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Animal therapy, designed to heal people through contact with animals, is spreading in Japan amid the COVID-19 crisis.

A university in Tokyo has hosted a session to introduce therapy dogs to students and alleviate their loneliness attributed to the prolonged novel coronavirus crisis, while facilities for disabled people are developing environments that allow residents to live with animals.

On the campus of Showa Women’s University in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, in-person classes have resumed following the lifting of the state of emergency at the end of September.

“I feel at ease,” Manami Ubukata, 22, said with a smile as she rubbed the back of Eito, a therapy dog visiting the university campus for a hands-on session with such animals held on Oct. 21.

Ubakata’s university life has greatly changed following the spread of the virus.

“The number of classes fell after I became a senior, and I could not meet friends in online lectures,” she said.

Additionally, it was tough that she was unable to return to her parents’ home in the Tohoku northeastern Japan region to see her beloved cat there, she said.

The university organized the animal therapy session after a number of students told a consultation center that they have been increasingly isolated.

The Animal Therapy Kokoro Support Association, a general incorporated association based in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture dispatched animals to the event.

The association train rescued dogs and other animals and dispatch them to organizations including companies, according to Kuniko Kusakabe, head of the association.

At a facility for people with disabilities based in the northeastern city of Akita, five women live with a one-year-old cat, Miichan — a once neglected cat that has been rescued by an animal care center.

“We feel relaxed and a happy mood is created,” manager of the facility, Ryuji Tanaka, said of the residents looking at Miichan’s sleeping face and smiling while playing with the cat.

Tokyo-based Anispi Holdings Inc., which operates facilities for disabled people across the country, including the one in Akita, started accepting rescued dogs and cats three years ago and allowed them to live at some of its 600 facilities.

Hideaki Fujita, president at Anispi Holdings, said, “We hope that it will become normal for people with disabilities to live with animals.”

The Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA), a public interest incorporated association in Tokyo, has been dispatching therapy dogs since 1986. It dispatches such animals around 1,000 times annually.

The therapy pet services can be so popular, JAHA mentions, that sometimes they don’t have enough animals and volunteers to dispatch.

The Environment Ministry is also paying close attention to animal therapy initiatives as they may have a key role is reducing the number of animals being culled in Japan.

With the ministry looking to start conducting a survey work on the issue next fiscal year, rescued dogs and other animals are likely to have opportunities to play active roles.

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