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Animal shelters strive to reduce euthanasia

Refusal rights, training lessons used to reduce pet abandonment

Chunichi Shimbun

The Welfare and Management of Animals Law was revised Sept. 1 in an attempt to reduce the number of abandoned dogs and cats.

Unless they are adopted by new owners, abandoned pets are usually destroyed in animal shelters after a certain number of days have passed. There are roughly 20 million dogs and cats in Japan, almost the same as the number of children.

The revision allows animal centers to refuse pets from owners who are trying to dump them simply because they’ve grown tired of the animals. There are also plans to implant microchips into pets to identify their owners to prevent abandonment.

The Nagoya City Animal Protection Center in Chikusa Ward accepted 3,500 cats and dogs, including strays, in 2011.

It managed to find new owners for 70 percent of the dogs, but the percentage of cats that were able to find new homes stood at a meager 10 percent, a rate made even more distressing because the number of felines is large to begin with.

More than 3,000 cats and dogs are put down every year in the facility, the second-highest rate in the country for municipal shelters in cities with populations of 500,000 or more.

Some owners who come to the shelter say they want to get rid of their pet because they failed to train it and can’t make the animal behave.

The center has previously refused some of these owners, but last year it decided to hire more veterinarians who can offer instructions. As a result, the number of pets that the center had to take in declined.

“With the revision of the law and clearer guidelines, it will be easier to get the owners to accept (decisions on acceptance or refusal),” said Daisuke Narumi, assistant head of the Nagoya Municipal Protection and Guidance Division.

In 2011, Mie Prefecture ranked 11th in Japan in number of pets put to sleep. Officials hope that number will begin to fall, thanks to a new policy set up last year that allows cats to be up for adoption. Until then, only dogs could be given new owners.

“We’ll decide whether a person should be given the pet after inspecting his home. After the adoption, we’ll also do follow-up checks,” said a member of the prefecture’s food and safety division.

“As more people take in pets, the number of animals put down at the centers will decrease,” the staff member added.

Nagano boasts of being one of the best prefectures in limiting pet euthanasia. It posts photos of animals at shelters on the websites of health care institutes to seek new potential owners.

The prefecture also gives lessons on how to care for pets, which has helped reduced cases of abandonment and unplanned breeding.

However, there are worries that the number of stray cats and dogs will rise if municipal shelters start refusing to accept dropped-off pets.

“Of course that may happen. But we’ll talk to the owners who come in and respond accordingly,” said a representative of Gifu Prefecture’s public hygiene division.

“We can’t turn down every single pet that is dropped off here,” added a staff member at the Nagoya City Animal Protection Center.

The Environment Ministry has proposed putting microchips in pets as a way to combat the issue.

The capsule-shaped chips are about 1 cm long and would be injected into the necks of cats and dogs.

Using a special device, authorities can acquire a 15-digit number from each chip that will identify the owner. The procedure will cost ¥5,000 to ¥10,000.

An additional clause in the revised law states that within the next five years, pet shops must start injecting microchips into all pets they sell.

In a rare move, the city of Nagoya and the Nagoya Veterinary Medical Association began a program in June 2012 providing a subsidy of ¥2,000 per pet to get the process rolling.

Even so, pets with microchips make up less than 5 percent of Nagoya’s total.

Since 2006, Mie Prefecture has been implanting microchips in puppies at shelters before giving them to new owners.

Some animal hospitals have opposed injecting a foreign object into an animal’s body.

In response, the Japan Veterinary Medical Association has said this is being done “to increase owners’ sense of responsibility to their pets” and “it is also helpful when pets get lost.”

Each municipality will try to increase awareness of the revision through a series of events during Be Kind to Animals Week, which started Friday.

The revised Welfare and Management of Animals Law stipulates that owners have the responsibility of taking care of their pets for life. The law now also prohibits the sale of newborn kittens and puppies, and sets harsher punishment for abandoning pets and animal cruelty.

According to the Japan Pet Food Association, which is based in Tokyo, there are about 21.3 million pet cats and dogs in the nation.

A study conducted by the Environment Ministry in 2011 found that animal shelters took in 220,000 dogs and cats that year, of which 175,000 were put to sleep.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Sept. 15.