Arama They Didn't

11:41 am - 02/20/2013

Millions of dogs, cats coddled, 200,000 gassed each year in pet-mad Japan

Cast in bronze, Hachiko sits in a position of prominence befitting a storied daimyo or prime minister, right next to the busiest intersection in Japan, if not the world.

As the oft-told story goes, the famed golden-brown Akita would greet his master, professor Hidesaburo Ueno of Tokyo University, outside Shibuya Station at the end of every day as he returned from work.

After the professor died suddenly in 1925 of a stroke, Hachiko continued to wait patiently outside the station for his master day in, day out for another nine long years, until his own demise.

This enduring loyalty earned Hachiko the respect and affection of the Japanese public and led eventually to his immortalization in bronze in Shibuya and in modern Japanese folklore, as the embodiment of the unbreakable bond between man and his best friend.

Hachiko was also a dog for his time. Born into 1920s Japan, he lived through the prewar period when Japan’s leaders were busy whipping up a nationalistic storm about fealty to the Emperor and nation to support their military aims in Asia. Hachiko came to symbolize this “dogged” and blind loyalty.

By the standards of the Shibuya pooches of today, who daintily walk in his comparatively very large footsteps, Hachiko would probably be a long way from being considered even remotely kawaii.

Photos from back in the day reveal him to be a mangy-looking mutt with lopsided ears and a grumpy, forlorn face (perhaps understandably, considering his predicament). Yet he was loyal, and that was enough — at least back then.

Today, it is unlikely Hachiko would survive nine hours wandering around Shibuya crossing on his own, let alone nine years. If he managed to avoid being run over by an impatient taxi driver, he would likely be promptly picked up by Tokyo’s animal control division. And then his chances of survival would be very, very slim.

More than 204,000 pets — 82 percent of the total taken into public “animal shelters” that year — were euthanized in 2010, according to the latest available government figures. Just under 52,000 of these animals were dogs; the majority were cats.

In that same year, less than 29,000 abandoned pets — 11 percent of arrivals — were successfully re-homed.

In the U.K., in contrast, just over 7,000 dogs were euthanized in 2011, even though more than 126,000 were abandoned — a rate of less than 6 percent. The euthanasia rate for animals in Canada based on responses from just over half of the country’s shelters in 2010 was 36 percent.

Such comparisons highlight Japan’s very low rehoming rate and beg the question of why so many pets end up being put down.

Hiroyuki Satake, deputy director of the Tokyo metropolitan government’s Animal Protection and Consultation Center in Setagaya Ward, says it is an uphill battle convincing the public to adopt abandoned pets, although things have improved slightly in recent years.

“Japanese people are in the habit of going to a pet shop and buying a puppy. In Tokyo there are no puppies brought to the pound and so we only have adult dogs to re-home. People don’t want an adult dog — they want to get a dog when it is still young.”

Satake adds that even out of the small number of dogs that are successfully rehomed, the majority are not taken in by members of the public as family pets, but are mostly picked up by volunteers working for any number of Japan’s private animal shelters.

One such shelter is ARK (Animal Rescue Kansai), established by Briton Elizabeth Oliver in 1990. One of most well-known and respected animal shelters in Japan, ARK has been something of a trailblazer in the field of animal rights in Japan. Oliver was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the queen last year for her services to animal welfare and civil society in Japan.

ARK currently houses about 180 cats and a similar number of dogs at its sanctuary in Osaka Prefecture, with around 30 more animals staying in ARK-registered foster homes in the Tokyo area.

A large number of the animals the shelter takes in are handed over by older people who are no longer able to look after them, Oliver says. “We get a lot of dogs from people in their 60s and 70s. Often they have to go into hospital and can’t take their dog with them.”

Softbank's Otousan with his family

Oliver believes the root of this problem lies with the pet shops, which will only sell puppies. “I’m not against older people adopting animals, but if they go to a pet shop, the only animal you can get is one which is very young. If they come here [to ARK], we would say, ‘Well, take a dog which is 6 or 7 years old.’

Oliver adds that in her native England the pet culture is very different and it is common for people to adopt older animals.

“People are more realistic in the U.K. If you are a certain age, you would be thinking to adopt something older. I think in Japan people just see cute puppies.”

ARK also takes in a lot of dogs from hoarders and what she calls “balcony breeders” — amateurs trying to make some quick yen breeding from home but who fail to sell the dogs.

