“I want to make sure I am here to take care of the last one,” the 57-year-old Sakae Kato told Reuters about the cats he has been taking care of after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. “After that, I want to die, whether that be a day or hour later.”
Kato has found his life’s purpose in taking care of abandoned animals in a nearly empty town of Fukushima’s restricted zone in Japan. He takes care of 41 cats, wild boars and a dog, Pochi, on land that has been owned by his family for three generations.
While all of his neighbours and even family fled after Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown 10 years ago, Kato vowed to stay and began taking care of the animals that people left behind.
With no running water in the deserted town, he has to fill bottles from a nearby mountain spring and drive to public toilets. The former small construction business owner says his decision to stay as 160,000 other people evacuated the area was triggered in part by the shock of finding dead pets in abandoned houses he helped break down.
Although he is technically not allowed to sleep at his decayed two-story house, Kato says he has official permission to stay in the restricted area.
“(Police and firefighters have come and asked me) why I am still here, and I told them that I have to be here because I need to take care of these abandoned cats,” Kato said.
“They said life is important and everyone was evacuated, and they asked me to evacuate many times. But at that time, I thought I would die, and if I had to die, I decided that I would like to die with these kids (cats),” Kato continued.
“There were some frustrations in the past ten years that made me wonder why I was doing such things. But if humans have trouble making a living, society will take care of them, and provide them social aid. If these kids are in trouble and no one is taking care of them, they will die,” Kato explained.
He spends around $7000 total a month for food, fuel and veterinary expenses, and estimates he has spent at least $750,000 over the past 10 years taking care of the animals.
“It’s getting harder (to take care of the animals), so I think it will be even much harder (the coming 10 years). So I want to be around when the last cat dies, then I want to die after that,” Kato said. So far, he has buried 23 cats in his garden.
He even looks after the neighbourhood wild boars, which are considered pests in Japan, and makes sure they won’t go hungry.
“People don’t like wild boars and they say they’re vermin. But the boars have come here in front of the garage since they were babies. They’re getting bigger and bigger and now they also bring their children here with them, so (to me) they’re like my children,” Kato said.
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