More Hope than Heartbreak: A Retrospective Study of 461 Cats from 20 Hoarder Environments, Relinquished to the Toronto Humane Society 2011-2014

Dr. Linda Jacobson, BVSc, MMedVet(Med), PhD
Deputy Director of Shelter Medicine, Toronto Humane Society

Publications and media about animal hoarding tend to emphasize extreme, large-scale hoarding cases, but smaller-scale hoarding may be more common and could account for more cases overall. This study documented medical and behavioural conditions, outcomes and adopter experience for 461 hoarder cats from 20 different environments. Most of the cats were voluntarily relinquished, often with the help of volunteer intermediaries. The types and severity of behavioural and medical problems illustrate an under-acknowledged continuum of cruelty and neglect in hoarding cases, and differences in the hoarders’ ability to provide adequate care. Most of these cats were successfully rehomed. Adopter feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with adopters expressing tremendous love and commitment, and being surprisingly accommodating of behaviour issues in some of the cats. Another welcome surprise was improved social behaviour in many cats post-adoption, compared with impressions in the shelter. The study was generously supported by Proctor & Gamble. My co-workers are Jolene Giacinti and Dr. Jyothi Robertson, DVM.

Key Learnings
1. Small-scale hoarding and the continuum of cruelty and neglect
2. Manageable medical and behavioural conditions in hoarded cats
3. Very good prospects for rehoming and adopter satisfaction


Dr. Linda Jacobson
is the Deputy Director of Shelter Medicine, at the Toronto Humane Society. She qualified as a veterinarian at Onderstepoort, South Africa, in 1986 and subsequently studied veterinary internal medicine and infectious diseases. She has been with the Toronto Humane Society since 2010.  She completed the University of Florida Graduate Certificate in Shelter Medicine and was awarded a study scholarship for the course and a scholarship to attend the first shelter medicine track at ABVP in 2013.