Animals in Japan

Animals in Japan

This site publishes columns regarding the actual situation of animals in Japan, on a regular basis. After a period of inactivity, we re-opened the site with the intention of being of help to anyone looking for this kind of information, and furthermore, creating an opportunity for the happy and borderless co-existence of humans and animals.

Visual concept of the AIJ icon

The character shown in the AIJ icon is “Akabeko”, the legendary red bull of the Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture. It is said that Akabeko helped black cattle that were struggling to carry wood to restore a temple damaged by a big earthquake that hit the region about 400 years ago. As the Akabeko disappeared soon after its great contribution, people believed it was help sent from Buddha. People in that region have held Akabeko as a bearer of ‘Good Fortune’ ever since. The black circles on Akabeko are considered to be indications of the pox. According to another legend, the red bull was the only animal that survived smallpox infection in ancient times. People believed its red body color also had an apotropaic power and that children owning an Akabeko toy escape from misfortunes.

Visual concept of the AIJ icon
The character shown in the AIJ icon is “Akabeko”, the legendary red bull of the Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture. It is said that Akabeko helped black cattle that were struggling to carry wood to restore a temple damaged by a big earthquake that hit the region about 400 years ago. As the Akabeko disappeared soon after its great contribution, people believed it was help sent from Buddha. People in that region have held Akabeko as a bearer of ‘Good Fortune’ ever since. The black circles on Akabeko are considered to be indications of the pox. According to another legend, the red bull was the only animal that survived smallpox infection in ancient times. People believed its red body color also had an apotropaic power and that children owning an Akabeko toy escape from misfortunes.

Sep.
2019

Rabbit Island

A small island in the Seto Inland Sea in the western part of Japan located between the mainland, Honshu, and the island of Shikoku has been attracting the attention of tourists, including international ones. This island, Okuno-shima, is otherwise known as "Rabbit Island" and has become internationally famous due to photos and videos spread through social media. The island is inhabited by scores of feral rabbits and has become a large tourist attraction in recent years.
The origin of this large feral colony is somewhat hazy. No one knows for sure how these rabbits came to be on this particular island. There are several theories. For example, one is related to the original use of the island by the Japanese military during the Second World War. Okuno-shima was a military establishment that housed a laboratory dedicated to the development and manufacturing of poisonous gas. After the war the facility was decommissioned and abandoned. The rabbits that were kept as lab animals were let loose on the island and there they stayed, reproduced, and thrived without any human interference. There is another theory that states that the rabbits were originally school pets that were brought to and abandoned on the island by a school teacher. No one knows for sure what the truth is about these rabbits but they have occupied the island and there they are today.
The island is under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment and humans are not allowed to settle there. There is one hotel resort where visitors are allowed to stay, but there are no other buildings on the island, other than the museum, the tourist center and the ruins of the former military facility. Many of these ruins, including old factories, lab buildings, and even bunkers serve as convenient and sturdy shelters for rabbit colonies. No animals can be brought in. Thus, except for some raptors, the rabbits have no predators on the island. Wild boars that are capable of swimming fairly long distances are sometimes seen on the island but there seems to be little conflict between them and the rabbits.
Recently the island has been highlighted by some animal protection groups due to the poor condition of the rabbits. Videos on YouTube have shown rabbits with scars from injuries and those that seem malnourished. The scenes showing these "neglected rabbits" have caused many to speak up for authorities' intervention.
The Japan Animal Welfare Society (JAWS) has even received calls from foreign nationals that have seen those videos.

There are several issues that need to be discussed. One of them is the issue of food. Some tourists, journalists and researchers have reported on the lack of food on the island for the large number of animals.
The impression one gets when first setting foot on the island is indeed that grass has been eaten down to the ground. But that is actually only in areas where there are benches and walkways for tourists. The island itself is quite lush when one ventures into uncharted areas. It takes a little over 2 hours to go around the entire island. Vehicles are not allowed. There is only one vehicle on the island, the bus that shuttles visitors to the only hotel resort from the port where the ferries come in. Most visitors will stay in the area between the port and the resort and most of the photos and videos are taken there. The area in front of the resort is a large open space where the visitors will hang around feeding the rabbits. Some will come with piles of vegetables to leave in the area. Needless to say, that is where many, many rabbits will gather attracted to the carrots and greens that the tourists bring in. Unfortunately a large number of rabbits going for treats in a limited area will result in conflict and rivalry. This is where most of the injuries are seen. Many rabbits will also hang around the port area in anticipation of the "treat bringers". The mass feeding of the rabbits on the island causes two main issues. One is the acceleration of proliferation, i.e. there is more breeding if there is more food. The other issue is human dependence. The feeding of feral animals causes them to depend more on humans which, in turn, will cause other issues such as the aforementioned gathering of an unnatural number of individuals in a limited area.
One other problem caused by the feeders is that of "overload". Some visitors will bring large quantities of food such as whole cabbages. During the summer, the man-made piles of vegetables will rot, giving off unpleasant odors and generally marring the hygiene of the environment.
Businesses catering to tourists such as the shops near the port of Tadanoumi, where the ferry departs for Okuno-shima, openly advertise the fact that "vegetables cannot be bought on the island", encouraging tourists to buy treats for the rabbits from them.
Because of the sheer number of rabbits and the fact that they have been feral for generations, the Ministry of the Environment feels that medical intervention is not possible. However, a survey of the island is being considered to evaluate the number of rabbits as well as the conditions of their environment.
Perhaps more rules should be put in place concerning the number of visitors allowed and the management of their feeding practices.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jun.
2019

The Plastics Issue and Japan

Plastic waste disposal has been a looming problem for each and every country. There is so much plastic now polluting our environment that life has indeed become hazardous to both people and animals. As many of us know, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal of 1989 was revised on the 10th of May. The revision was to include a new rule concerning the export of "dirty plastic wastes", i.e. those plastics that have not been cleaned out and therefore unfit for recycling. The revised Convention states that exports of such wastes may not be conducted without prior agreement from the government of the importing nation. 180 nations have supported this revision and as a result of this new development, some countries have started to refuse imports of dirty plastic wastes from Japan.
But more important is the fact that the oceans of the world are now so polluted with micro-plastics that there is no effective way for humans to "clean up what they have sullied". It is estimated that no less than 100 million tons of micro-plastics are adrift on the seas. These particles are less than one millimeter in size, and these miniscule particles, often undetectable to the human eye, are consumed by many kinds of marine life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States Department of Commerce have reported that these tiny particles are small enough for baby fish to consume. In terms of reproductive statistics in general for fish, of all the eggs that are laid by mature individuals, only 0.1 percent survive to reach adulthood. This means that the more micro-plastics invade the diets of baby fish, the more human beings will be faced with the diminishing of marine food resources.
What does this mean for Japan where a large number of traditional foods are based on marine resources? "Kaizuka", shell mounds, as they are known around the world are prehistoric dump sites where huge amounts of sea shells and fish bones have been found.
These mounds have been dated to be more than 10,000 years old, and attest to the fact that marine life has always been central to the Japanese diet. Japan is famous for the longevity of its population as well as for the extremely low percentage of obese people. This phenomenon is in fact partly due to the national diet which has been based on sea food rather than meat, though in recent years the per capita consumption of meat has surpassed that of fish. The northern people of the Japanese archipelago, the indigenous Ainu, consumed large amounts of salmon, utilizing every part of the fish. Even shoes were made of dried salmon skin. The southern people of Japan, on the Ryukyu Islands, ate large amounts of fried fish cakes known as "age-kama". The mainland people had a tradition of eating raw fish, which Japan is famous for even today.

