New Zealand Law Society - Legal consequences of animal hoarding

Legal consequences of animal hoarding

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A 10-year prohibition against a defendant from owning or exercising authority over any animals has been upheld by the Court of Appeal, and leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed on 4 December in [2015] NZSC 186.

The defendant, Tatyana Kondratyeva, was convicted on two charges in relation to 50 cats following a prosecution brought by Auckland SPCA. She was sentenced to 125 hours’ community work, 12 months’ supervision and prohibited from owning or exercising authority over animals for 10 years.

The Court of Appeal decision (Kondratyeva v R CA6/2015 2015] NZCA 266 [23 June 2015]) is significant both for its denunciation and deterrence of this type of offending and also for its acknowledgement that the resulting pain, distress and suffering experienced by animals is a relevant factor to be taken into account at sentencing.

Importantly, by upholding a 10-year prohibition from owning or exercising authority over any animals in the future, there is a renewed emphasis on the welfare of animals and the need to protect New Zealand’s animals from future harm.

Form of abuse

Animal hoarding is increasingly being recognised as a problem by professionals in animal welfare and control, social services, and law enforcement.

It is a form of abuse that affects thousands of animals each year.

An animal hoarder is defined as an individual who accumulates a large number of animals, fails to provide the animals with adequate food, water, sanitation, and veterinary care, and is in denial about this inability to provide adequate care (Berry, Patronek, and Lockwood. Long-term outcomes in animal hoarding cases. Animal Law 11 (2005): 167-194).

In such cases, the inside of the individual’s home is usually unsanitary, often covered in animal waste, trash, and sometimes even rotting animal carcasses. Despite this, the hoarder fails to recognise the conditions in which he or she is living, as well as the neglect and abuse inflicted on the hoarded animals.

The unsanitary conditions found in hoarders’ homes severely jeopardise both human and animal welfare.

Animal hoarding is also detrimental to the animals involved. Aside from the general neglect caused by lack of food, water, sanitation, and veterinary care, these animals may also suffer from behavioural problems caused by severe and unnatural crowding and lack of socialisation. Even after the animals are seized by authorities, their health and behavioural problems may prevent them from being quickly adopted, thus placing them at a higher risk of euthanasia (Geoffrey L Handy, Handling Animal Collectors, Part 2: Managing a Large-Scale Animal Rescue Operation, 17 Shelter Sense 3, 11 (July 1994)).

Psychological background

There is increasing evidence of a mental health component in animal hoarding behaviour. Numerous psychological models have been proposed to explain this behaviour, including focal delusion, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, zoophilia, and dementia.

Patronek and colleagues (Frost, Patronek, Arluke, and Stekette, The Hoarding of Animals: An Update, PhD Psychiatric Times, 2015) have suggested three ways to classify individuals who hoard animals: overwhelmed caregivers, rescuers, and exploiters.

The overwhelmed caregiver is an individual who owns a large number of animals that were reasonably well cared for until a change in circumstances such as death of a spouse, loss of a job, or failing health impaired the individual’s ability to provide proper care for them. These individuals often initially make attempts to provide adequate care but eventually become overwhelmed, and living conditions deteriorate. When they are confronted by authorities, they have fewer problems complying with intervention than rescuers or exploiters.

Rescuers have a strong sense of mission to save animals from a presumed threat. They believe only they can adequately care for their animals. Mission-driven animal hoarders or rescuers go to great lengths to avoid authorities and actively prevent outside influence over their growing population. These individuals often present themselves as organised institutional personnel, often masquerading as representatives of a legitimate shelter or sanctuary that cares for hundreds of animals.

Exploiters are the most serious and difficult of the categories of animal hoarder. This category involves individuals with sociopathic characteristics who acquire animals to serve their own needs, with little true attachment to them. These individuals appear indifferent to the suffering of their animals, and they lack empathy for humans and animals. Exploiters believe their knowledge is superior to anyone else’s, and they display an extreme need to exert control over their animals.

The evidence in Kondratyeva indicates that the defendant fits within the “rescuer” category of animal hoarding.


Following a judge-alone trial in the Auckland District Court, Judge Andrée Wiltens convicted Ms Kondratyeva on two charges (R v Kondratyeva DC Auckland CRI-2011-044-4648, 15 December 2014):

  • failing to meet the physical, health and behavioural needs of 50 cats; and
  • failing to alleviate unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress of 22 cats.


