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Many municipalities are struggling to curb the number of cats they dispose of every year. Latest figures show that the number exceeds 130,000 nationwide.

Many officials at animal care centers are concerned that the number is unlikely to fall unless owners change their attitudes toward pets.

An Environment Ministry survey shows that more than 170,000 dogs and cats were put down in fiscal 2011 through March 2012. Of the total, 131,000 were cats and a majority had no owners.

Since most of the unclaimed cats are believed to have been born to stray or abandoned cats, the most urgent challenge facing local governments is to have stray cats spayed.

In fiscal 2010, the city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, started enabling residents and animal rights groups taking care of stray cats to have them spayed for ¥6,000, which is thousands of yen cheaper than the usual fee, with the city and veterinarians shouldering the remaining amount.

Noting that 329 cats were spayed in fiscal 2012, a government official in Hamamatsu said, “The number of stray cats has definitely declined (since the program started).”

The cities of Osaka and Kyoto have implemented similar subsidy programs.

Kochi Prefecture has adopted a totally different approach to changing owners’ mindsets.

More than 80 percent of the 4,054 dogs and cats put down in Kochi in fiscal 2012 were cats.

The prefecture disposes of animals immediately after they are brought to centers, explaining that there is no longer any space to keep them.

The Chuo Small Animal Management Center in the city of Kochi has kept a female cat in its office since it was brought in last year.

An official named her Mei, using the kanji meaning “life” in hopes of teaching residents the value of life.

The center launched a blog about the spayed cat in which it details how she spends life inside the office, along with photographs. It has received several messages and gifts for Mei from residents.

One such message read: “I had thought cats should roam outside.”

In Japan, some owners let their cats go outside during the day.

“If many owners have their cats spayed or neutered and keep them indoors, the number of cats brought here would drop sharply,” said Yuzo Yamamoto, director of the management center.

The central government introduced a revised Animal Protection Law on Sept. 1, making it clear that an owner is responsible for caring for a pet until it dies and enabling administrations to refuse to take an animal if it was brought in simply because it is sick or old.

“The recent legal amendment has made it easier for us to persuade owners (to continue to look after their pets),” said Mutsuko Murakami, director of the Kumamoto City Animal Protection Center.

The center managed to reduce the total number of dogs and cats it disposes of each year to 21 in fiscal 2012 from 1,003 in fiscal 2002 by telling owners they are responsible for their pets.

But Murakami said, “Unless we have the owners actually look after their pets through to the end, there will be no end to animal killing.”

Toshiko Ozawa, member of the Tokyo-based animal rights organization ALIVE, or All Life In a Viable Environment, also expressed concern that owners may abandon their pets if they are turned down by local governments.

“Local governments need to join hands with police to crack down (on such acts of animal abandonment),” Ozawa said.

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