Going back to the reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a large consumer of micro-plastics is the flying fish. Unfortunately, this fish is one of the favorites of Japanese cuisine. "Ago-dashi", or flying fish soup concentrate, is one of the most popular types of flavoring used for many traditional dishes. The nationally famous cooking site, "Cookpad", has numerous recipes listed for this particular fish. Needless to say, the Japanese people are also consuming the micro-plastics that come with the fish.
Our animal friends are also in danger of consuming these pollutants. The majority of cat food sold in Japan is fish-based. In fact the Japanese image of the cat is always paired with some sort of fish. Cat supplies, cat dishes, blankets, toys and other trinkets almost always have fish designs on them. Of course dog treats based on fish are also sold. With the issue of allergies becoming more and more prominent, changing the protein source of dog food to fish is a very attractive option. Dried fish flakes are sold as toppings for both dog and cat food. Therefore, one may safely assume that micro-plastics are steadily making their way into the bodies of our beloved animals as well.
Another issue pertaining to wastes in the ocean is that of plastic bags. Japan has several famous beaches where sea turtles land to lay their eggs. As is well known, these turtles eat jellyfish. Plastic bags floating in the water can be mistaken for jellyfish and ingested by the sea turtles. Needless to say this will cause obstruction of the gut, suffocation, and many other problems adding to the sad demise of an already endangered species.
The world is now embarking on a new endeavor to do away with plastic straws, trays and other items. Free plastic bags and wrapping in shops are gradually disappearing. But, Japan still lags behind many countries in changing their ideas on "wrapping". In many high end stores when a customer buys a fresh food item, the clerk will first wrap this in a plastic bag, then the bagged item will be wrapped once again in wrapping paper with the store logo, then again this wrapped item is put into a plastic or paper carry bag!
In order to tackle the waste problem, the Japanese public must first change their perception of customer service. Over wrapping is not the customer service of this age!

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2019

Are Small Breeds More Convenient?

More and more Japanese dog lovers are beginning to turn to smaller breeds as pets.
The toy breeds are increasing in number and the larger breeds are declining, as more people prefer to keep smaller dogs as pets. One factor contributing to this trend is the lack of space in this country. A large percentage of the population live in apartments in tight living quarters. As a result, smaller breeds such as toy poodles, Chihuahuas and miniature Dachshunds are becoming very popular as companion dogs. Needless to say, in terms of convenience or "ease of keeping", these small dogs would be the natural choice for many pet owners in this country. However, the popularity of, and the increase in numbers of smaller dogs has created issues on many fronts.
First of all, there are some owners of these dogs who feel that their dogs do not need to go outdoors. Their rationale would be that since the dogs are so small, running around inside their apartment gives them plenty of exercise and thus there is no need to walk them outside. This has been the cause of several issues, one of which is the lack of socialization of the dogs. Since Japan is a disaster prone country, pet owners must be prepared to evacuate with their animals. If and when a disaster strikes and the owner is forced to move out of the home and into an evacuation center, the dog would, of course, accompany him/her. But if this dog has never, or very rarely, seen and experienced the outside world, the evacuation process can be extremely stressful. The dog may not be able to cope with living in a strange place with a horde of strangers and their pets. There may be barking, whining, stress-related illnesses and more. In other words, many small breeds are kept under conditions where they are never allowed to learn the life skills that will enable them to lead a stable life.
Another and more important issue related to the "indoor life" of these small dogs is the owner's lack of understanding concerning the true meaning of the nation's dog registration system. Dog owners in Japan must register their dogs with the local authority under the Rabies Prevention Act. Each year the registration must be renewed.
Owners must receive a new dog tag in exchange for a rabies vaccination certificate each year. This system ensures that Japan stays a rabies free region. However there are currently some owners of small house-bound dogs who insist that registration and likewise, vaccination is unnecessary for their dogs because "they do not go outside". Though legally mandatory, the registration rate of dogs is far from reaching the 100 percent mark. This can be very dangerous for the entire nation, as it is known that should rabies enter the region, the vaccination rate of dogs in said region is the major factor in either the prevention or proliferation of the disease.

Apart from these issues concerning the lives of dogs, the rising popularity of smaller dog breeds is a major concern for the pet industry. Looking at this trend from the business standpoint, smaller animals means less food sold. But the problem is not only about how much dog food the manufacturers can sell. All supplies on the market will be faced with downsizing. This means smaller goods such as crates and equipment, as well as smaller amounts of supplements and pharmaceuticals. Dog trainers are facing the issue of people not needing as much help for behavior problems since the "little ones" do not cause as much trouble even though they may be more nervous or crankier than the larger breeds.
"Just pick them up to stop them", is the easier solution many owners choose to practice.
All in all, the general preference for smaller dogs may have a large dampening effect on the pet industry as a whole.
So, is the issue of space the only reason the small dogs are winning? Perhaps not. The Japanese word "kawaii", translated as "cute", has become known worldwide as an aspect of the nouveau culture of the country. The cuteness factor has become a prominent feature of many consumer goods. Stationary, clothes, sundries...cute designs and motifs are found on almost anything. This culture of "kawaii" may be one of the reasons people are so attracted to smaller dogs. There are many boutiques that sell cute clothes for these dogs as well. Dressing their cute dog in colorful, fluffy clothes is also a popular trend. Many foreign people will be surprised at the variety of pet clothes available on the market as well as with the large number of people who "dress-up" their dogs. This has given rise to another troubling issue, that of "smaller small dogs". One example would be the popularly used term "mame-shiba" meaning miniature shiba. There is no such breed but many owners insist that their dog is a miniature shiba. These are simply shiba inu that have been bred to be smaller than the standard breed. There are many toy poodles and other small breeds that are now being bred to be dangerously small. These tiny dogs seem to appeal to the public who endorse the cuteness trend. Needless to say, extreme downsizing may cause physical problems for the dog. Veterinarians need to speak up about the dangers of such a trend.
Small dogs are indeed cute and cuddly, they may also be less of a burden on people in terms of space and care. The trend to keep smaller breeds in itself is not an issue, but when this trend affects other factors we need to think of ways in which to prevent the negative outcomes that may arise.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jan.
2019