Animal hoarders are people who keep an abnormally large number of domestic pets in their home despite lacking adequate space to house the animals or the ability to feed or look after them properly.

Hoarders are often mentally ill people who have an unhealthy, obsessive attachment to their pets and are unable to comprehend the suffering they are causing.

Recently six miniature pinschers were brought to the ARK shelter after the owner was apprehended by the authorities.

“She was a hoarder type and she had abused the dogs. The animals hadn’t been properly fed,” Oliver explains. “Amongst those six, two have died already. One, a so-called puppy, was about 8 months, but looked about 1 month. It weighed only 560 grams — the weight of a kitten.”

Walking the streets of Tokyo, you could be forgiven for thinking Japanese pets are the luckiest in the world. In many cases, they probably are.

Veterinarian Midori Wada from Daktari Animal Hospital in Tokyo says she is often impressed with how conscientious and devoted most pet owners in Japan are.

“From personal experience interacting with patients and their respective owners, a pet is family, not a family pet,” she says. “If an animal has an incurable disease, Japanese owners tend to be very devoted and they will do whatever they can to prolong the pet’s life rather than euthanize, so they can be together for one more day.

“We have patients who are hospitalized for months. The owners come to visit on a daily basis and I experience the strong human-animal bond and medical miracles that come from not giving up in our hospital.”

Wada adds that the responsible attitudes of many pet owners also make it possible to administer preventative treatment. Even people with completely healthy pets will diligently pay for vaccinations every year, as well as general health checks that include a variety of tests from a physical exam to a blood test — and even a CT scan.

Yet Wada also believes Japanese pet owners can at times go too far and overindulge their pets, which can create problems down the road.

“We have many pet owners who treat animals too much like people, making them good parents to their pets, maybe, but becoming too obsessed with them at the same time,” she says. “I’m used to seeing Louis Vuitton carriers, baby strollers, and a dog’s diet including Kobe beef and Yubari melons, which cost upwards of $50 per fruit.”

Wada says that sometimes this over-the-top treatment can result in serious medical issues for the animals. Forcing dogs into clothes in the very hot summer months can cause matted fur and skin problems, for example, and an imbalanced diet can lead to obesity.

As with any other fashion craze in Japan, ground zero for this pooch-pampering obsession is trendy Shibuya and neighboring Harajuku. Boutiques selling designer doggie clothes and accessories are now almost as common a sight as high school girls dressed up as “gothic Lolitas.”

Dare to imagine it and these shops have probably got it: ripped designer jeans for the Chihuahua, a heavy-knit English duffle coat to keep the Pomeranian warm in winter, or a Buzz Lightyear costume for the miniature dachshund — because, of course, he loved the film.

There are doggie necklaces, bracelets, hats, bootees, socks, carry bags, push chairs, nappies — even a bandana with a built-in gel cooling pad for those scorching summer months. And if money is no object, Chanel, Dior, Hermes and Gucci now have luxury dog product lines in Japan.

Then there are the service industries — pet theme parks, restaurants, cafes, hotels, swimming lessons, grooming sessions, manicures, massages, facials, and even special pet-only spa resorts. One can’t help but wonder who is enjoying themselves here — the dog or the owner?

And if old, noble Hachiko was raised from the dead and ambled once more through his old stomping ground, what would he make of the spoilt brand of toy dogs that crowd the area today? Would he even recognize them as being of the same biological order, let alone species, as himself?

For better or worse, Japan is in the throes of a pet boom and there is serious money to be made. In a climate of general economic stagnation, the industry is proving to be remarkably recession-proof, with the pet business estimated to be worth over ¥1 trillion a year and growing by the day. The nation’s total pet population is now a staggering 22 million — that’s over 5 million more than the number of children under 15 in Japan today.

No one can complain about an industry doing well, and a pet — just like a human — loved too much is better off than one not loved at all. But sadly, as the pet population grows, so does the number of animals that fall through the cracks.

For some pets that end up in the Animal Protection and Consultation Center in Tokyo, rehoming is not even attempted and they are sent to their death after only seven days.

“We observe the animals and decide if the chance of rehoming is high or low,” says Satake, the center’s deputy director.

Factors taken into consideration are the health, age and character of the animal, such as whether or not it is overly aggressive.

“If the odds of re-homing are good we keep it here for a long time, but if they are low then we quickly destroy the animal,” says Satake.

“The decision is ultimately made by one of our staff and it is hard for that person. They must themselves decide on life or death for the pet. This is a heavy burden for them to carry.”

