Thoughts from a Tokyo Shelter

Yesterday, I detailed the purpose of my visit to Japan to bring hope and help to the animal relief organizations still tirelessly working to address the needs of the countless animals still affected by last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. In that post, I mentioned my visit to a couple of shelters – one permanent, one temporary — in Tokyo, but I didn’t delve into many details of the fantastic work that Japanese shelters are doing in the aftermath of this tragedy, but we can help them do much more.

A resident at the temporary shelter in Tokyo

A resident at the temporary
shelter in Tokyo

Today, countless animals have been helped — some even rehabilitated — and reunited with their families, but 300 cats and dogs are still being sheltered from the Fukushima area, Ground Zero for the disaster. Many more animals are still being fostered by rescue groups. While the majority of the animals currently have their ownership retained by their families in hopes of being reunited soon, another 25 are still waiting for homes. Several of the human shelters allowed pet owners to bring their animals with them, while many other shelters did not. Further still, there are a number of “wild” dogs in the Fukushima area still unaccounted for due to the terrain; given the scope of the situation, recordkeeping remains a significant challenge.

The work of the temporary shelter I visited in Tokyo cannot be understated: the facility is absolutely spotless, well-maintained, and has a very dedicated staff committed to making the dogs’ and cats’ lives as perfect as possible under the circumstances. Each dog has its own volunteer with them for playtime, meaning they receive lots of attention. Their owners were allowed to bring in special blankets or houses, while the shelter provided each dog with its own room. With all of the toys, love, and comfort received by the dogs each and every day, they feel like they’ve won the puppy lottery! And after surviving the devastation in Fukushima, they really are the lucky ones.

Similarly, the cats are living a great life at this shelter. I was lucky enough to be able to sit and play with the cats for a while in what are by far the cleanest cat rooms I’ve ever seen at a shelter. Not a single room smelled and this is all thanks to the volunteers lovingly cleaning them several times a day. Like the dogs, these cats are clearly getting plenty of love and attention, which they so richly deserve. Regardless of how well they are treated in the shelters, nothing can match the experience they would have if living in a home with a loving family.

Playtime for one of the shelter dogs!

Playtime for one of the
shelter dogs!

This temporary shelter has four dogs from Fukushima up for adoption, while the remainder are visited by their families whenever possible, though for some, that might only be once a month. The dogs who came here were lacking vaccinations and were not neutered for the most part; because they were housed in the shelter, they received the care they so dearly needed. The story isn’t as rosy for the shelters in Fukushima itself, however. Currently, two shelters are operating, and in dire need of funding for nearly a year. The animals there are living in crates and have owners who have not relinquished ownership in hopes they be reunited eventually. Part of my mission to Japan is to see that this shelter and other animal rescue organizations receive the funding they need to better the lives of the animals and have them released in the arms of a family. Later this week, I will have a post on my visit to this shelter at the heart of the recovery zone, and will share with you my stories and photos of my journey to Fukushima.

Overall, however, the state of sheltered animals in the Tokyo Prefecture is quite optimistic. Over the past 20 years shelters have been able to reduce the numbers of dogs and adult cats passing through the facilities. A whopping 85 percent are adopted, with the remaining animals euthanized due to aggressive behavior or serious medical conditions; kittens still present a problem, with more than 90 percent euthanized. Though, like it has been observed in Sweden, the overall numbers of animals in shelters are declining. The permanent shelter I visited in Tokyo only has nine dogs in residence.

This work is attributed to animal welfare societies, the health and prevention medical strategies, and that animals now more commonly live indoors rather than outside. As in Sweden, pet ownership is considered a responsibility rather than a right, which has helped to contribute to the declining shelter numbers. Prospective pet owners must undergo a minimum half-day formal seminar, formal interview, and matching process before they are allowed to adopt a dog.

Sadly, dog fighting is still legal and very prevalent around the country, and even supported by celebrities in the entertainment industry. Many consider it to be part of the culture, with a Japanese minister even stating publicly that it should be kept legal because it is “traditional.” Dr. Chizuko Yamaguchi of the Japan Animal Welfare Society said that her organization is working hard to combat this issue, though it is admittedly an uphill battle due to how ingrained into the culture it is. With the Japanese Animal Welfare Act up for renewal, Dr. Yamaguchi told me she is pushing hard to ban dog fighting, bull fighting, and cock fighting. Bravo Dr. Yamaguchi!

Dr. Yamaguchi and her colleagues were very proud of their shelter and the work they are doing to not only help animals affected by the disaster, but indeed, all animals in need of a home in Japan. As I mentioned yesterday, I presented her with a mini model of our Red Star™ Rescue Rig, which she loved. She said they would love to have a similar program in Japan — but the rig might be too big for the roads! Indeed, after traveling the roads of Tokyo, our Lucy the Rescue Rig would not be able to even make a turn.

I applaud the hard work the Japan Animal Welfare Society and other rescue organizations are doing in light of this tragedy. They are demonstrating the core values of what it takes to be humanitarian through their tireless efforts to help the animals and strengthen the human-animal bond, a cornerstone for humane communities.

Check back soon for an account on my presentation to a group of thought leaders and key influencers in Tokyo on the state of animal welfare in their country and beyond. And now off to Fukushima for a tour of the nuclear incident zone and a tour of the tsunami impacted areas.

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