On 17 December 2010, Police were called to a property in Glenfield, Auckland, in relation to a trespass notice. The Police officers were confronted with what they described as a horrendous smell, and saw a number of unhealthy cats housed in filthy conditions. They called Auckland SPCA.

Two SPCA inspectors arrived at the property shortly after the Police officers’ call.

They found 50 cats housed in conditions that were variously described as “filthy”, “disgusting”, “horrendous”, and (by an SPCA inspector) as “the worst he had encountered while at the SPCA”.

Veterinary examination disclosed that 13 cats had no concerning health issues, a further 14 had issues that were not significant, and the remaining cats required treatment for various conditions. One cat had to be euthanised. The cats were removed and have been in the charge of the SPCA since 2010. The SPCA has met the cost of their ongoing care while this case has progressed through the courts.


In sentencing Ms Kondratyeva (R v Kondratyeva DC Auckland CRI-2011-044-4648, 19 December 2014), Judge Wiltens observed (at [2]):

“[I]t would be completely wrong and a disregard of your conduct to allow you to own or exercise control over any animals in the future.”

For that reason, Judge Wiltens made an order that the defendant was not to own or exercise control over any animals for 10 years. He stated (at [3]):

“The power that I have is to restrict your ability to do that for 10 years and I am doing that. It seems to me that you should not own or exercise control over any animals for that period of time. And I do that for the benefit of the animals because I do not think that you looked after these 50 cats, any of them, very well at all.”

The Judge further noted (at [6]):

“It seems to me a great pity that this case has taken this long to finally end. One of the consequences of that is that the SPCA is out of pocket by more than $300,000 and I was hopeful that you might be in a position to make some sort of contribution towards that because it is your conduct that has lead to that. Unfortunately, I do not think I can make any orders for reparation. If I had the ability to do so, I would be doing that but I do not think I can.”


Auckland SPCA was pleased with the resulting sentence in the Kondratyeva case. Hoarding cases place a great deal of stress on not only the animals involved, but also on the SPCA, which is left to foot the bill for the care of the animals with no governmental help and often no chance of recouping the cost.

The following is a quote about Kondratyeva from Andrea Midgen, CEO of Auckland SPCA:

“A key concern during the Kondratyeva case was that the animals could not be permanently rehomed. The burden on the Auckland SPCA and temporary caregivers to care for the animals was significant. Costs (such as food, housing, and vet treatment costs) can reach up to $10-15 per day per animal. The total cost of care in this case was in excess of $300,000. Moreover, some of the cats, having had such a poor early life, carried a number of significant medical conditions requiring expensive treatment. The cats were not able to have a ‘normal’ life and needed to be confined and carefully managed to address disease risk and fighting.

“The Auckland SPCA receives no government funding and is grateful in this case for the services of Mr Todd Simmonds, a member of the Pro Bono Panel of Prosecutors for the SPCA Auckland, who prosecuted the Kondratyeva case on a pro-bono basis. The Ministry for Primary Industries does provide some funds to the National SPCA organisation (RNZSPCA) to compensate them for cases where the SPCA investigates cases it cannot attend and to support RNZSPCA in some of their prosecutions. That said, the government does not in the broader sense fund inspectorate operations or prosecutions. This is a unique situation and the SPCA is the only example of a charity in New Zealand that is tasked with enforcing the law with effectively no government funding. The Auckland SPCA has not received any government funds as it has supported the distribution of available government funds to other SPCAs around the country that have a greater financial need.

“Of particular note is the fact that the Animal Welfare Act was amended in 2012 to enable an SPCA inspector to apply to the District Court for a disposal order prior to proceedings being commenced. This was introduced to address the very real issue of long term care that the Kondratyeva case raises (the provision was not in force when these cats were seized). The amendment usefully enables the Court to change ownership of animals before a person is prosecuted, and this process can be done ex parte, which – as you could imagine – is an interesting issue.”

The Kondratyeva case presents a good example of an animal hoarding case moving through the legal system over five years, with appeals, and a final positive outcome. Although the outcome of Kondratyeva was one that the SPCA was pleased with, this type of offending is of concern to the animal welfare community and to society in general.

Anita Killeen is a barrister at Quay Chambers in Auckland. She is a Director of the Auckland SPCA and established and chairs the Pro Bono Panel of Prosecutors for SPCA Auckland. She is also an International associate member of the American Bar Association Animal Law Committee.

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