Abandoned pets a sign of the slump

Furry friends become latest victims of nation's economic malaise

by Kenzo Moriguchi

NOSE, Osaka Pref. — The economic malaise is affecting not only humans, but animals as well. Indirectly, pets — especially older ones — have become casualties of the protracted downturn, according to an Osaka nonprofit organization.

Elizabeth Oliver and her staff at Animal Refuge Kansai, an NPO based in this Osaka suburb, have been seeing an increasing number of dogs and cats abandoned and brought to them because their owners are suffering economic hardships.

“The number of dogs and cats brought to our facility for economic reasons has been on the rise, especially in the last couple of years,” Oliver said, noting that in the past year, these amounted to a third of the total.

“Some of the reasons why their owners had to give up their pets were the need to move house, bankruptcy, divorce, death and hospitalization.”

The Briton founded ARK in 1990 to shelter abandoned or ill-treated animals and find people to adopt them.

ARK first started with a few dozen animals, but now shelters 200 dogs, 160 cats, a fox, a couple of pigs and a raccoon dog.

While pet-abandonment is nothing new, Oliver said that in recent months, the trend has been for pet owners to suddenly abandon their beloved pets for economic reasons.

In one case, the owner of two dogs and seven cats, all well-cared for, left them in front of ARK’s front entrance one morning with a letter saying the person had become unemployed and had to leave Osaka to find work.

Ark took in 220 dogs last year and has accepted 177 dogs in the first 10 months of this year. Oliver thinks the figure could be between 220 and 250 by year’s end.

Of the 220 ARK took in last year, 140 were adopted and 22 died. Rarely do former owners turn up to retrieve their pets.

The arithmetic shows that ARK is seeing more and more animals being left in their care. And those that are not adopted but left at ARK are more likely to be older dogs and cats.

“It is only natural that people want puppies, because they are cute. Puppies and dogs that can be kept in the house are usually adopted within a month from the time they come here. As a result, only older dogs are left and their number only goes up. That is a problem for us,” Oliver said.

In her native England, there are a number of shelters for pets to be adopted later and sanctuaries for older pets to remain for life. But in Japan, ARK is the only place where abandoned and ill-treated pets can hope for accommodation and it is a cross between a shelter and a sanctuary, she said.

Now Oliver’s group is set to acquire a former company dormitory in a neighboring municipality that would serve specially as a sanctuary where older dogs and cats can live comfortably under a roof for the rest of their lives. This would also help free up some space at ARK’s existing facility.

“Thanks to advancements in medical science, pets now live longer than they did 20 years ago. But as they grow older, they get sick just like humans,” Oliver said.

ARK is financed solely by donations from individuals, but the dampened economic climate is also affecting its revenue, she said. “We cannot accept all abandoned pets. The government . . . should set up shelters for such animals instead of just killing them within three days of their capture.”

Oliver pointed out that the lack of knowledge about pet care in Japan makes their lives miserable.

She recommended that dogs and cats be either castrated or spayed so that unwanted puppies and kittens are not born.

“About half of the 1 million dogs abandoned every year (in Japan) are puppies, unwanted by owners who did not have their pets castrated or sterilized.”

Oliver also urges Japanese consumers to be wary of pet shops, maintaining that many of them keep and breed pets under harsh conditions and that consumers are often cheated with forged pedigrees.

“In addition, people should be aware of what is best for them and their pets in terms of environment. Such dogs as border collies or Australian sheep dogs are not suited for an average Japanese owner because they are born to run as much as 100 km a day,” she said.

ARK conducts a thorough interview with a possible pet adopter and charges 15,000 yen per pet for a sterilization operation and other vaccines because “if they are offered free of charge, they may be abandoned easily,” Oliver said.

ARK’s Web site is www.arkbark.net