Japan and the Whale Controversy

Japan withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was one of the latest news items concerning animals that drew global interest. It is interesting to note that this was not a topic of deep interest to many Japanese citizens. Why? Simply because the Japanese whaling industry is a dying industry that does not affect the lives of very many people and most domestic consumers are not terribly interested in the consumption of whale meat. Unfortunately the views of those outside of Japan do not reflect such facts. To the outside world, the Japanese people favor whale meat and are interested in preserving the cultural aspect of whaling. For a majority of the Japanese people, whale meat is not considered a crucial part of the Japanese traditional diet. It was widely used in the immediate postwar era as a useful and readily available source of protein. As such, it appeared in school lunches as well. Many middle aged citizens remember the days when whale meat appeared regularly in public school lunches. These memories for some are not very mouth-watering. They remember tough meat and fishy odors. Needless to say, there are gourmets who savor special parts of the whale as delicacies, but these do not constitute the majority.
So why is the country so aggressively protective of whaling? The answer is most likely a political one. The leading political parties are influenced largely by local conservative interests in various regions. This means that "traditional items" cannot be dropped from their agendas. At the same time, it seems as though the Japanese government (and other politicians as well) cannot "back down" even though national consumption of whale meat products has gone down drastically. "Iji" is a Japanese word that is hard to translate into the English language. Loosely translated, the word means ego, but is actually much more than that. It can also mean spine or backbone, not anatomically but rather, mentally. In other words the Japanese government is leaving the IWC in order to show that they are not spineless. The whaling issue has indeed become a battle of egos.
However there is another whaling issue concerning Japan that surfaced several years ago.
This is the issue of the dolphin drive hunts in Wakayama.
Every year from September to March the dolphin drive hunts are conducted in a certain area in Wakayama Prefecture. Each year more than a 1000 dolphins are captured or killed in these drive hunts. The dolphins are killed for meat but at the same time many are sold to aquariums around the world for an immense profit. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has prohibited its members from buying dolphins from drive hunts that are considered both cruel and unnecessary. The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums had been warned by the WAZA that some of their member facilities were indeed buying dolphins from these drive hunts. JAZA chose to ignore these warnings for quite some time, until WAZA decided to suspend their membership until they resolved this problem. After much debate, JAZA finally decided to enforce the WAZA rules and tell all their member organizations that they would no longer be able to buy dolphins from the drive hunts. This enabled JAZA to retain their membership in the world organization, but at the expense of losing several members who decided to give up their membership in JAZA so that they would still be able to buy dolphins.
The dolphin drive hunt in Wakayama was made into a documentary film and went on to receive the documentary film award at the Oscars. The documentary entitled The Cove caused a worldwide sensation, and the fishing village connected to these dolphin hunts became the focus of animal welfare activists and environmentalists. However, the Japanese news media did not go on to elaborate on the facts shown in the film, but went on to say that the film itself was too one-sided and did not respect Japanese culture, not to mention the fact that very few Japanese nationals were even aware of these hunts and that most of them have never even tasted dolphin meat.
So, whales and the Japanese people, where do we go from here? Nowhere. Until the Japanese public is made aware of the fact that they are perceived as "whale consumers and dolphin killers" outside of their national border nothing will happen. Until this happens and the Japanese public is educated enough to understand what is going on, the whale issue will not be resolved. At least for now JAZA has chosen to remain a member of the international community. This is a step forward in the right direction, but for the time being, that is all that is going to happen. Some say that a large number of the cetacean species in Japanese coastal waters will never attain sustainable levels. But withdrawal from the IWC means that Japanese whalers will have to return to their coastal hunting grounds. Do the Japanese people have to worry about this? Yes, by all means, yes.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Nov.
2018

Visitor-Animal Interactions as a Fad

Facilities where visitors can interact with various animals are becoming more and more popular in Japan. Needless to say, petting zoos have always been a large attraction for children and adults, but the ordinary petting zoo with guinea pigs and rabbits is now evolving into something much more exotic, and at times, unbelievable.
Cat cafes are a phenomenon that started in this country, but it has now spread to other parts of the world. There are cat cafes in various cities in both the U.S. and the EU. Cat cafes are places where people can relax whilst interacting with cats that are kept on the premises. They have been quite popular in Japan, perhaps due to the fact that many people are unable to keep pets because of a busy work life or because of housing restrictions. Pet shops in Japan are not allowed to operate after certain hours under the animal protection law in order to prevent the over-stressing of animals, but cat cafes are given a certain leeway. They are allowed to operate for a few more hours at night to accommodate those visitors who arrive after work to enjoy a few hours of "de-stressing" with the cats.
So far so good. Well, the newer developments in visitor-animal interactions is not all about cat cafes. There have been a "blossoming" of various animal cafes, including hedgehog cafes, raptor cafes, owl cafes, and more! This has become a serious issue with many animal protection organizations that have spoken up against these entities. But it seems as though the public never hear these voices. These exotic cafes are perpetually full of "fun-loving" people including tourists from other nations. It is incredible that anyone would think of parading a nocturnal animal like the owl in broad daylight and having multitudes of people gawking at them. The hedgehog café that has now become widely known is located in Harajuku. This locality is known for its fancy shops and pop culture, and is popular with both adults and youngsters alike. Many people travel from afar to come to Harajuku these days, not only for the culture, but also to experience the "tantalizing hedgehog café"! The Japanese word "kawaii" is now known to many people around the world. The word literally means "cute". Japan is at the top of the cute phenomenon, where everything and anything "cute" goes. In that regard, hedgehogs are the ultimate kawaii creature. It is no wonder that the café where one is allowed to hold them in your hands is so popular.
But the ever spreading phenomenon does not stop here. There is a petting zoo in the Yokohama area that allows visitors to have a truly close up experience with capibaras. The creatures are not fenced in, nor are their movements restricted in any way. Though these creatures are gentle in nature, they are wild animals and can be unpredictable in their behavior. Visitors passing through the facility casually pet these capibaras as though they were dogs or cats in their living room. Risk control seems not to be an important factor here. This facility also houses an armadillo and a meerkat, fenced in by a low acrylic fence that allows visitors to reach in and touch them. Here again the concept of risk control seem to be irrelevant.

