How many pets is too many?

Dec 06, 2013

In a recent case that was considered animal hoarding by local authorities, 45 dogs and cats were taken from a Waynesville woman's home. Though she claimed that she takes care of all of her animals, officers said the home was in deplorable condition, posing the question of how many animals are too many?

Though there is no state law placing a limit on the number of pets one can own, towns can place restrictions in ordinances. Canton is the only town in the county that restricts the number of dogs in one household.

According to the town's pet ordinance, which was written in 1963 and then amended in 1980 and 2003, no home or business within the corporate limits may have more than three dogs on the premises, with the exception of puppies younger than 3 months and for animal hospitals or kennels.

Town Manager Al Matthews said the ordinance was amended to limit the number of dogs to prevent noise issues.

"It was to cut down on the complaints of the people who had a larger number of dogs, primarily based on noise and aggravation to the neighborhoods," he said.

There was also intent to prevent puppy mills and the harboring of large numbers of dogs in one area. Enforcement of the ordinance is complaint-driven, he said.

Dr. Mike Giusti, a veterinarian at Junaluska Animal Hospital, weighed in on what problems can arise from having too many pets in one enclosed area.

"I think there definitely can be some human health risk if it gets to the number that you cannot physically take care of them to the point where they are soiling in the house," he said.

There is also the serious risk of disease from animal to animal. Giusti said having several animals in once area allows certain diseases to transfer swiftly. For example, when multiple cats are kept in one area, upper respiratory disease can thrive.

"It’s like a big incubator and it can be really difficult to get rid of," he said.

The same risk can be found in animal shelters, however there is usually a staff to clean and sanitize the room, he said. It isn't until the animal's environment becomes unclean does it pose health risks.

"I think people get in over their heads trying to be good-hearted people, but there is only so many animals that one or two people can take care of and only so much space in one house," Giusti said.