In cases where animals are put down, the method of euthanization is one which has largely been abolished in the West: gassing by carbon dioxide.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) strongly criticized the use of carbon dioxide to put down animals in a recent report, citing the suffering it inflicts.

“Concerns over the humaneness of CO2 stem from its association with breathlessness and hyperventilation,” the report says. “At high concentrations, CO2 dissolves in the moisture of the animal’s airways producing carbonic acid that causes irritation and pain in the animal’s nose. Induction to unconsciousness is accompanied by escape attempts, licking, sneezing and increased movement or agitation indicating exposure is distressing.”

Satake says that carbon dioxide gas is still used in Japan because in the past the number of stray animals was even higher. This made it impractical to euthanize animals individually, such as by lethal injection, whereas with gas a large number can be killed simultaneously.

Satake acknowledges that the system currently in place is not ideal, but says changing to a more humane method would cost a lot of money.

“The truth is the most current method is not carbon dioxide but anesthetic gas,” he says. “There is a machine available which uses this gas, but it is very, very expensive. We want to buy this machine and change to this method, but it’s too costly.”

Currently, Shimonoseki city in Yamaguchi Prefecture is the only municipality in Japan that euthanizes its animals using anesthetic gas.

Another option for euthanizing unwanted pets would be to give them an intravenous injection of a barbiturate or anesthetic agent, inducing death through an overdose.

The WSPA regards an IV injection of a 20-percent pentobarbital solution (a barbiturate) as the most humane method of euthanizing cats or dogs as it induces “rapid loss of consciousness” and causes no “distressing side effects.”

Pentobarbital is also commonly used in conjunction with other drugs for the execution of criminals for capital crimes in some U.S. states.

However, Satake sees obstacles to such a hands-on method being introduced in Japan.

“In the case of giving an injection to each animal, well, it can lead to mental problems for the individual who has to do the killing, so we want to avoid direct methods such as injection,” he says. “In the case of a machine, well, the person can avoid directly handling the animals.”

Tucked away in a corner of the car park at the Animal Protection and Consultation Center — the place where the unwanted pets of Tokyo are processed before being sent to the gas chambers in Jonanjima on the outskirts of the city — is a small shrine.

Here, the staff of the center from time to time burn sticks of incense and say a prayer for the souls of those pets who never found a home — pets who never got to roam, free but lonely, like mangy Hachiko through the crowded streets of Shibuya to bum a stick of yakitori or a pork bun from a friendly passer-by.

source, in depth look

The manga, Deep Love: Pao no Monogatari talks about the hardships of stray dogs (and people in general) in Japan from the dog's perspective. It was so sad, I cried. I recommend it though since it's very realistic, but if you can't take animal abuse, don't touch it. I hope those people at those cat/dog cafes take in strays and don't just buy kittens/puppies from a pet store. I also feel bad for the people who work for the center. A lot of them go into there for their love of animals, but then someone has to put the animals down. It's so sad.
glimmeringneon 20th-Feb-2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
Such a sad story! I hope Japan changes for the better when it comes to animal care :(!

I cannot fault the people working at the Animal Protection and Consultation centre in Tokyo. It seems to be a very depressing job and I appreciate that they have a shrine to pray for the poor animals.
Dayse502 20th-Feb-2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
This post left me with teary eyes, I'm so sad to know that even in Japan, one of the world's richest and most developed country there's still this kind of atrocity against innocent and SENSITIVE creatures who didn't ask to be born, and don't know why they're being tortured and killed, being this their punishment for just one thing they were found guilty: Existing. T___T

And this is only the top of the iceberg, not mentioning the ones used for tests in laboratories, which ones I can't and don't have emotional strength to imagine the unimaginable suffering they experience in their short, confined, painful lives.
turtle_yurippe 20th-Feb-2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
That's not only Japan, though. People all over the world buy expensive pets that are breeded so extremely they die really quickly (like certain pugs, for example), and "normal" dogs, cats etc. (who can live quite a long life) are killed because no one wants them.