Amazingly, there are also reptile cafes housing numerous types of the slithering creatures. Though people are asked to sanitize their hands afterwards, the risk of a salmonella infection seems very real. Needless to say these somewhat "unconventional" facilities, or rather businesses, can continue because there is a steady flow of consumers.
Why do people visit these facilities? It is interesting to note that many Japanese people love animals but seem to enjoy these "not-too-animal-friendly" attractions. This has been a long disputed topic in the controversial world of dolphinariums. Japan has the highest number of aquariums per capita. As the exhibits of dolphins and whales become more and more controversial, the Japanese exhibitors have openly stated that the Japanese population "love dolphin shows", thus making it harder for them to stop these attractions.
This is probably a "chicken or the egg" argument, but one thing that needs to be understood here is the general lack of education. Though environmental issues are taught in schools, the predicament of wild animals and their position in the natural environment, and what humans should understand about them are hardly touched upon. If they are touched upon, then they are presented in such a way that it is in disconnect with the wild animals we see around us.
Japan is known to be one of the world's largest markets for wildlife, it is time that the educational system begin to address the real problem in the country's entertainment industry.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jul.
2018

Aging with Pets

As with other developed economies around the world, Japan is now facing the issue of an aging population. In relation to animals, there are currently two currents of thought regarding pet keeping by the senior population. One of the two, is the idea that pets are "good" for old people. Many people have come across literature citing the benefits of animals on human health. And in the world of an aging population there are many experts who are focusing on the health benefits of pet keeping for the elderly. Needless to say, the thought itself cannot be denied. Pets are a wonderful stimulus both mentally and physically, they give companionship where necessary, and they can become objects of the human nurturing instinct in place of the children that have, many years ago, left home. The animals give the elderly a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning, and to leave the indoors, for walking, for the procurement of necessary supplies.
So, society on the one hand is all for the keeping of pets by senior citizens.
However, we must take a look at the other side of the coin, the second current of thought, or better stated, the reality behind all this. Though there are many positive things to be said about the effects of pet keeping by the elderly, in reality, things are not so easy, especially here in Japan.
There are many factors that contribute to this issue. Obviously, one that is probably common in other cultures as well, would be the issue of financial means. For many people with age comes the loss of income as they retire from their jobs. Living on a pension is limiting in many ways. Needless to say, keeping an animal is not cheap. Basic supplies, veterinary care, and other expenses will tax a small household budget. The other common issue is that of the physical ability to care for an animal. With seniority comes fragility and the loss of motor skills. This means that caring for pets becomes very difficult. At the same time there is the worry of one's own health. What will I do with the pet if I am hospitalized? Or even worse, what will happen to the animal if I must enter a care facility?
One thing which may be unique to Japan is the fact that many public animal adoption centers run by the regional governments have an upper age limit for new owners. This age may differ slightly between local governments but what this means is that if you are over 65, 70 etc. years of age, then you are disqualified from adopting an animal from the shelter. Many private shelters also have set such limits. This means that for older people adopting animals from shelters is not an option. Thus, the only way for those who are aged and indeed desperate to obtain a pet may be buying a puppy or a kitten from a pet shop. But for older people who feel that they do not have as many years ahead of them as the younger generation may, getting a puppy which will most likely need a home for the next 10 to 15 years is quite a burden in itself. There being very few assisted living facilities and care homes that allow their clients to move in with their pets, which may be too heavy a burden, when thinking of the future of both the animals and their owners. This will most certainly deter elderly people from making a positive decision.

Another issue that may be unique to Japan is the existence of care homes for senior dogs and cats. As their owners get older so do the pets. One of the current issues is that of seniors having to care for their aging pets. Whilst the physical abilities of elderly pet owners decline, the caring of older pets becomes more and more demanding for the senior owners. This results in them looking for ways to find other means of care for their animals. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that euthanasia is not a very commonly accepted procedure yet in the Japanese veterinary community. Bed ridden animals cared for until they die "a natural death" is not uncommon in this country. Naturally this is a big burden on both the animal and their aged caretakers. Though euthanasia is not the only way to deal with such issues it is certainly an option that may be presented to the elderly in these situations. The care homes or hospices for senior dogs and cats do not come cheap and there are many who may not be able to pay for such care. These owners have nowhere to go but to the public animal control/shelters. Senior pets are difficult to adopt out and so what happens to them...the answer here is obvious.
Well, why not offer senior pets to those seniors who are still physically capable and looking for a pet? This is something that Japanese shelters both public and private should consider. Perhaps it would be possible, as has been proven by a number of programs in the U.S., to set up a system where senior citizens would be given the option to adopt older animals at a lower adoption fee and with the guarantee that the shelter would take the pets back in case of death or hospitalization of the owner. It would give the animals a chance of finding a loving home and would certainly give many elderly people a wonderful motivation "to keep going"!

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2018

What's Unique About the Japanese Breeds?

Japanese breeds are becoming increasingly popular amongst dog lovers the world over. They are certainly beautiful in appearance and unique in character. Most Japanese breeds originated as hunting dogs, helping their owners who were called "matagi", a special name for the professional hunters of lore. Perhaps the most interesting fact about these breeds is their closeness to their wild cousins, the wolves. With the exception of a few, such as the Japanese Chin, a toy breed, most of the Japanese breeds are quite similar in appearance, They are short coated, have the typical spitz shape pricked ears and a tail that curls over their back. The Chin and the Tosa fighting dog are brachycephalic but the other hunting breeds all have long snouts, though with somewhat of a variation. It is interesting to note that these dogs are all named after the region of their origin. Though this is not a unique phenomenon in breed names, these Japanese breeds all started out as village dogs of specific regions. Compared to their western counterparts, these Japanese hunting dogs, like the Shiba, Akita, Kishu, Kai etc.,were never bred for a certain physical trait or function. In modern times, breed standards have certainly been written and thus size, coloring etc. have now been set forth for each of the breeds. However, traditionally these breeds were never "manipulated" to emphasize certain traits. The long body of the Dachshund suited for going down into nest holes, the small compact body of the "rat -killers" like the Jack Russell and Yorkshire terriers, these were all traits picked out and emphasized by man to be more effective in their field of work. The Japanese dogs were what could be called "village dogs". The Japanese hunting breeds were left in their natural form without excessive human interference and as a result the basic physical traits remained more or less the same. The major differences seen over time were those that were emphasized through breeding only within the local stock. Thus the dogs living in Akita gradually evolved into a physical appearance a little different from the dogs breeding, for example, in the Kai region. There is also a large variation in size ranging from the large Akita and Kishu types that stand around 70 cm at the withers to the smaller Shiba Inu at about 40 cm.
The Tosa dog is to be differentiated from the Tosa fighting dog, the large mastiff type dogs used for dog fighting. The Tosa dog frequently referred to as the Shikoku dog, another "regional name", is again of the same body type as the other Japanese hunting dogs. Many of these breeds go back almost 1000 years and have been designated as natural monuments by the government. The aforementioned Tosa dog was designated as such in 1937. The Kai dogs bred in the mountainous region of Koshu, the present day Yamanashi Prefecture, was designated as a natural monument earlier in 1934. The Akita currently gaining popularity around the world became a natural monument in1931. The Hokkaido dog, another natural monument, frequently referred to as the Ainu dog was a valuable companion for the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan. They were fierce hunting dogs used to hunt bears and Ezo deer. The Hokkaido dogs became famous in 1900 when they participated in the search and rescue efforts for the troops of the Imperial Japanese Army lost in the snowy mountains of Hakkoda in Aomori Prefecture. The Shiba Inu, perhaps the most famous of the Japanese breeds is said to be as old as the country itself. Similar to the Pariah dogs that are seen in wide areas of Southeast Asia including the Philippines. Perhaps they too are of southern origin. There are references to these dogs in ancient Japanese poetry.

