In a neighborhood somewhere in Kanagawa Prefecture, the reporter steps into a house, and is staggered by a blast of ammonia-tinged pong. Its source is immediately evident: in a living room of approximately 10 tatami mats scamper upwards of 50 cats. The room is covered with tufts of cat fur and the smell of cat excrement and urine is overpowering. The room’s fixtures bear the scars of cat claws; the stained color of the curtains appears to have been altered by cat urine.
After three minutes or so in the room, the reporter’s olfactory sensors shut down and the smell no longer bothers, but the reporter from Spa! (May 15) soon develops an irritated throat causing him to cough constantly. Opening the sliding door to an adjacent Japanese-style room, he’s assaulted by a new smell, the source of which appears to be impressively large pile of cat poop.
Prepare to add this new term to your Japanese lexicon: “Tato shiiku hokai”—literally, a collapse due the raising of multiple pets. And the home described above is hardly the worst. So bad was another maggot-infested dump, another reporter was unable to keep down his lunch.
“In foreign countries this is referred to as ‘animal hoarding,’ and the people who do such things are regarded as being on the verge of mental illness,” says a woman referred to only as “TINA,” who serves as a volunteer at the section of the Tokyo Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health entrusted with animal welfare.
Masayo Ishikawa, a member of an animal rights organization, said the worst case she ever encountered was some 100 Chihuahuas at the home of a couple in Kanagawa. Puppies were crammed into cages or cardboard boxes, and the house itself was is a decrepit state.
“The Chihuahuas’ owner realized the situation was out of control,” says Ishikawa. “In this case, we mounted a large-scale rescue involving several organizations, but we’re still trying to find homes for some of the animals.”
“The biggest cause (of the problem) is the owners’ negligence in neutering their pets or adding to their household by adopting strays, but there are other factors as well,” says TINA. “For instance, more people are raising smaller breeds of dogs that are kept indoors. Yet another problem is the aging of pet owners.”
It’s hardly surprising that such compulsive crackpots are frequently besieged by complaints from their neighbors.
“We get about complaints about 20 such people per week,” a staff member of Yamaneko-an, a cat shelter in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, tells the magazine. “Before, it was most common for these kind of people to be living in single-unit houses in the suburbs, but recently we’ve been getting complaints from residents of high-class condominiums, where it’s hard to get the animals evicted,
“Sometimes we’ve been approached by owners who beg us, ‘I’ve had to declare bankruptcy, please take in my 30 cats. Or if that’s not possible, take them to the animal shelter.’”
And this, according to one volunteer: “There have also been cases where pet owners die alone at home and the starving cats still manage to survive by feeding on their dead owners. We have seen the tooth marks on corpses.”
“Even if they’re a nuisance to neighbors, the current laws, including property rights, make it extremely difficult to take away someone’s pet,” says attorney Hiroshi Shibuya. “All that can be done is to depend on court-supervised mediation, which can take time.
“From June 1, new revisions of the animal welfare law will come into effect, but they will have no effect on stopping people from keeping too many animals,” Shibuya adds.