I also hope that people act more reasonable with their pets, but when they decide to take in strays or older pets from shelters, what happens is that the pets from the breeders end up being killed because no one wants them. There should be regulations on this.
pinkydbzfan 20th-Feb-2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
How ironic that in my vet tech class yesterday we talked about this. My teacher is in full favor of the gas chambors because its less harmful on teh people who use them. "Just put them in and walk away" she says, " instead of having the pain of having to hold them as they are dying". Persoanlly I think that gas chambers remind me of the holocost so it freaks me out. I never thought of the carbonic acid build up ( though it makes sense). I'm sad that most countries,even Japan, are baby animal crazy, and dont realize the love that older animals can give, as well as usually being better behaved. As a tech, my heart and my head are in confliction with euthanisia of healthy animals, but it is better then them being hit by a car and dying that way, or slowly starving to death or dying of a disease. but really SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR PETS PEOPLE!! I'm sorry but things like this really get to me ;_;
pinkydbzfan 21st-Feb-2013 02:53 am (UTC)
Yes I did. I still believe the gas chambers are horriable >< that this strengthens that feeling
firemelon 21st-Feb-2013 03:47 am (UTC)
I think your teacher is full of shit. And I agree they are horrible, this only makes it seem worse. tbh, I didn't even know they were used. When we had to put our cats down (they both had cancer) they both got injections. The thought of gassing them as an option makes me sick to my stomach.
pinkydbzfan 22nd-Feb-2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
Gassing is reserved for shelters when they have to put down 10-70 aniamls a day. THey do this becuase its less emotionally stressful on the people whos job it is to euthanize animals day in and day out. Also becuase so many animals are euthanized, the turn over rate for those places are extreamly high. In clnic settings, it is usually done by sodium pentobarbital injection overdose, also known as euthasol.
Dayse502 22nd-Feb-2013 03:39 am (UTC)
It's so confortable for someone to think "It's better than holding them while they die...". Of course, it's not her who will be feeling the pains of that death, that teacher has such a selfish way of thinking. :(

I have taken in my home a stray dog which I found in the street, suffering terrible pains, it was hit by a car and couldn't even walk...that scene was so heartbreaking I couldn't just leave it there, I remember my tears and the commotion in my family when after some days it could get up and try it's first steps after the accident. Today, my dear Bob is one of the worlds cutest dogs ever <3 And has stolen the heart of my family.
frequency 20th-Feb-2013 05:55 pm (UTC)
i need to hug my dog after reading this. ;____;
kumiko_0503 20th-Feb-2013 05:58 pm (UTC)
I've read that manga too and I cried a lot afterwards... It made me think on how the stray cats and dogs end up in my country too...
(no subject) - Anonymous
glimmeringneon 21st-Feb-2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
I understand that animal suffering is horrible and hard to bear for many...

But human suffering for me is the worst because we're doing it to our own selves, we're hurting our own kins.

We're all human, one species, we're our own enemies and that's a more terrible and horrible truth than animal suffering which are inflected by humans not by themselves.

Then it makes us think what are the purpose of humans, because other animals would be a lot better off without us. The earth would be a healthier place without us.

If we can't even care for our own human kin then what does that say for the future of all life in the Earth?

Edited at 2013-02-21 07:42 pm (UTC)
quailien 20th-Feb-2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
I can't finish reading this. =\

If I lived in Japan, I would be terrified to take my pets with on the off chance that they got out of the house and were picked up...
janri 20th-Feb-2013 08:26 pm (UTC)
Japan needs more Tanaka Koki's. He is constantly adopting or fostering shelter animals.
hozrien 20th-Feb-2013 08:41 pm (UTC)
I'm all for more people like him.
kokoromaix 22nd-Feb-2013 04:02 am (UTC)
YES. And he just adopted such an adorable cat too. <3
citrine047 20th-Feb-2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
dang, this is heartbreaking.
dramaticsurgeon 20th-Feb-2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately this will always be an issue in most of the first-world countries, where animals are a money-making industry. While some people are looking for an older companion or don't mind a mixed breed, far more only want a baby they can pick out from a litter and usually want a purebreed or carefully selected hybrid. They're willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for the privilege, many turning to pet shops where they believe the pets are well cared for (though that's up for debate.)

Compound this with the fact most apartments in the major Japanese cities are TINY. Toy breeds or tiny cats are about the only kind of animal that will fit in these places. Any animal that's bigger than a toy, even a medium-sized dog, will have a much, much smaller chance of ever getting adopted. :(
very_pinku 20th-Feb-2013 10:34 pm (UTC)
I honestly for my next dog want a full grown dog instead of a puppy. As we babied the puppy too much (we got it from a breeder, while our past dog from the shelter), it turned out to be a bit aggressive. I love my dog but I feel that I don't want to be responsible to be raising one from a puppy.

