Dogs are a man’s best friend, and for many, cats are, too.
But the harsh reality is that in 2015, 82,902 dogs and cats were put to sleep nationwide, with cats making up 67,091, or roughly 80 percent, of the total due to their high reproductive capacity, according to the Environment Ministry.
The ministry estimates that one unsterilized female feline will increase the cat population by 2,000 over three years.
To reduce the euthanasia rate to zero, one veterinarian in the city of Kumamoto has launched a campaign to sterilize roughly 2,000 cats in a week through Tuesday in a bid to control the feline population.
“Until recently, stray cats that lived in parks were captured and culled by city officials who received complaints from local residents,” said Ryunosuke Tokuda, director of Ryunosuke Animal Hospital in Kumamoto.
But he said it failed to solve the issue because when those cats are culled, more strays take their place.
As part of his campaign, titled Box Ryunosuke, cats are trapped, neutered and returned (TNR) to their habitat after a week at Tokuda’s veterinary clinic where they are also treated for injuries and given flea medication.
“Controlling the population of stray cats and taking care of them as community cats by involving local residents will be the best shortcut to achieving the zero-cull goal,” Tokuda said.
“What’s different with TNR is that we’re returning the cats to their own habitat, so that their territory will be maintained, preventing other cats from entering,” he added.
The program, which has sterilized 3,000 cats over three separate campaigns since February 2015, has attracted volunteers, including students from the local Kyushu Dobutsu Gakuin college who helped with promotional efforts, as well as veterinarians who traveled to Kumamoto from others parts of Japan.
The zero-cull goal, while seen as difficult to achieve, is nevertheless slowly gaining momentum.
During the gubernatorial election in July, now-Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike pledged to reduce the number of culled dogs and cats in the capital to zero.
As the host city for the Olympic Games in 2020, Koike said she didn’t want to tarnish Tokyo’s image by being labeled a pet-culling city. And she vowed to make progress on the policy before the games when she spoke at the Animal Welfare Summit 2016 in August in Tokyo soon after she took office.
Shoko Suzuki, director of Fuu Animal Hospital in the Tokyo suburb of Ome, was one of the veterinarians who joined Tokuda’s campaign.
“I wanted to know how TNR is being used. I’d like to run a similar campaign in Tokyo,” she said.
She said although there are countless nonprofit organizations and volunteers who are willing to run TNR campaigns, veterinarians are the only ones who can actually provide treatment to cats.
“It’s the fault of us humans that the number of stray cats has increased. By conducting TNR, we can raise public awareness, which may reduce the number of abandoned cats and dogs,” Suzuki said.
According to Mutsuko Murakami, an official at the Kumamoto Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Center, the city provides ¥5,000 for every cat treated in the TNR campaign.
As a result, only 14 cats were euthanized in the city in 2015 for disease-related reasons.
Other municipalities are following suit, funding efforts to control the population of stray cats through TNR and increasing public awareness of so-called community cats.
No cats have been culled in Kanagawa Prefecture since 2014, while Hiroshima Prefecture has not killed any since April.
The city of Urayasu in Chiba Prefecture has been shouldering all TNR fees since 2011, with roughly 860 cats treated so far.
Urayasu also released a smartphone application earlier this month titled Nyanda Land, which features photos of community cats that live in the area — the first such app developed by a municipality.
“We are taking care of stray cats as a community, providing them with sterilization treatments and looking after them” with the help of volunteers, said Takao Okuyama, an Urayasu official.
He said by raising awareness through the app, it made undertaking the program easier.
The city’s 164 volunteers report to the city when they find new stray cats, taking photos of them and adding them to the app before providing necessary treatment.
The app is currently a list of cats with their pictures, nicknames and habitats, but Okuyama said he hoped to develop it into a platform where people can adopt the featured cats.