Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Hidden Nightmare: Animal Hoarding

The Hidden Nightmare: Animal Hoarding
By Robert Forto, PhD

On the latest edition of The DogDoctor Radio Show ( I interview Debbie Jacobs, the author of “A Guide to Living & Working With Fearful Dogs”. Jacobs’s book was a finalist in the 2008 Dog Writers Association of America’s annual writing competition. Her work with fearful dogs is dedicated to he rescued friend, Sunny. Sunny was rescued from Arkansas from an animal hoarder.

“Sunny survived a hoarding situation and was brought to one of the hurricane rescue camps in 2005, where I met him. Over the years I have learned about rehabbing a ‘damaged’ dog and wanted to share that information with other scared/fearful/shy dog owners. Working with a scared dog will be one of the most challenging, frustrating and rewarding experiences a dog owner will ever have.” stated Jacobs.

In Sunny’s case he was rescued from a so-called “sanctuary” where a couple had over 300 dogs in squalid conditions, with all the animals brought there under the guise to “save them.”

Animal hoarding is one of America’s hidden nightmares. A typical hoarder suffers from a mental condition in which they fulfill a need to obtain and “collect” animals, often in deplorable conditions. If you have seen the shows on cable television on A&E and Animal Planet’s Animal Cops series you know what I am talking about.

On the show we talk about what is necessary to help these people suffering from this condition. While neither Jacobs or I are therapists we are often the ones that see animal hoarding situations first hand. I speak about three times when I am confronted with animal hoarding in my daily work as a canine behaviorist with Denver Dog Works and Jacobs re-tells the shocking story of Sunny’s life before he was rescued by Jacobs.

Both of us agree that animal hoarding is a societal problem and one that is not going to go away. The recidivism rate is close to 100% for people suffering from this condition and the court systems have no real way of dealing with it. Sure, you can fine these people or put them in jail for a month or two. But what is that going to do? These people need therapy and intervention not a criminal record.

Jacobs and I discussed the need to research and further study and the need for trainers and other people that come across this dire situation to become proactive and intervene.

We will continue to keep you abreast of this topic and figure what resources are needed to do something about it. We welcome you ideas.

Jacobs lives in Vermont with her husband and four dogs and created the Fearful Dogs website (http://www.fearfuldogs) to help owners and trainers learn about the most effective and humane ways to work with fearful dogs.

The Dog Doctor Radio Show can be heard every Saturday morning at 9:30 am in the Rocky Mountain West or can be downloaded anytime from our website at

If you have a topic or a question for the host of The Dog Doctor Radio Show please email it to
Dr. Robert Forto is a canine behaviorist and the training director of Dog Works Training Centers and the host of the Dog Doctor Radio Show. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at

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