Appalled by the shocking sight of emaciated and dying dogs and horses in Tokyo after World War II, two British women set about raising money to improve animal welfare in Japan and, in the process, changed public attitudes in the country.

More than six decades later, the charity they set up in London is still going strong, financing projects on the other side of the world.

One might ask why a group registered in Britain would be raising money for the welfare of animals in Japan, one of the world’s richest countries. Trustees say the organization has kept true to the aims of its postwar founders, as it campaigns for improved welfare standards for pets, while also tackling higher-profile issues such as whaling, dolphin hunts and conditions in Japan’s bear parks.

The Japan Animal Welfare Society was established in 1956 in London by Lorna Gascoigne and Eleanor Close, who had both just returned from Japan after spending time there with their husbands. Gascoigne’s husband, Alvary, was head of the postwar British mission in Japan, and Close’s partner, Reg, was the first British Council representative in Tokyo.

While in Japan, both women were deeply moved by the poor condition of the many horses they saw, often tethered without adequate food, water or shelter.

They were also shocked by the state of dogs kept at the University of Tokyo Hospital where they were used for medical research.

Gascoigne, Close and other local volunteers provided water, food and scarce veterinary drugs to relieve the animals’ suffering.

At the time, the two women were frequently derided for what seemed to some as “eccentric” concerns about animals. However, their conviction had inspired a growing number of Japanese who shared their views.

On their return to London, they established JAWS with the aim of raising money for a sister organization in Japan and that funding continues to this day.

Today, JAWS funds a variety of programs in Japan. These include neutering, rehoming, rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured and abandoned animals.

JAWS runs campaigns to improve animal welfare laws and supports awareness-training initiatives for Japanese officials. The charity has also assisted animals that have been displaced after surviving natural disasters.

The London office also funds other charities and individuals, usually, although not exclusively, in Japan. The group is also keen to engage with schools and encourage young people in Britain and Japan to work together.

“There have been rapid improvements in animal welfare over the last six years, and we think a lot of that is down to the ability of young people to travel, compare and communicate internationally on these and other modern issues,” said Chairman Tony Crittenden.

“The function of JAWS was to kindle the flame of interest in animal welfare and get Japanese people to take the lead without lecturing to them. That is now happening.”

Kevin Degenhard, a JAWS trustee who recently visited Japan, said, “Although official figures show an encouraging reduction in the number of stray animals handled by the official animal management centers, the demands upon voluntary animal rescue groups and individuals remain excessive.

“There are fears that unwanted pets and surplus animals from breeders — no longer accepted by the animal management centers — will eventually be an extra burden on the private rescue centers.

“Fortunately, these centers are now moving toward the euthanasia of unwanted stray animals by means of an appropriate injection rather than gassing, which caused stress and panic.”

On the downside, Degenhard noted that animals are frequently seen as amusing playthings on television and he is concerned about the persistent attitude of treating dogs as fashion accessories.

He said that animal welfare policies tend to vary prefecture by prefecture in the absence of a national standard. That is something JAWS is trying to address through the funding of training programs.

Looking back over the charity’s last 61 years, Crittenden said, “I think the valiant ladies who set up JAWS would see many improvements with the situation in Japan, but there is still a long way to go compared with modern animal welfare legislation and standards in other developed countries.”

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