found more than 20 living cats at the residence. However, there is no guarantee that they can be re-homed. Their fate is uncertain because the surviving felines seemed “wild and untamed,” leading Conti to believe that they may be feral.
Media accounts also indicate that this was not the owner’s first brush with the law. Four years ago, she was convicted of illegally entering an animal control office to release cats. The media did not provide any insight into her punishment — if any — in that case.
Based on published reports, it is also unknown if she will be prosecuted in connection with this case.
Virginia animal care and cruelty laws
However, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503(A), which regulates the care of companion animals by their owners, stipulates that each owner must provide adequate food, water and clean shelter. Owners must also make sure that their pets get adequate exercise, sufficient care, treatment, and transportation; appropriate veterinary care; and sufficient space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight.
Under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503(B), failure to comply with any or all of these provisions is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $250. A second or subsequent violation for failing to provide adequate food, water, clean shelter or veterinary care is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by up to six months in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. A second or subsequent violation for failing to ensure that their pet gets sufficient exercise; provide sufficient space in the primary enclosure; or to provide sufficient care, treatment and transportation is a Class 3 misdemeanor. As such, it is punishable upon conviction by a maximum fine of $500.
Furthermore, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570(A), pertaining to animal cruelty stipulates in pertinent part that someone is guilty of the offense if: they deprived any animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment; or if they deliberately inflict “inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation” on any animal. The offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction by up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $2,500, or both.
It is easy to pass judgment and almost impossible to understand…
For most of us, it is easy to pass judgment based on shocking news accounts of animal hoarding. And it is almost impossible to understand why anyone engages in this activity.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), animal hoarding is generally defined as, “the compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them that results in accidental or unintentional neglect or abuse.”
The ADAA also notes that several factors contribute to animal hoarding. These typically include:
- poor decision-making and organizational skills
- intense emotions,
- strong attachment to animals
- the overwhelming desire to “save” animals
“All hoarding leads to a sad outcome, but the saddest of all is the animals who die in an environment of neglect, filth, and stressful overcrowding as innocent prisoners of well-intentioned but misguided love,” the ADAA says. “These animals are innocent victims, enduring tragic lives with people who are equally trapped.”
Statistics provided by the ADAA indicate that:
- 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities each year.
- Hoarding affects at least 250,000 animals each year.
- The vast majority of animal hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the premises.
- Most animal hoarders who come to the attention of authorities are single, widowed, or divorced women (although community-sampling studies find an equal ratio of males to females).
- Up to 40 percent of people who hoard things also hoard animals.
- All hoarders relapse without treatment