Vainieri Huttle & Houghtaling Bill to Require Mental Health Evaluations for Animal Hoarders Clears Assembly Committee

Legislation Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Eric Houghtaling sponsored to help individuals whose underlying mental health issues may lead to animal hoarding was advanced Monday by an Assembly committee. 

"Many animal hoarders genuinely believe that they're doing the right thing by providing a home for their animals, but the reality is that their inability to keep the animals healthy and safe puts the animals in danger," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "These individuals often are dealing with untreated mental illnesses or emotional trauma. In addition to making sure the animals have the proper care, it's important that their owners also get help."

The bill (A-3638) would make animal hoarding a criminal offense and require all animal cruelty offenders, including animal hoarders, to undergo a mental health evaluation. If the evaluation indicates a need for mental health counseling, an offender then would be required to receive counseling from a licensed psychologist or therapist.

"For many animal hoarders, cruelty is not the intent. In fact, it's often quite the opposite. Hoarders may believe that they're rescuing the animals and may not understand that what they're doing actually is a form of abuse," said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). "Animal hoarding is an animal cruelty issue and a mental health issue, and dealing with the problem requires addressing both."

The legislation defines animal hoarding as caring for, or having possession of, "animals in a quantity such that the person fails or is unable to provide necessary care for all of the animals and, due to the failure or inability to provide necessary care, at least some of the animals experience death, bodily injury or other serious adverse health consequences."

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.