Nonprofit organization seeks to shift attitudes, find relaxing homes for cats and cat lovers alike

Things look up for Tokyo’s jilted felines

by Mie Sakamoto

Kyodo

Good news for cat lovers without cats: You can now find your new pet and an apartment to share it with at the same time.

Keiko Morishita, an embassy employee and Tokyo resident, is one of those whose apartments have become “temporary shelters” for abandoned cats fostered by Tokyo Cat Guardian, a nonprofit organization.

“Even if something unpleasant happens at work, I feel relieved when I come home and see my cat,” said Morishita, 51, who started living with her cat, Luna, in February last year. “She also gives me a good reason to work, because I have to earn money to feed her.”

Despite her love of cats, Morishita had not anticipated being able to keep one, owing to the difficulty of finding an apartment that allows pets. But after moving into her current place, she discovered that it was listed by the NPO as a property where its cats can be rehoused.

Her discovery prompted a visit to Tokyo Cat Guardian, where she chose 9-month-old Luna.

“First, I thought about adopting a handicapped cat that it would be difficult to find an owner for, but Luna came into my lap even though she was said to be very shy of strangers. So I decided to adopt her,” Morishita said. “As she had already gone through toilet and house training, it was very easy to keep her.”

Under the program, those who adopt cats can return them if they need to, for instance if they have to move because of their work. People can also become the owner of their adopted cat by opting to pay expenses such as vaccination fees.

The staff at Tokyo Cat Guardian interview each applicant to determine their suitability. As of mid-March, five apartments were available in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture for those who want to live with cats under the program, according to their website.

Yoko Yamamoto, head of the group, came up with the idea after launching the NPO in 2010. She is determined to save as many abandoned cats as possible from being put down.

According to sources at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, its animal care center took in 2,289 cats, including 1,629 kittens, in fiscal 2012, compared with 783 dogs and six puppies. Many of the cats that can’t find owners are destroyed.

“Our aim is to bring the number of cats put down to zero,” Yamamoto said.

After the first three apartments were introduced for rent in the program, Yamamoto received inquiries from apartment owners and potential residents alike. Eventually, about 50 apartments were included in the program, though many were occupied by residents who already had pets or wanted to buy one, Yamamoto said.

“We are targeting those with no experience of keeping cats but with an interest in doing so, as well as elderly people who want to live with pets but are hesitant because they are concerned that they won’t be able to keep them for a long time,” she said.

So far, four abandoned cats have been adopted and none returned, according to Yamamoto, who said she hopes those looking after them will eventually become their owners.

Yamamoto is confident there is ample demand for the apartments participating in the program, but she is disappointed that many real estate firms are reluctant to take on properties allowing pets for fear of damage, such as cats scratching walls.

In fact, the real estate firm Morishita went through to find her apartment did not explain the program to her, and it was only after receiving a flier from the NPO that she decided to contact them herself.

One of the few real estate firms to support the program is Tokyo-based Livinggold. With the consent of the owners, the firm has started renovating properties to make it easier for residents to live with a cat.

One apartment that the company has renovated in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, is equipped with cat-friendly features such as a passage near the ceiling to walk on as well as a tower to climb. The 19-sq.-meter room costs ¥77,000 per month, including maintenance charges, according to Livinggold.

“These apartments should be welcomed by their owners as tenants with cats will want to stay for a long time because of the comfortable environment for their pets,” said Kaoru Todo, who runs the real estate firm.

The company, which has a tie-up with Tokyo Cat Guardian, plans to renovate three more rental units, as well as help expand the program, she said.

“As a cat lover myself, I want cats at Tokyo Cat Guardian to become happy at finding a good place to live in,” Todo said.