The Japanese hunting breeds are all known for their intelligence and brave hunting behavior. However many of them are also famous for their "aloofness". The Kai dog, for example is known as a dog that will refuse to take on a second master, remaining fiercely loyal to its first and only. The Shiba is also known for its loyalty. Besides being good hunting dogs, these characteristics make these breeds good guard dogs as well, as many of them are extremely wary of strangers. The Akita has been characterized as" being wary of all except its master". Though often referred to as brave hunting dogs, in terms of modern day behavior science, these dogs would be termed "shy". The term is not meant to be derogatory, it simply reflects the basic nature of these "primitive dogs" that are much closer to the wolf than their western cousins. However this is a point that must be kept in mind when deciding to obtain a Japanese hunting breed. These dogs need to be socialized at a young age in order for them to be able to participate in the lives of their owners. Though there are exceptions, these breeds are generally more reserved and less willing to accept the new and strange when compared to, for example, the retrievers.
There are other Japanese breeds that are different from these hunting types. Their histories are much shorter and as a result better documented. The Japanese Chin was brought to the Imperial Court of Japan in 732 A.D. from Korea. The Japanese Terrier famous for listening to "his masters voice" was bred from the Smooth Fox Terrier in western Japan in the 1800's. The Spitz was imported into Japan from the west in 1924 and gradually evolved domestically to become the Japanese Spitz. Though treated as Japanese breeds, these latter day breeds were and are very different from the "indigenous village dog" type hunting breeds.
Going back to the original hunting breeds, there is a growing demand for dogs such as the Shiba and Akita worldwide. Needless to say, the temperament of these breeds must be seriously considered before bringing them into one's life. They are not cuddly lap dogs. Nor are they the tail wagging retrievers. Instead of wondering whether or not the breed is the right dog for oneself, it may be better to think of whether or not the human's lifestyle and personality is right for the dog.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2013

Animal Assisted Therapy or What??

Animal assisted therapy, animal assisted activities, animal therapy...whatever you want to call it is becoming a popular phenomenon worldwide. Needless to say, those involved in the field on a "serious level" know that animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activity are the words being used to describe the participation of animals in human health care, currently being grouped under what is known as animal assisted interactions. However, many people like to put their own twist on things, whatever the subject matter. People simply want to be unique. People want to stand out as the "one and only". So in this field we hear word like pet therapy, dog therapy etc.etc. Japan is no exception to this worldwide trend in bringing animals into the human health care scene. Though there are still many institutions that do not care to have animal brought in to meet their patients, many others are beginning to start programs without making use of the basic foundational skills and knowledge that is available, has been available for the last two decades. Recently two very large institutions made public their plans to incorporate animals into human care programs. One of them is Saga University located in Saga prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. The Department of Agriculture at the university has opened a center for what they term "creative-agri education"(translated into English by your truly and not the official English name). The main objective of this center is to start an animal therapy project using farm animal such as cows and pigs for human health care, human welfare, and education. The concept is to bring these animals traditionally regarded as food or property into contact with human beings to promote emotional stability and to improve the QOL of human beings. This project is the center of the university's new Agri-Medical division (and this does not mean veterinary medical activities practiced on large animals and food animals). Though the press release from the center uses phrases such as animal therapy for learning disabilities, dementia, and interactions between farm animals and human beings, there is no mention of baseline risk control, welfare of the farm animals that will be used (which as we all know is really the key to the therapeutic effects an animal may or may not have), and programs/studies that have preceded this endeavor . Needless to say the Green Care Farming movement in Europe, the equine assisted programs that have gained attention in recent years (different from hippotherapy in that they focus more on the horse care aspect rather that the riding) have not been mentioned by those starting the Saga program. It is truly amazing how many people who start to involve themselves in the field of human animal interactions try to reinvent the wheel. And this is not a phenomenon unique to Japan. The faculty of the university who are given the responsibility of nurturing this program have no background whatsoever in any sort of animal assisted programs. Nor have they been educated in the basic foundation work concerning bringing animals into contact with clients so meticulously created over many years by leaders in this field such as the U.S. based Pet Partners. Using farm animals is NOT a unique endeavor. Farm animals need to be evaluated for program participation just like dogs and cats. These are simple facts that anyone in the field would know. There are also medical facilities in the country that are talking about "facility dogs" as opposed to therapy dogs. They stated that "facility dogs" are different from "visiting dogs" that volunteer handlers bring in, in that these dogs undergo a year of "special training" and are then brought to live in the facility. The most puzzling thing about the press releases coming out from such facilities is the fact that there is no mention of the dog's welfare. Where do these dogs live? Who will be responsible for being the dog's advocate? These questions remain unanswered. As mentioned earlier this is probably not a phenomenon unique to Japan, but the disturbing trend is definitely being seen here.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Feb.
2013

Recent Pet Statistics for Japan

Some figures about pet keeping in Japan have been published for the year 2012. According to the Pet Food Institute of Japan, of all the households in the country, 24.9%live with either a cat(s) or a dog(s). This is one out of every 4 households and speaks of the popularity of pet keeping in Japan. Since the statistics do not include small pets such as hamsters, rabbits , birds etc., it may be said that the number of households that live with animals is even larger. Statistics from earlier years have also been mentioned in this column but for 2012 the estimated number of pet dogs in the country is 11,530,000. The number of cats is 9,750,000. Needless to say these are simply estimates mainly derived from statistics pertaining to the consumption of pet food, but nevertheless they give us an idea of the scope of pet keeping in Japan. The pet food industry also published figures concerning the amount of money households spend on feeding their companion animals. For dogs the average monthly expenditure for one animal is approximately 7500 yen, which at current rates is about 67-68 US dollars. This monthly expenditure includes food and other supplies as well as veterinary fees. For cats the individual monthly expenditure is slightly lower at approximately 5300yen, about 47-48 US dollars. In the current economic climate these figures are far from "minimal". When one considers the fact that many households own multiple pets the amount of money spent on pets in the country as a whole reaches staggering heights. A decade ago when people were asked to describe their pets, many used the word "child". This sense of "guardianship" is changing slightly in recent times. Many pet owners now do not hesitate to state that their pet is an integral member of the family, not simply a "child" figure to be petted and protected. Some will use the word "son" or "daughter" instead of child. Some will simply say a "member of the family". The relative position of the companion animal in the household is gradually changing into something more important and meaningful. It need not be said that this is not a phenomenon that is unique to Japan. The importance of the companion animal to the human family is a topic that is currently being discussed in many circles the world over. But at the same time we are beginning to see the negative side as well of this phenomenon. Just as with children, for example, there are many "parents" who become obsessed with the well being of their animals. Obedience classes, designer clothes, luxury foods and more are appearing constantly on the market. And just as with children, some animals become an extension of the owner's ego. Many foreigners who come to Japan for the first time are surprised at the amount of dog clothes sold in pet stores. The Japanese tend to overdress their pooches. Of course the fact that there are more smaller toy breeds than large dogs makes this much easier. People are also surprised by the number of pooches they meet out in the street out for a stroll in their "prams"......yes baby carriages made exclusively for the transport of pets. The riders are not all geriatric or disabled. Sometimes our love goes a bit beyond what may be termed "normal". Is this good or bad?
Well...what do you think?

