BERLIN (AP) — Cases of people hoarding cats, dogs and other living creatures in Germany reached a ten-year high in 2021, the country’s Animal Protection Association said Thursday

The association said it counted 68 cases of hoarding involving 4,218 animals in Germany last year, the highest since it began systematically collecting data a decade ago. Rescued animals are often found in unsanitary conditions and neglected by owners who struggle to care for them, it said.

The biggest share of animal hoarding cases recorded since 2012 involved cats, followed by dogs. Small animals, such as rabbits, constituted the largest group of victims, with more than 10,000 rescued from hoarders over the past decade. The association said instances of horse hoarding after also increased and made up almost 15% of all reported cases in 2021.

Nina Brakebusch, the association’s expert on animal hoarding, said it was unclear whether the threefold increase in recorded cases since 2012 was due to authorities and the public becoming sensitized to the issue, or an actual worsening of the problem.

But Brakebusch said people often begin to hoard animals after their own personal circumstances worsen, such as after the death of a loved one or when they experience financial or psychological distress. The coronavirus pandemic and rising cost of living could be contributing to the problem, she said.