Editor’s Note: The following is a guest editorial written by Tompkins County SPCA board President Pamela Bleiwas and Vice-President Anne Schneiderman.

To submit a guest column to the Voice, email msmith@ithacavoice.com.

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ITHACA, NY – A month ago, on November 11, animal control officers from the SPCA of Tompkins County, with assistance from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s department and veterinary support from our partners at the Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, removed twenty-eight living and three deceased animals from the home of a couple living in Newfield.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time the SPCA had been called to intervene with the same family. In 2010, 98 animals were seized from the same couple while they were residing in Brooktondale.

Related: 2 people ID’d in Newfield animal hoarding case had 98 pets seized in 2010

This past Tuesday, that couple was arraigned in Newfield Town Court, pled not guilty, and a court date has been set for January 12.  As you can see by this timeline, legal proceedings concerning hoarding cases can go on for many weeks, months, and in rare cases, there have been animals in legal limbo at the SPCA shelter for over a year.

The costs to care for animals in cases like these add up in a way that most people do not realize.  Hoarded animals typically need a good deal of medical help because it is difficult for the hoarders to properly take care of dozens of animals.

The hoarded animals come in to our shelter with parasites, have not been spayed or neutered, need a myriad of vaccinations and so much more.  Usually only animal hospitals are equipped and staffed to provide this kind of care for so many animals at once.

Animal hoarding is a compulsion to acquire and retain of a large number of pets, usually originating (as with most compulsions) in an attempt to decrease stress and anxiety. While cases of animal hording are relatively rare in Tompkins County, they do happen periodically: 104 animals removed from a hoarder’s home in January 2010, 72 animals removed in June 2011, and 17 animals in November 2012.

Rescuers saved 15 dogs and four rabbits a hoarding situation at a Newfield trailer. The good news is that with care and nutrition, hoarded animals can improve a great deal within a week or so. The bad news: It’s hard to stop hoarders from starting over with new animals. Photos/Michael Carroll, College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.
Rescuers saved 15 dogs and four rabbits a hoarding situation at a Newfield trailer. The good news is that with care and nutrition, hoarded animals can improve a great deal within a week or so. The bad news: It’s hard to stop hoarders from starting over with new animals. Photos/Michael Carroll, College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

How do hoarders acquire their animals?

We find that a common assumption made by concerned members of the public is that animal hoarders allow their un-spayed or un-neutered animals to breed, and thus increase the household headcount to large numbers of puppies, kittens, etc.

This however, is usually only part of the problem with a “hoarding household.” Hoarders also frequently acquire animals by answering advertisements by individuals seeking homes for their pets. Hoarders answer on-line postings and classified advertising on Craigslist or Facebook, in newspapers, on community bulletin boards, or by word-of-mouth.

Related: Cornell vet: Recidivism in animal hoarding is nearly 100 percent

We urge members of the public who, for whatever reason, cannot keep their pets, to consider the SPCA of Tompkins County, the first no-kill, open-admission animal shelter in the United States as their first choice for surrendering their pet for adoption.

Although the urge may be great to want to “screen” personally the person who desires to adopt your pet, you may not be able to visit the adopter’s home or perform an adequate background check that will screen out a hoarder.

The SPCA of Tompkins County carefully screens potential adopters and will visit a potential adopter’s home, in some cases, before allowing an animal adoption to proceed. Hoarders rarely go undetected in such a screen. We strive, through our screening, to find a safe and loving home for every animal surrendered to the shelter.

Our local community clearly deplores the cruelty and suffering cause by animal hoarding situations. We at the SPCA of Tompkins County are gratified by the response from concerned citizens who have adopted animals from the SPCA that were rescued under hoarding circumstances, who have volunteered their time to work with these animals to love and socialize them, and who have donated to the SPCA Angel Fund on their behalf.

The SPCA is not a municipal or government run shelter.  We rely on the generosity of our local community to support our mission, our investigative work, and ultimately the animals who come to us in need. 

Every December, many wonderful and generous people give to the many non-profits in Tompkins County.  If you are interested in supporting the Angel Fund at the SPCA, which provides the means to care for animals like these, we would welcome your gift.  Our address is SPCA of Tompkins County, 1640 Hanshaw Road, Ithaca, NY 14850.  Or you may visit our website at spcaonline.com.  Thank you.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.