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jan.
2013

Tokyo Shelter for Disaster Victims Closes

Following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami Tokyo metropolitan government set up a temporary animal shelter on the grounds of its animal control center in order to take in animals evacuating with their owners into the metropolitan area on a temporary basis. The shelter was set up in the early fall of 2011. The government of Tokyo set forth an emergency operational plan of one year to help out with owners unable to find housing where pets would be allowed as well as to take in animals rescued from the danger zone around the nuclear plant in Fukushima. This shelter was built through the coordinated efforts of the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Tokyo regional emergency animal rescue headquarters for the victims of the east Japan earthquake. The facility was built by the metropolitan government and the operation was placed under the aforementioned "headquarters", a cooperative unit formed by a coalition of veterinarians and animal charities. The operational funding came mainly from public donations given for animal rescue purposes. The number of animals taken into this facility was not huge owing to the fact that many members of the Tokyo veterinary community as well as those from surrounding areas such as Yokohama, were willing to take in individual animals into their clinic facilities for temporary care. The total number of animals housed in the shelter were 24 dogs and 12 cats. Of these animals , 10 of the dogs and 4 of the cats were able to rejoin their families before the closing of the shelter in September 2012. The rest were all happily rehomed with the exception of one dog who is still with a foster family. Though small in scale this shelter was infact a good model facililty in terms of its standard of animal care. There were more than 600 volunteers that participated in the endeavor which enabled the shelter staff to set up a system where the animals were never short of attention. Though the facility was built by the authorities, the internal details including the setting up of play areas, adjustments to meet the individual needs of each animal etc., were all done by hand. The volunteers wielded tools to create an environment that catered to the needs of the animals under their care. The shelter, as mentioned earlier, was a one year project and was closed on September 30, 2012. The Japan Animal Welfare Society, JAWS, played a leadership role in the operation of this shelter and is to be applauded for a job well done. Needless to say, though, Fukushima is still struggling to deal with the animal victims of the disaster. The feral cats in the nuclear evacuation zone are numerous and an effective TSNR must be implemented. With the passing of time people are beginning to forget the scale of the disaster but the fight continues both for people and for the animals.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Dec.
2012

Exotic Pets in Japan

Recent statistics show that Japan is the third largest market in the world for wild animals. Despite being a very small country in terms of its physical size, there are an amazingly large number of exotic pets being kept by animal fanciers. One famous case that surprised the media and shocked the entire nation was that of a man who kept more than 50 poisonous snakes in his apartment in the middle of Tokyo. This man was bitten by his green manba while he was caring for the snake. He called for an ambulance and the paramedics found his abode filled with a hoard of dangerous creatures. Though he was in critical condition for some time this man did live thanks to the efforts of a very knowledgeable doctor only to be arrested for violating the animal welfare law upon recovery. He was arrested for keeping "specified animals" without a permit. The category of "specified animal" is defined in the law and species listed therein cannot be kept without registering with the local authorities. This man's arrest lead to the arrest of another party, the business that sold him these dangerous animals. The pet shop that had sold these animals to this individual was also arrested for the keeping of "specified animals" without a permit. The business owner was also arrested for the violation of the law governing the handling of invasive alien species. For those wishing to keep these animals that need to be registered with the authorities, the procedure is actually not very prohibitive. There are specifications that must be met in terms of cage space, safety devices etc. However many keepers of exotic pets choose not to register, as was the case with the aforementioned unfortunate owner of the 50 some snakes. There is no regular policing as such and often times people will get away with keeping these animals without the alerting the authorities. Needless to say, businesses will sell if people are willing to pay and thus pet shops that handle exotic animals will continue to thrive. In terms of legal restrictions, the Japanese law if still lax in many respects. For example, there is no national license to become a falconer. This means that a layman may keep and train his/he own falcon provided the keeper registers the bird with the local authorities (which may or may not be done). This is dangerous to the keeper, the bird, and also to the public. But the legal tools to regulate such a situation is extremely limited. What would be ideal is to put a legal ban on the importation of wildlife for commercial purposes. Importation of such should be allowed only in cases where there is official screening and approval of the species as well as the purpose of bringing in such and animal. There should be a white list of what can be kept rather than a black list of what needs to be registered as is the case with the current law. There are cases currently where fanciers have bred hybrids of the animals specified under the law to be registered. Legally speaking these hybrids are not listed as specified animals and therefore do not need to be registered however large and/or dangerous they may be. This is simply ludicrous. Though Japan is not the only country in the world with the exotic pet problem, a solution must be found to this issue. How far will businesses and fanciers go? How much are they willing to fight to keep their current situation? We will not know until we attempt to put in place a better and more effective legislation. The sooner the better....

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Nov.
2012

The Revised Animal Welfare Law

A few words again about the revision of the Japanese animal welfare law. There are two very new and important concepts that have appeared in the revised law. One is that of the containment of animal hoarding. Needless to say, animal hoarding has been a long standing issue in this country, just as in other countries. It would not be an overstatement t say that every one of the 47 prefectures has experienced or is currently experiencing this problem. During the discussions in preparation of the revision animal hoarding was one of the key issues discussed by the task force. Fortunately the importance of finding countermeasures for this difficult problem has been recognized by the politicians as well and new clauses have been added to include the legal handling of such. First of all, the factors that interfere with living conditions, the existence of which would warrant a recommendation/order from the authorities has now been clearly defined as " factors such as excessive noise, noxious odors, pollution from animal hairs, and the generation of large numbers of pests/insects ". This will help to clarify when the relevant authorities should step into the scene. The second point is the issuing of orders to intervene when the animals in question are seen to be in danger of being abused, which includes the danger of emaciation/debilitation. Up till this time recommendations/ orders could not be issued on behalf of the animal, but this situation has now been amended. Measures that may be written into ordinances includes the compulsory registration of those who own multiple animals.
The other new concept written into the revision is the rescuing of animals during a disaster. One need not explain the importance of such to the nation after the traumatic incident of March, 2011. The revised law refers to this issue in the clauses pertaining to the central plan for the promotion of animal welfare and control that every prefecture is mandated to draw up. The revision has added a new item to the list of things that the local governments must include in this plan, measures to hold and care for animals during disasters. This means that all local bodies must now plan ahead about how animals will be supported during such times, including housing arrangements and daily care. Though the natural disaster that hit the country last spring was indeed a tragedy for many, many people, in a way it may have been a blessing for the revision of the animal welfare law. It has indeed helped everyone ,including the politicians and the bureaucrats, to realize how important it is to be prepared to help the animals along with the people during difficult times. Though the revised law is still lacking in many ways, nevertheless, the country has moved up a notch in the eyes of the non-human citizens.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Oct.
2012

