In fiscal 2011, local government-run animal shelters nationwide took in more than 220,000 dogs and cats abandoned by their owners. Roughly 80 percent, around 175,000, of those animals were “put down,” a polite euphemism for gassing the animals to death. The pet industry continues to grow in Japan, and yet, an average of 480 animals are killed every day because owners no longer want them.
In response to this huge number of “orphaned” pets, the Diet has revised the Law on Welfare and Management of Animals, which is under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry, and beginning in September local governments can refuse to take in unwanted pets. The revised law requires pet owners to continue to care for their pets until the pets die or to find someone who will accept them. But some owners might just abandon them elsewhere.
The ministry is also considering making the implantation of microchips in all pets mandatory. Such a step has good and bad points. Tracking down and fining owners who abandon pets is expensive and time-consuming. But if owners know that they might be held accountable, they will think twice before abandoning their pets. Microchips can also help owners locate their lost pets.
There are many reasons why people abandon their pets. Elderly owners who are hospitalized may have no one to care for their pets and other owners may move to a new apartment that does not allow pets. But surely most owners make the decision of getting a pet too lightly and are not prepared for the responsibility of taking care of an animal. People need to fully understand the consequences of pet ownership before committing themselves. Some animal shelters offer seminars on pet ownership, but pet stores should do so as well. Perhaps that course should be required so that potential owners know what they are getting into and how to care for that cute pet before they purchase one.
The ministry is also proposing that online sales of animals be prohibited. This is an excellent idea that should be implemented as soon as possible. Online purchases of pets are surely even more impulsive than purchases from local pet stores. People should make such a purchase only after seeing the animal in person and carefully considering the responsibilities that ownership entails.
People considering owning a pet should also first check with local animal shelters before going to a pet store. Taking an abandoned pet performs the multiple service of rescuing a pet from being put down, saving local governments the expense, and getting a pet, often for free. Local governments should encourage this by making people more aware that animals are available for adoption. They could create “adopt a pet” websites for this purpose as well as place notices in libraries, ward offices, city halls and other public places where people are likely to see them.
The pet industry does an estimated ¥1 trillion worth of business a year selling a vast amount of goods ranging from luxury baths to outfits, strollers and toys. Companies should strongly consider donating a small portion of their profits to help abandoned pets.