In March of 2020, local authorities found a particularly bad case of animal hoarding in Sapporo, Japan. For those who are curious, what happened was that the owner of a house paid a visit to the property because the residents – a married couple in their 50s plus their son in his 30s – hadn’t paid the rent. When the owner saw what was happening, they contacted local authorities, which discovered 238 cats on the site. Apparently, the family hadn’t bothered to spay and neuter the cats with the result that their numbers spiraled out of control. In fact, it should be mentioned that the house has housed more cats than the 238 that were rescued because there were the bones of dead cats scattered across the floor.
Anyways, the situation has now been resolved. The family is now out of the house, though one can’t help but suspect that the owner of the house is less than enthused about the inevitable repair and replacement costs. Meanwhile, the cats were brought to the animal control center before most of them were either adopted by interested individuals or transferred to animal welfare organizations. The police has been informed about the case, though it remains to be seen what will come of that.
What Is Animal Hoarding?
Animal hoarding is by no means just a Japanese problem. After all, chances are good that interested individuals have already heard similar stories in their home countries as well as a wide range of other places. Unfortunately, animal hoarding seems like a problem that will be with us for the foreseeable future, though it seems reasonable to say that the right measures can at least reduce the chances of it happening. For starters, it is important to describe what is and what isn’t animal hoarding. Generally speaking, someone needs to meet three conditions before they can be considered an animal hoarder. First, they need to have an unusual number of the animal. As such, someone with one or two cats can’t be considered an animal hoarder, but someone with 20 cats or more can. However, it is very important to note that the number of animals isn’t enough to establish someone as an animal hoarder, which leads into the next point.
Second, a person cannot be considered an animal hoarder so long as they are capable of providing their animals with enough food, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare to see to their continuing well-being. Due to this, even if someone has 200 cats, they cannot be considered an animal hoarder so long as they have the economic resources needed to care for those 200 cats. Certainly, said individual would be unusual in most people’s opinion, but unusual is by no means synonymous with animal hoarder. Third, animal hoarders are infamous for being incapable of recognizing that they cannot provide their animals with even the minimal level of care as well as the ensuing impact on them and their animals. This is the reason that animal hoarders have a hard time seeking out help, thus causing their situation to become worse and worse over time.
It is unclear what causes animal hoarding. There seems to be a mental health component to the whole thing, but no one has managed to connect animal hoarding to a specific psychological disorder. Some people have speculated that animal hoarding is motivated by a need for companionship, whether because the sufferer has problems forming bonds with other humans or because the sufferer has experienced some kind of serious rupture in such a bond. Meanwhile, other people have speculated that animal hoarders could have addictive tendencies, which is somewhat supported by the fact that many of them either had parents with substance abuse problems, have substance abuse problems of their own, or both. On top of this, various parties have suggested everything from the parasite Toxoplasma gondii to dementia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, though some of these suggestions are taken much more seriously than others.
As for why animal hoarding is so problematic, the answer is that it hurts the animal hoarder, the animal hoarder’s family members, and the animals being hoarded. Unsurprisingly, poor sanitation in their living environment increases a person’s chances of getting a wide range of medical problems, which include but are not limited to hookworm, ringworm, and respiratory infections. Something that can be particularly devastating for the young as well as the elderly, who tend to have weaker immune systems. On top of this, since animal hoarders cannot provide for their animals, it should come as no surprise to learn that they tend not to be capable of providing for themselves either. Meanwhile, the animals being hoarded can fare even worse, as shown by how death and disease are common outcomes. Moreover, even if the animals being hoarded get rescued in the end, their malnutrition as well as their other health problems can have lasting consequences for their entire lifetimes because that kind of damage doesn’t just go away.
How Can Animal Hoarding Be Combated?
There is no simple solution for the problem of animal hoarding. As stated earlier, animal hoarders tend to have a serious case of denial, which when combined with their other problems, means that there is a very low chance of them seeking out help on their own. Due to this, the likeliest way for animal hoarders to seek out help is when the people who care about them convince them to take said step in spite of their fears and their delusions. Something that is rather unfortunate for those who might have fallen into animal hoarding because of a lack of such connections.
In any case, there is no way for animal hoarding to be cured unless mental health specialists can help them overcome the underlying problem that caused said behavior in the first place. If an animal hoarder gets their animals removed without having the underlying problem resolved, there is a very high chance that they will just start animal hoarding all over again, particularly since they haven’t actually learned how to manage their own lives. As such, this isn’t a permanent solution, meaning that the only way for effective change in the long run is to address the root of animal hoarding.
Photo courtesy of non-profit organization Nyantomo Network Hokkaido