Animals in Entertainment

A very popular character in a major television show will no longer be able to entertain the public. Pan, a 10 year old male chimpanzee, has appeared in a popular television series for a number of years as the co- host of a variety show with a famous comedian. Pan has done everything "human" with his homo sapiens counterpart, including wearing the same overalls and walking the show's mascot bulldog. His appearance on this weekly one hour program, however, has been the target for much criticism for a number of years by experts including the Ministry of the Environment. As chimpanzees are a protected species, the national law concerning the preservation of endangered species states that these animals may not be released for reasons other than breeding. Pan's ownership was transferred to his current owner, a zoo in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, from a different facility in Miyazaki Prefecture on the same island. Theoretically, this should have been for a breeding program. However, since the TV show requested his appearance in 2004, Pan has been one busy chimp with a weekly program of his own. As a result, JAZA, the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as well as the Ministry of the Environment have been questioning his owner organization about the absence of any efforts on their part to integrate him into a breeding program.
Chimpanzees need to be integrated into a group of their own kind whilst approaching sexual maturity in order for them to be able to breed successfully and experts in JAZA were worried that this was not happening for Pan. Unfortunately, after receiving these inquiries as well as warnings , Pan's owner association decided to go their own way, i.e. they withdrew their membership from JAZA! It seems somewhat strange and irresponsible but the Ministry and JAZA went no further in pursuing the issue after their withdrawal. So, Pan continued to "act " on stage and on TV and became the "most famous chimp" in the country. But at 10 years of age, having reached sexual maturity, Pan who is, needless to say, a wild animal, was an accident waiting to happen. And happen it did. During a show on his home ground in Kumamoto Pan decided to act on his own. A full grown male chimp is an extremely powerful creature and should he decide to attack, humans are not capable of stopping this act. Immediately following the end of the show, Pan ran off from the trainer who was at the time leading him off the stage holding his hand, like a human child. Pan ran to the end of the stage and began to attack the young female assistant who was waiting in the wing. He bit her in several places, the ankle bite being so severe it caused a great deal of blood loss. The facility had to call in an ambulance (actually an emergency medical helicopter) to transport the poor girl to the hospital immediately. To those who are familiar with wild animals this comes as no surprise. Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. The sad thing is that Pan's owner organization has not made any public comments after the accident. Furthermore, the media who so loved this little chimp has not made any extensive reports on the incident. The co-host of the show, the nationally famous comedian, Pan's buddy of many years, has not made any sensible comments about the behavior of his long time friend. It seems to be the same for other countries in which such accidents have occurred, we humans never learn, or want to learn from our mistakes. The greatest victim of the accident is not the injured girl, but Pan himself.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Sep.
2012

Revision of the Animal Welfare Law

Though the political situation in Japan is currently very unstable with no one party capable of taking the lead in crucial issues, the drafting of the revised animal welfare law is slowly moving forward. One of the major issues to be addressed this time is the age at which puppies and kittens may be sold at pet shops. For many years the Japanese pet industry has displayed extremely young animals in store windows which has always frustrated animal welfare organizations. The industry still relies heavily on puppy-mill type "producers" to supply these animals and that also has been a point heavily criticized by the welfare sector. Many such dogs and cats are separated from their mothers and littermates at a very early age and this in itself has been the source of many physical and behavioral issues that the animals develop later in life. During the discussions held in the Ministry of the Environment by the task force entrusted with formulating the recommendations for various issues, the number of days from birth at which puppies may be taken away from their mother was a source of heated debate. The representatives of the industry insisted that 45 days was enough, that anything longer would put many people out of business. The welfare side responded with equal vigor stating that puppies should not be moved away until 8 weeks of age and that this was a standard that many other countries were using. The representatives of the veterinary community also tended to support the arguments put forth by the welfare side. The discussion on this topic failed to arrive at a consensus and was left to the discretion of the parliamentarians who would be the ones to actually decide on the final draft to be presented to the legislature. Finally after much debate, the representatives of the leading parties meeting to decide on the actual contents of the law decided to go for 56 days, the 8 weeks that the animal welfare community had long been demanding. As a result of this meeting of politicians, the revised animal welfare law was finally presented to the Diet and successfully voted upon on August 29, 2012. This was indeed a victory for the animal welfare camp. However , it is yet too early to rejoice as the contents of this decision was not as clear cut as one would have liked. The decision was reached to write into the law that puppies and kittens may not be sold until they are 8 weeks of age, but because of the changes this would require for the industry to embark upon, a transition period will be provided. For 3 years after the effectuation, the industry may still sell animals at 45 days. This will after 3 years be extended to 49 days. The 56 days will come into force "within a 5 year period". This means that the 56 day rule will in fact not be enforced till the next review of the animal welfare law. Of course this is indeed a step forward, not as expeditious as some would have liked but nevertheless an advancement from what is. As they say "better late than never".......

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Aug.
2012

Children and the Natural Environment

Children and their relationship with animals has been a popular topic for many educators and researchers. Needless to say many children living so-called "privileged lives" in the more developed nations of the world do not live with animals. nor are they given many opportunities to come in contact with the natural world. In fact there is a popular book dedicated to this topic, "The Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv, that refers to these children as suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. Though some people may think this term to be an overstatement, the concept is very interesting. It refers to something much more general and wider than the concept of "children and animals" so often talked about in many professional circles. Children are interested in many types of living creatures, not only the furry ones, and not only the four legged , or the winged ones. In recent years, there has been a slow but steady increase in bringing children closers a to living beings in the form of insects. Monitoring the flight of the Monarch family of butterflies has been one such area. In Japan a very interesting facility was built in Gunma Prefecture in the year 2005. The Gunma Forest of Insects is a 45 hectare manmade habitat for a multitude of indigenous species of insects and small critters. There are forests, rivulets, ponds, and fields within the area, all manmade to mimic the natural environment of the region, i.e. the facility is also an attempt at recreating or resurrecting the original habitat that has been marred by human hands in the name of development. The Gunma Forest of Insects has experts who can lead the children on expeditions through this habitat to observe the many forms of wildlife present there. The children once put in this environment are quick to rediscover their innate curiosity towards living beings and start bombarding the expedition leader with questions about the insects around them. The experts who lead the children through the forest state that may children have had the experience of seeking information about these creatures via the internet or from books, but that that experience is nothing compared to what they are able to see, touch , and feel for themselves within their true natural habitat. During the summer months when the children are out of school, the facility runs "night safaris" where the children are given the chance to travel through the forest area and see all the nocturnal activities of the creatures there. The children point their flashlights on the trunk of a large tree to see huge beetles feasting on sap, they see cicada larvae emerging from the ground to shed their skin and turn into full fledged cicadas. The director of the facility relayed the true worth of such a facility during an interview where he stated that insects are in a world that is apart and unlike the human world, and that is the reason that children are so curious about them. He stated that when children learn about, for example, a certain curious movement being a particular insect's way of looking for a place to lay their eggs, i.e. a specific plant, then their interest is transferred to the plant as well.. Likewise, if the strange outward appearance of an insect is to hide from predators such as birds or other small animals, the children become interested in finding out more about the small animals that eat these insects. Building such facilities may be the antidote for the aforementioned nature deficit disorder in children. But of course protecting the existing habitats is surely the best and the wisest way.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jul.
2012

So What Happened to That Bear Farm?

