How much do you want that puppy in the window?

by Akiko Kondo

Kyodo

Pet store owners know it’s hard to walk past the wide, unblinking eyes of a golden retriever puppy in a store-front window.

Indeed, they count on this ability to tug on your heart strings to boost sales.

But puppies bought on impulse grow up, and Japan is starting to experience problems stemming from pets being discarded as if they were a pair of outdated earrings.

Japan’s pet shop practices, allied to a lack of responsibility on the part of owners, are largely responsible for the high number of pets that either die due to improper care or else are abandoned, according to a local government official and a pet dealer in Kagawa Prefecture.

Health centers have reported an increase in pets brought in to be euthanized. Pet euthanasia is considered a necessary evil to prevent the spread of disease and property damage caused by strays.

According to Environment Ministry statistics, about 124,000 dogs and 273,000 cats were put to sleep at health centers nationwide in fiscal 2001. Of that total, about 4,600 dogs and 2,300 cats — the seventh-highest — were euthanized and disposed of in Kagawa Prefecture.

“That’s because of the large amount of undeveloped land in the area, so abandoned animals are likely to survive and multiply,” a Kagawa public sanitation official said.

Although the number of abandoned animals is decreasing every year as owners begin to view their pets as family members, many others still hand over their pets to the health center with petty excuses such as, “my dog barks and the neighbors complain” or “my dog became too big and I can’t control it,” the official said.

But these “reckless” owners are not entirely to blame; Japan’s pet shop system may also be at fault.

“Pet shops usually display puppies and kittens in store-front windows . . . that not only stresses out the animals but also causes people to buy them impulsively,” said Atsushi Omayu, a 28-year-old puppy dealer in the prefectural capital, Takamatsu.

Some shops even “clean out” leftover animals, Omayu said.

Many people in Europe and parts of the United States buy puppies directly from breeders, he said.

Thus, they are more likely to consider whether they will be able to afford pets and keep them at home before purchasing the animals.

As a result, dog breeders are unlikely to produce too many animals and fewer animals will be abandoned.

On the governmental front, the ministry has tasked a group of experts with discussing amendments to the animal protection law.

The group may tighten pet store rules and demand that microchips be implanted into animals to identify owners.

The group plans to submit its final report next spring, and the ministry will use it as the basis for revising the current law, which only obliges pet store owners to register with local prefectures.

The local health official welcomed the plan, saying: “If the law is amended and becomes stricter, we can grasp the whole image of the animal trade.

“To be honest, we don’t want to see any more animals in here. People who don’t have the intention of caring for pets till the end shouldn’t even own them in the first place.”