A few weeks ago, in my county, 261 dogs were seized from a rescue.
This was a an actual rescue organization, operating with a 501c3 status out of Central Florida for some time. They would take in dogs in need, perform needed medical operations, spay and neuter as needed, place the dogs in foster situations, and adopt them out as they found homes for them.
The couple running the operation were quite a lovely couple, and they were well known in the area.
So what went wrong? At what point did they cross the line into hoarding, so badly that Animal Control felt the need to step in and seize the dogs?
I can only speculate as to exactly what happened in this case, but I can give some information rescuing dogs and how easy it can turn into hoarding.
Rescuing dogs is wonderful, difficult, yet rewarding work. You take in dogs who need you, who are maybe injured, or just homeless. People may have abused them, or people are just dumping them, or people just can't keep them. The reasons dogs end up in rescues are as endless as there are dogs.
The people running rescues have big hearts, but limited incomes. They have to balance the number of incoming dogs against incoming donations, and what their own budgets allow them to handle. The amount of food they have coming in and the amount of space they can allow, and the amount of foster homes (people within the rescue organization who are willing to let the dogs stay in their homes) available to them. Some rescues are so small they can only handle 10-20 dogs at a time, some large enough to take up to 100.
Rescues often operate as 'safe havens' for dogs, a place to go when no one else will take them - many rescues operate as 'no-kill' shelters, promising not to euthanize any dog for any reason other than medically required.
The rescues usually have web sites, and attend events at pet stores, adoption expos and other locations to get their name out and try to adopt the dogs out. Many rescues are listed on websites such as Petfinder or Dogster and list their dogs available for adoption for a small adoption fee, and they all have the same end goal - getting those dogs into forever homes.
There are dog rescues all over the country - breed specific rescues, group specific rescues, area-rescues, branches of the SPCA and various Humane Societies (NOT to be confused with the Humane Society of United States), and they are really wonderful organizations. Some rescues can be as small as two people working together out of their own house to save dogs, as in the case with the couple in the news article above.
So at what point does it become hoarding?
Hoarding compulsively is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary - and this applies to animals.
It is very important to point out that people who hoard animals are not necessarily bad people, but they DO need help. Hoarding begins to occur when a person reaches the point when they have accumulated so many animals they can no longer care for them all properly. If you have seen any episodes of Animal Cops on Animal Planet, you have probably seen the home of someone who has hoarded animals.
They tend to have excessive number of animals, they no longer seem to notice that the environment has become unsanitary, they are no longer able to properly feed them all, keep the animals nor themselves clean and the house begins to deteriorate all around them - and yet they remain convinced that everything is okay and they are doing the best they can, and that the animals are still better off in their care.
Again, hoarders are not "bad people". In fact, they think they are doing the best thing for the animals - many times they have accumulated so many by just not being able to turn away one more hungry mouth.
In the event you suspect someone is hoarding animals, you see that they have an exceedingly large number of animals and seem to have less than minimal amounts of care, sanitation, and food, you may want to contact your local Animal Control to get the animals the help they need - as well as the people involved!