Sadistic videos posted online this year showing a man abusing a toy poodle have sparked revulsion among some viewers and calls by activists for changes to the law.
The seven videos show an unidentified man beating the dog, kicking it, dropping it on the floor and hurling it against furniture.
The first video was entitled “Abused dog.” All appeared to feature a Japanese-speaking individual. They were uploaded to YouTube over a roughly two-week period starting in late January.
Activists say the current animal cruelty law does not prevent mistreatment, and they are urging police and the public to step in wherever abuse is detected.
The incident might have gone unnoticed if viewers had not raised the alarm and contacted animal rights organization Rescue Japanese Animal Victims, said Atsuko Sato, a group representative.
The group looks after animals rescued from abusers or those caught up in natural disaster. Its staff members contacted police and urged action to find and save the toy poodle.
Sato said at least some of the videos appear to have been filmed in the same apartment, but she said neither the group nor police could identify the individual seen in the videos or determine where they were filmed.
Some viewers were apparently unsympathetic to the dog’s plight. One of these included a male high school student from Kanagawa Prefecture who shared the clips with his social networking contacts.
The group contacted the student and his high school, and he later deleted them.
Sato said the case highlights the fact that animal cruelty is rarely considered a crime in this country.
“Japanese law on the welfare and management of animals, which was formulated to protect mainly the rights of breeders and pet shop owners, fails to define what abuse really means,” Sato said.
She said treatment like that seen in the videos would be regarded as animal abuse in most developed countries, but in Japan it is often regarded as “excusable,” as people here have long regarded animals as objects.
She said paying greater attention to abuse might reap dividends elsewhere, as a young person who tortures animals may in later life show criminal tendencies.
She cited the murder of two children in Kobe in 1997, carried out by a teen who earlier had harmed animals, and a case last year in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in which a female high school student allegedly killed and dismembered a classmate. Investigative sources in that case said the suspect had dissected at least one cat.
Sato said indicators like these are often ignored, and preventing animal abuse might help to curb violent tendencies before they escalate.
“I think that in this case, it is extremely important to identify and capture the abuser,” she said.
If nothing is done, she said, an opportunity to take action on a long-running problem will have been missed.
Naoko Mizokami, head of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Nekoken, which rescues abandoned cats, echoed Sato’s call for action.
“Under the current Welfare and Management of Animals Act, which was amended in 2012, abandoning a pet as well as neglect leading to the pet’s physical deterioration are subject to a fine of up to ¥1 million,” Mizokami said.
Last July, the Nagano Prefectural Police held a man on suspicion violating the animal law after he posted a video online showing him putting a cat in a cage and placing it in a river. The cat was seen drowning.
The incident sparked outrage among Internet users who reported it to police. But the case was considered a minor crime and the single summary court judge who heard it handed the man a ¥300,000 fine.
“The problem is that the responses of law enforcement are ineffective,” Mizokami said, pointing to a lack of awareness of the law by the police.
“The problem has surfaced only because more people are uploading private videos,” she said. “But even police are unaware of the animal cruelty law and don’t know in what cases it is applicable.”
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