As with the rest of the world, animal hoarding is a serious issue in Japan. Over the years, Japan has seen its share of hoarding cases and has struggled to find ways to deal with the phenomenon. The main issue in this country seems to be the lack of understanding amongst the human experts and human welfare services. Needless to say, animal hoarding is not an “animal problem”. It is a phenomenon that is deeply rooted in the human psyche, as proven by the fact that the word “hoarding” appears in the DSM-5（Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders）. In Japan, hoarding cases have long been reported mainly to the animal control authorities. The officers from these authorities usually come from the veterinary profession and are not trained to deal with human mental issues. Nor are they in any position to recommend special care services needed by the hoarders. Though hoarding may be classified as a form of animal abuse which in turn should be handled under legislation pertaining to animal protection, this does not lead to a satisfactory resolution of the problem. To start with, animal control officers, who are usually the first responders, have neither the training nor the knowledge to deal with hoarders who may have mental health issues. How should they be approached? How can one evaluate the hoarder’s psychological condition? What sort of action may be detrimental to the hoarder’s emotions? These and many other questions can only be answered by those who have been trained to deal with human issues. In order to address this issue, the Ministry of the Environment brought together a panel of experts in order to formulate guidelines for dealing with animal hoarding cases. Since the animal welfare law in Japan falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment, whose guidance regional animal control officers follow, it seemed appropriate for them to initiate the move. The panel members included a representative of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, several animal control officers from the regional governments, a psychiatric expert, a veterinary expert, and a researcher in the field of public policy.
The Ministry of the Environment published the results of the panel’s discussion as “Guidelines in Handling Animal Hoarding: Humans, Animals, and the Community”. The guidelines are in Japanese and can be downloaded from the Ministry’s website. The contents of the guidelines include a general definition of what animal hoarding is, what measures may be taken to counter the issue, and an outline of case studies. Also included in the material are various “check sheets”, practical tools for assessing each situation, as well as example documents for the listing of animals found and the health check of individual animals.
One of the main tools that may be most effective in preventing animal hoarding cases is the enacting of ordinances that limit the number of animals that may be kept by a single household. If the keeping of an excessive number of animals can be prohibited legally, then the possibility of hoarding may essentially be negated. However, when the Ministry of the Environment conducted a survey to see how regional governments have taken action in this regard, the results were disappointing; 76.8% of all local governments had no legal limit on the number of animals that may be kept by individuals. This may be a point to be considered in the future.
Recent trends in animal hoarding in Japan have seen a rise in the variety of species involved. Whereas many past cases focused mainly on dogs and cats, there has recently been a rise in the hoarding of pet rabbits. Because of their high rate of proliferation, rabbit hoarding can escalate rapidly. Exotic species also appear at times on the hoarding scene, as exemplified by a recent case involving owls. Though the action taken by the Ministry of the Environment may be lauded, this is just the beginning. The authorities in various sectors must realize that they have a role to play in resolving the issue of animal hoarding. Human social services in Japan have been very slow to recognize the roles that animals play in the lives of human beings; it may be the time to start thinking about how important it may be for human experts to acknowledge this.
Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute