Just like many countries in the world, Japan has an epidemic of homeless dogs. Most are abandoned after their owners realize the huge responsibility of pet ownership. However, the big difference in Japan is that more than 70 percent of the stray dogs are euthanized at animal shelters because of a cultural stigma to own anything secondhand.
According to a story from Reuters, the people of Japan love companion animals. Puppies and purebred dogs are seen as status symbols and everyone yearns to own one. For most people it is a wonderful experience, but for some individuals the responsibility of taking care of a dog becomes too much to handle and the animals are surrendered to shelters.
Animal welfare organizations such as ALIVE (All Life In a Viable Environment) say that dogs who are not relinquished to shelters are often abandoned on the streets. This is leading to a secondary problem of packs of canines living together and becoming wild. ALIVE works to teach Japanese pet owners how to be responsible guardians.
And a third set of circumstances that is contributing to the stray pet problem comes from hunters who dump their dogs after hunting season, rather than keep them for the following year. They simply buy a new dog when the season starts again.
No matter where the dogs come from, they are only kept at city-owned shelters for seven days. Then they are taken to the “dream box” where they are euthanized (gassed) by carbon dioxide. A hi-tech monitoring system with a television screen allows shelter workers to watch the process.
Briar Simpson, who works for Japan’s animal shelter ARK said, “The mindset in Japan is still ‘if you want a pet, go to a pet shop’.”
The majority of Japanese do not want to adopt from a shelter because the society considers those dogs to be ‘hand me downs’ and damaged goods. There is a cultural shame about owning a dog that someone else threw away.
This is particularly sad when there are 6.8 million dogs in the country. Those that end up in shelters in large cities such as Tokyo have a euthanasia rate of more than 70 percent and in the rural communities the euthanasia is as high as 88 percent.
Kensuke Kuramoto, a dog trainer told Reuters, “Too many people treat dogs like toys and trinkets. Too many people are raising dogs in Japan, and people tend to view their lives too lightly.”
The good news is that attitudes are slowly changing, especially in young people. And with the help of news stories from other countries and classes from animal activist groups like Angels with Fur that teaches people about respect for all living creatures; hopefully more Japanese will be proud to adopt a recycled dog.
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