But recently in our area, most pet stores have closed down (as the puppies were from puppy mills and activists shut those places down) and if there are pet stores in the mall and such, they usually put dogs/cats from shelters and most are Chihuahuas, terriers, and pit bulls for dogs. It's sad, really. Some pit bulls seem like the most sweetest babies ever.

When I went to Japan, I was surprised on how expensive and such the puppies are...and I watched videos of dogs placed in animal shelters and being placed in gas chambers and I cried like crazy after seeing that. They think they're being sent on a walk and it's to their death...I can't handle working at a killing shelter...but it's hard to have non killing shelters.I know puppies are cute but their cute stage only lasts for a few weeks. I hope people are more aware about that...
taiki_kou 21st-Feb-2013 01:20 am (UTC)
=( This article breaks my heart. I feel terrible for the older dogs that get brought to those kill shelters. I adopted two dogs from the SPCA before, and one was 1 and half years old, the other one was 7 years old. I loved the fact that they are non-puppies. It was easier to train them, and bond with them.

People need to realize that puppies only look like puppies for 3 months. They grow up. The importance that they are taking care of an actual life, should be emphasized to people who buy puppies.
vicinity_love 21st-Feb-2013 04:51 am (UTC)
this is so heartbreaking. i've never understood why people even bothered getting pets if they were eventually going to get rid of them, or how they end up having such meaningless bonds with their pets that they just give up on them.

excuse me while i go love my dogs forever okay.
dearmisterecho 21st-Feb-2013 05:52 am (UTC)
This hits close to home, as I adopted an adult dog from an NPO one month ago.

I explained to my J-boyfriend that when we got a dog, I absolutely DID NOT want to buy one from the pet store. I explained the puppy mill industry, how the dogs often have loads of health/mental problems, and how there are millions of perfectly awesome adult dogs who have been abused/abandoned, dogs who were born into human society and then thrown away by said humans, and we OWE it to them to take them and love them like they deserve. My boyfriend understood and bless his heart, he drove me 3 hours away to HEART Tokushima, an excellent NPO in Shikoku to get our 5-year-old mini-doxie, Shion (you can read more about her story and see pics on my LJ).

Like someone else mentioned, bigger dogs are screwed in Japan because unless you have your own house, you can't get a bigger dog. Period. It's not allowed by landlords the grand majority of the time. You can only get 'kokataken' (小型犬), toy-group dogs. At the NPO, there were lots of small-medium sized dogs that were so mild mannered and awesome, but because they didn't fit in that strict kokataken category, we couldn't take them.

While the issues of puppy mills, etc are not unique to Japan, what is unique is that people here don't ever consider adopting...most Japanese people are uncomfortable with the idea, even towards children. And adopting an older dog? Completely alien, for real. It's such a shame. I understand a lot of people want pure bred dogs...but if you just look hard and put in a bit of effort, there are breed rescues all over where you can adopt that pure bred Corgi or Minpin you want.
cherylena 21st-Feb-2013 05:54 am (UTC)
The Deep Love manga series are so damn good and made me cry so much. I couldn't bring myself to read Pao no Monogatari because even the l1ttle bit of story about Pao in Ayu no Monogatari are so heartbreaking.
the__batgirl 21st-Feb-2013 06:01 am (UTC)
Why oh why did I read this?

My eyes hurt from crying so much.
chloe1910 21st-Feb-2013 07:47 am (UTC)
This post made me teared T_T

As a pet lover myself, it's truly sad to hear that so many dogs and cats are being put to sleep each year. I do understand costing issues and also emotional issues for the staff at the centres has made them use the gassing method but I hope the Japanese government will really consider a more humane method to put these animals down T_T
arasukishi 21st-Feb-2013 11:50 am (UTC)
This is so sad!

I am actually thinking of applying for a local animal shelter, and as I was skimming its application form the other day, there was this question:

"There are, unfortunately, instances when some animals have to be euthanized due to lack of funding or space. How do you feel about this?"

bokunostation 21st-Feb-2013 01:43 pm (UTC)
;___; Japan, please care more about the animals. what's wrong with adult dogs anyway...sigh.
I couldn't read this entry 100% because I have such soft spot for animals especially when they're mistreated, it pisses me off too tbh. I just....I'm loss at words wow what is this.
rosemaine 21st-Feb-2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
My heart broke as I'm reading this :(
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