Sasano Nomura, 26, mournfully recalled the first time she put dogs to sleep as a staffer at the Small Animal Management Center in Kochi Prefecture, saying: “I killed them.”

Nomura, who began working at the center six years ago, still feels depressed when she hears dogs and cats suffer in the gas chamber.

The center is situated in a coastal town near the city of Kochi and manages thousands of dogs and cats dropped off for various reasons. The main ones are that their owners no longer want them, can’t keep them where they now live, or have grown too old to care for the animals.

Healthy and friendly dogs are taken care of and shown to prospective new owners, but dogs that are sick or likely to bite are put down.

The center has eight staff members dispatched by a private company managing dogs and cats there on behalf of the city and the Kochi Prefectural Government. It put 567 dogs and 3,487 cats to sleep in fiscal 2012.

Dogs are observed for a week to decide whether they should be shown to other prospective owners or put down, but cats are destroyed on the same day they are brought in because there are too many to keep.

One day in late March, two abandoned dogs and another two brought in by owners who could no longer take care of them were gassed.

After putting the animals into the gas chamber, one of the staff clicked a button on the computer screen to pump in carbon dioxide. The four dogs collapsed in about 30 seconds.

“Some people call us brutes,” he murmured.

When dogs are offered to new homes, staff recommend spaying or neutering them and ask prospective new owners about their living environments. They advise them not to take dogs home unless they have the right environment for looking after them. They also show them a video of how unwanted dogs are gassed.

In not a few cases, however, the dogs are returned to the center, some with puppies included.

“People who bring their animals in for gassing are not actually qualified to keep them,” Nomura says. “They should have regarded them as important members of their families.”

Nomura, who used to dream of becoming a breeder at a zoo, once thought she would quit the job if it became too much to bear. But she has continued, feeling she “shouldn’t close my eyes” to the culling of dogs and cats.

One of the staff members personally buys expensive dog food to feed those destined to be put down.

It seems, however, that the staff’s sympathy for the animals and the efforts its makes to educate people about pet care are falling on deaf ears, as irresponsible owners continue to ignore the death issue and return to the center to have their pets killed.

According to the Environment Ministry, around 175,000 dogs and cats were put down in fiscal 2011, down by more than 40 percent from five years ago, thanks in part to local government efforts to cut back on pet gassing.

For example, Kumamoto City Hall has adopted tough requirements for accepting dogs and cats for disposal by setting a goal of “zero culling.”

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