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Cat hoarding case in central Japan spotlights gaps in animal care system

A man with about 80 cats at his home in Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture, holds one of his pets on Sept. 25, 2020. "My cats are like sons and daughters to me," the man commented. (Mainichi/Shinichiro Kawase)
Cats crowd together in a home in Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture, on Sept. 25, 2020. (Mainichi/Shinichiro Kawase)

NAGOYA -- One man, about 80 cats.

    That was the ratio at a home in Shinshiro, in central Japan's Aichi Prefecture, as of the end of September, in what has become a serious case of animal hoarding. The problem at the two-story house in the neighborhood nestled in a mountain valley has been going on for years, and a local resident reported noxious odors coming from the property to the city government some two years ago. However, the municipality took no action, and only now is a local citizens' group getting to grips with the situation.

    An animal hoarder is defined as someone who keeps a large number of animals without being able to properly feed or care for them, and that certainly appeared to be the case for the man in his 60s with his dozens of felines when this Mainichi Shimbun reporter visited on Sept. 25.

    Though I was wearing two masks, the strong smell that saturated the house still reached my nose. There was food and cat excrement scattered around the hall, and my host bade me to keep my shoes on when I entered. Inside, I found that most of the rooms in the home, all badly scratched up, had been given over to the cats. Some of animals themselves had inflamed patches of skin or missing eyes.

    According to the man, he took in a stray female cat about five years ago, and his new pet had kittens. He did not have the animals neutered, and soon they were breeding, likely with each other. Before he knew it, there were some 70 cats in the man's house.

    "I had some of them neutered, but they seemed so pitiful afterwards, so I stopped," he told me. "I also don't have the money."

    The man is single, and lives off about 150,000 yen (about $1,400) a month from his pension plus a few tens of thousands of yen from a part-time job. He says he spends at least 60,000 yen per month just for cat food.

    The problem came to public attention when the man's relatives, who also live in the same central Japan prefecture, contacted the cat protection group "Inochi ni Yasashii Machizukuri Hearts" (making a community kind to life, hearts) in the nearby city of Toyohashi. Hearts proposed bringing in Doubutukikin (animal fund), a foundation in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, that provides free neutering procedures. However, only government administrative bodies can apply to tap the service.

    When Hearts approached the Shinshiro government about doing so, the city apparently initially responded that it had "never done this, and besides, the city council is in session and we're very busy." Hearts continued to push, and the city finally drew up an application to the fund on Sept. 14. The man is now going through procedures to have his cats neutered through the fund's services.

    However, why did it take so long to address the problem?

    The local resident who first reported it told the Mainichi, "I told the city about the terrible smell two years ago, and even took a picture. But the city said that I should tell the prefecture, and I didn't even get to show them the photo."

    Many of the man's cats began to die in August 2019, prompting the city to look into possible animal abuse at the house. Staff from the Higashi Mikawa branch of the Aichi Prefectural Animal Protection Center in Toyohashi visited the man, but ended up doing nothing but giving him directions on proper animal care.

    "Things wouldn't have got this bad if the government had moved on the issue, even a little bit," commented Hearts head Yukiko Furuhashi. "Volunteers need backup from government administration."

    When asked about the case, the Shinshiro government's environmental policy section chief Masae Murata told the Mainichi it was impossible to comment "due to personal information privacy," but added that the city had "received no complaints, and anyway the issue is entirely a prefectural matter."

    Meanwhile, Aichi Prefectural Animal Protection Center Higashi Mikawa branch head Satoshi Nakamura said, "I would like to reflect on the fact that we did not view the case with sufficient gravity at the time in 2019. I would like to continue providing proper guidance in cooperation with the city."

    Under revisions to the Act on the Welfare and Management of Animals that went into effect in June 2020, an owner is required to neuter their animals if they project that excessive breeding will result in difficulty in caring for them. The revisions also boosted the penalty for animal abuse to up to five years in prison or up to a 500,000-yen fine. In relation to animal hoarding, the revised law also categorized keeping seriously unreasonable numbers of animals as abuse.

    In 2018, 45 cats were found in a city-run public housing unit in the Kita Ward of Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture's capital. In that case, the owner was fined for animal abuse. A revised Nagoya municipal ordinance will go into effect in October this year requiring anyone with 10 or more pets to report them to the city. It also opened a pet owners' support center in June this year.

    (Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Center)

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