With the majority of the population sticking close to home during Japan’s state of emergency, it’s a safe bet that pets across the archipelago — my three chubby, spoiled middle-aged kitties included — got more attention than usual from their stressed-out pet parents. It has been well-documented that pets can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and isolation — not to mention being a constant source of material for adorable posts on social media.

If all your #stayhome quality time during the COVID-19 pandemic has made you want to get your own furry friend, here are some points to consider before committing to a new addition to the family.

Fur-ever friend

Although this seems a bit of a no-brainer, it pays to do your homework first and be realistic about the relationship your pet will be able to have with you. If you live in rented accommodation, or in a condominium, check with the landlord or resident’s association about their policies on pets. Even pet-friendly dwellings often have restrictions on the size or number of animals you can keep.

If your work or other commitments take you away from home a lot, then a dog may not be the right pet. A canine that spends most of the day alone will be bored and lonely. While cats are generally lower maintenance than dogs, the assumption that “cats take care of themselves” isn’t completely true. Most felines welcome company on their terms, and animal experts recommend getting two cats so they can be companions for each other. And don’t forget about shedding season — in the spring and fall, households with animals will probably be dealing with pet hair on a daily basis. Invest in a good pet grooming tool and a lint roller.

Do the math

There are costs associated with pets that go far beyond the basic food, bedding and chew toys. In Japan, all dogs must be registered with the local city or town office, and are required to have a yearly rabies injection. Neutering or spaying companion animals is highly recommended, not just to prevent unwanted litters, but also to help safeguard your pet against certain diseases.

Veterinarian bills in general can be extremely expensive, so you might want to invest in pet insurance when the animal is still young and healthy: It’s too late once illness crops up. This is something my family wishes we had looked into years ago, as one of our cats recently had surgery for cancer. (The cat is doing fine; the bank account is still recovering.) Furthermore, some breeds will require regular visits to the trimmer and, if you do go on vacation, pet sitter or kennel costs can also mount up.

Where to get a pet

So you’ve done your homework and you’re ready to welcome that new pet pal. Animal welfare experts recommend adopting an animal, rather than patronizing one of Japan’s many pet shops. While the “awww” appeal of a puppy or kitten is universal, pet shops generally try to sell animals as young as possible to maximize the cute factor. Sadly, those that outlive their “sell-by date” are disposed of.

“Because animals in shops are often (removed from their mothers) at inappropriately young ages, they are usually poorly socialized,” says Susan Roberts of the Japan Cat Network, a nonprofit organization promoting pet fostering and adoption, and animal welfare. “In addition, due to lack of oversight and regulations, inbreeding is a very big concern. The animals that you buy often have genetic problems that lead to serious health issues.”

Another advantage of adoption is that the animal will often already be spayed, vaccinated, tested for disease and, in some cases, microchipped. “The adoption fees charged are significantly less than what these (services) would cost at an average vet,” says Roberts. Shelters also offer animals of all ages, and older pets may be a good choice for people who don’t have the time or energy to devote to the demands of a puppy or kitten.

Some potential pet owners may have a preference for a specific breed, particularly when it comes to dogs. Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) urges animal lovers to carefully consider the implications of purchasing from a pet shop, which rely on puppy mills for stock.

“Even if you feel you have ‘rescued’ that dog, you have sentenced its parents to a miserable existence,” says Julie Okamoto, who helps run the organization’s Tokyo branch. “Also, don’t forget that shelters are full of purebreds. The wrong people buy the wrong dogs, and that’s where they end up.”

For those wishing to buy a puppy from an independent breeder, Okamoto recommends visiting the actual facilities to check that they are clean and welcoming, rather than relying on images from a website.

Paw patrol

Just like most aspects of life in Japan, there are certain expectations for pet owners. Some apartment buildings have designated elevators for those transporting pets. And although everyone knows a dog’s got to go when a dog’s got to go, if that happens to be during a walk, then the owner is responsible for cleaning up afterward. Similarly, keep your canine on a leash when out and about, unless it’s in a designated off-leash area. While there are fewer social restrictions on cats, keeping kitties inside is the best way to ensure they are protected from disease, local strays and neighbors who might not appreciate cats wandering through their property.

Here’s to happy homecomings for your pet! Now, excuse me while I go and brush my cats again.

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