Stop the suffering: Action needed on animal hoarders
Animal "hoarders" come in many guises. Some imprison animals in shoebox-size spaces, others make them live in unspeakable filth, some exploit them for profit and, most horrible of all, some kill or starve animals.
Now the RSPCA and Animal Welfare League are calling on the state government to clamp down on these animal hoarders to ensure no more creatures suffer.
A Sunday Telegraph investigation has lifted the lid on a world where repeat offenders are unable or unwilling to help themselves - let alone the animals whose lives they make a living hell.
Psychiatrist and animal hoarding specialist Professor John Snowden said, while some people can be helped, others are beyond reform and must be stopped.
"There are three types of hoarders - rescuers, those who get overwhelmed and exploiters," Prof Snowden said.
"I've got no place being involved with the exploiters. They are psychopaths and you are not going to get them better."
The RSPCA said its authorised inspectors uncover animal hoarder cases almost weekly, with dogs, cats and horses the most common victims.
It's estimated that three in four animal hoarders live in "moderate to severe squalor".
RSPCA chief vet Dr Liz Arnott said almost every animal hoarder reoffends.
"People go back to hoarding animals even after they are prosecuted," she said.
"Even if there are prohibition orders it can be very difficult to follow up on them if they have moved locations. It's really distressing."
The state government is reviewing animal cruelty laws with a new bill expected to come before parliament next year.
Dr Arnott said they are hoping to make it law to offer a certain quality of life for animals and "not just have their basic needs met".
"If they are being fed and they are not particularly diseased it can make it very difficult to act," Dr Arnott said.
"This is even though we understand … they are being confined inappropriately or there are too many animals or they are being kept unhygienically.
"State animal protection legislation does need to give regard to that."
Animal welfare organisations like Australian Equine Unification Scheme, Dog Rescue Newcastle, Claws N Paws Rescue and RSPCA have provided The Sunday Telegraph with shocking examples of hoarder cruelty.
In June one group of horses in the Hunter Region were found standing in six years' worth of manure, the AEUS found.
In a separate case, Bruiser, a Maltese-Shih tzu, had teeth "so rotten that you could smell him a metre away".
"All his teeth had rotted out, the flesh was decaying," Dog Rescue Newcastle volunteer Lauren Baker said of the 12-year-old pooch.
"He also had a tumour and was screaming in pain when touched.
"Bruiser had to be humanely euthanised."
But not everything is grim.
In June an eight-month-old Jack Russell, Teddy, gave birth to four pups (two females didn't survive because mum was very young and malnourished).
She's at a loving home in Leichhardt while her two male pups that did survive, Bluey and Hulk, have been adopted out.
Teddy was rescued from a property in country NSW where dogs were crammed into a confined space and so distressed that dogs ate each other's newborn pups, Christina Pirie from Claws N Paws Rescue Central Coast said.
"We love Teddy, our grandkids love her," new owner Margie Attard said.
"We used to have to push her around in a pram because she was so scared. Now she walks like a regular dog."
A spokeswoman for the Animal Welfare League - which along with the RSPCA are the only organisations permitted to go on properties to do animal inspections - said the mental health of hoarders needs attention.
"There needs to be adequate support services for people who are hoarding," an AWL spokeswoman said.
"In our experience, support networks are essentially non-existent. In some hoarding cases there is no specific avenue for people to gain support for hoarding alone.
"Hoarding is a mental illness and needs to be addressed as such."
Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the reasons for animal hoarding are complex and can often be very sad.
"I share the community's expectations for animal welfare, an issue close to my heart, and we have sought public consultation on the Animal Welfare Action Plan," Mr Marshall said.
"The first phase of submissions are now underway, and there will be further public consultation before we look to introduce a reform package, which is on track for 2021."
Originally published as Stop the suffering: Action needed on animal hoarders