How many is too many?

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Jan 01, 2007

Q: At the clinic where I work we have several clients who own more animals than they can care for properly. What is the best way to approach an animal collector?

First, learn as much as you can to determine whether the client is hoarding pets, says Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University and director of animal welfare and protection at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. "Animal hoarding ranges in severity, motivation, and expression. You may suspect hoarding because of a person's behavior, the condition of her animals, a comment she's made during office visits, events or conditions you've witnessed in her home, or perhaps a rumor," Dr. Patronek says. "The fact that she's seeking at least some veterinary care is a good sign, because it suggests she's aware that her pets require care."

You may start by discussing the situation discreetly with your supervisor and co-workers who've worked with this client to see whether others share your concern. Since this person is a client, try to arrange a home visit, Dr. Patronek says. Once you're in her home, you can evaluate the situation. How many pets does she have? Are the conditions sanitary, and are the pets receiving appropriate nutrition? "With this information, you'll be better positioned to seek help," he says.