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Ayumi Tanaka is crazy about pets. Ever since she was a child, she has pondered the problem of the thousands of stray dogs and cats that get put down every year and has wondered how she might help to save them.

Last spring, she purchased around 40 hectares of land in Takizawa, Iwate Prefecture, and set about building Pets Village, a complex that she hopes will become the world’s largest pet protection center. The center is currently home to about 30 animals.

“I hope to change the way Japanese people think about the lives of animals,” Tanaka said. “I’m thrilled with the opportunity to realize my dream, which I believe is worth giving everything I have for.”

According to the Environment Ministry, over 128,000 dogs and cats were killed in Japan in fiscal 2013. Tanaka aims to reduce that to zero by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Pets Village will be more than twice as large as Europe’s biggest animal protection facility, which is in Germany. Tanaka plans to take in abandoned animals collected from publicly run shelters and to seek foster families for them. In September last year, she opened a dog run.

A native of Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, Tanaka had a dog as a child and was constantly troubled by the idea that strays were being killed.

“For a long time, I had no idea what I could do,” she said.

Her initial career path was not in this direction. She founded a printing company in Tokyo five years ago, but the pets problem continued to bother her. She brought it up with fellow entrepreneurs who shared her dream of creating a “sacred spot” where animals would be protected from all threats.

One day, someone who liked the idea let her know about a parcel of land for sale in Iwate Prefecture.

Tanaka put her operations on hold, established a foundation called Pets Village and moved to Iwate. The facility is now taking shape.

“I’m realizing anew how grave the responsibility of protecting lives is,” she said.

For now, Tanaka largely depends on corporate donations but she hopes to become financially independent by producing and selling pet-related goods and offering insurance.

Her long-term dream is to build an animal hospital and animal cemetery within the Pets Village premises.

“I also hope to deepen cooperation and coordination with animal protection centers across Japan,” she said.

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