The bear farm in Akita Prefecture where 2 employees were killed earlier this year is still facing numerous issues, none of which have yet been solved. The owner of this bear farm, Akita Hachimantai Bear Farm, was indicted for professional negligence resulting in death on June 9, 2012. The 27 bears remaining in the facility are now left with no "owner" to take on the responsibility for their care. There are 21 brown bears and 6 Asiatic black bears still being kept at the farm. The Akita prefectural government has temporarily employed caretakers to look after these animals starting this month. The prefecture is also providing food for the bears. However, the prefectural government has stated that the temporary employees will be kept only through October of this year. What will happen to the bears after October? The Akita Prefectural assembly is currently discussing various options available to them. Some members of the assembly have said that a new manager/proprietor should be found for the farm. Others have asked whether or not it would be possible to make the farm a public facility run by the prefectural government. No assembly member has taken up a positive stance towards euthanizing the bears. The bears kept in these notorious bear farms are oftentimes in ill health, have behavioral issues, and marred by continuous fighting amongst themselves.
Though it would be ideal if a true sanctuary could be set up to keep these bears, perhaps under the current circumstances, euthanasia may be one humane way of dealing with these scarred animals. The prefectural government and likewise the assembly feel very strongly that euthanizing the bears would hurt the "image" of Akita Prefecture. Some assembly members have voiced concerns over the terrible effect such a measure would have on the tourist industry in the region. The prefectural government has been in contact with the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums about facilities that may be able to take in these bears. Till date, 2 facilities have expressed their willingness to take in one Asiatic black bear each, but none have come forth for the brown bears. The Akita Hachimantai Bear Farm has lost many bears in the past due to injuries as well as to extreme climatic conditions. The bears that died of injuries, and those that simply froze to death, have been buried " somewhere " in the grounds of the facility, according to the former owner. This owner has also been quoted as saying, "...lessen the food supply and the numbers will decrease due to natural selection...." when asked about how the facility could possibly survive in its current state. Hearing such words, euthanasia seems almost to be a compassionate way to end the suffering of these animals. Let us hope that the prefectural government does not decide to allocate minimum funds to keep the facility going in its current state, simply through the fear of public outcry against euthanasia. If the facility is to continue it must do so by first reassessing the care of the bears and then by implementing drastic reform measures to ensure their welfare.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jun.
2012

The Pig Farm Incident

Many of you may already be aware of the fact that a major Japanese meat products company, X, has been criticized for the various acts of animal abuse that were found to have occurred in one of their facilities. Their locally incorporated company in the United States owns and operates a large scale pig farm called X Premium Farms. Earlier this year a video clip of several workers in the facility manhandling the pigs appeared on U-tube to the horror of those who accessed the scenes. The aforementioned workers were throwing weakened piglets around as though they were inanimate objects, pulling unwilling pigs along with a thick rope around their snout and more. Needless to say the video was taken undercover. The world would never have known of the goings on inside the facility had it not been for this video. Obviously there was a large public outcry about the blatant animal abuse shown on the video clip and other companies, buyers of XPF, decided to stop their purchases. X needed to set matters straight as soon as they could. Soon after the incident the main headquarters in Japan issued a statement, in Japanese, apologizing for "the incident" and promising to look closely into the causes. Despite the fact that the viewing of the video had spread to Japan very quickly thanks to the merits of the cyber network, the domestic media never reported on the incident. There was not a single word or article in any of the papers or the major networks. The local citizens, though, did have full access to the scenes of abuse and many of those who viewed the scenes were angry and disgusted with its contents. After a while, X again posted a full report on the investigation that they had conducted at XPF. The investigation was done with the participation of outside bodies and experts, and the cases of animal cruelty were verified. They were able to identify those workers who did not adhere to the facility's rules and standards of husbandry. The report concluded that this was a "very unfortunate incident, fortunately limited in its scope, instigated by a handful of workers". These workers were dismissed by the company along with their supervisory authority. And finally....after weeks of watching the company being publicly criticized abroad, and domestically by those citizens who had come across the notorious video clip, the Nikkei, a national paper, wrote several lines about the occurrence on their internet news site in the beginning of June. However the paper itself has not printed any articles yet as of June 4. It is extremely interesting to note how silent the Japanese media have been about this case.
One is at a loss as to understand why this is. Is it because they are afraid to report on a company that has traditionally been a big sponsor ? Is it because they think it a trivial matter? Is it because "someone" wants to keep the public in the dark?
The answers to these questions can be given only by the media themselves.....

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

May.
2012

Driving With Pooch

More and more pet owners in Japan, especially dog owners, are choosing to travel with their animal companions rather than leaving them at home or boarding them in facilities. This has lead to an increase in dog oriented services being offered at the various service/parking areas along the highways throughout the country. These services include the ordinary, such as dog-runs and toileting areas, but also extend at times to rather unique levels, such as the sales of takeout boxed lunches for dogs. Several years ago, a subcontractor operating service facilities along the highways in and around the metropolitan area began to sell "Doggy Lunches" along with the various fast food options available for humans. These box lunches were developed jointly with a dog food company and includes chicken, vegetables, and bread made from brown rice powder, to be mixed together in the container in which it is sold. The sales of the product started in 15 different service areas and sold 7000 within the first three months! The size of the individual lunch is set for smaller dogs around 3-4 kg and the price is 630yen per box. A hamburger for humans would probably cost one half of this so it does not come cheap. Nevertheless people seem to like the idea. There are, of course, more ordinary services such as dog-runs built alongside many services areas along the highways of Japan. Currently there are more than 30 service areas where fenced dog-runs are available for travelling families to exercise their dog. Many owners are relieved to find that their dog can be allowed to run around freely in between the long rides. Providing such facilities for our canine companions also reduces the risk of irresponsible owners allowing their dogs to behave rambunctiously in public. Just like young children, some dogs may need to "run off" some of their pent up energy every so often, and the service areas have provided a way for them to do so safely. In Okinawa, a major national car rental service, Nippon Rentacar, has added several pet-friendly cars to their fleet of rentals. The back seats and the rear area of these cars are covered with durable material so that the owners do not have to worry about "soiling". Needless to say, the automakers are also very keen on this new trend. In 2005 Honda set up an information site for owners driving with their canine families, Honda Dog.(http://www.honda.co.jp/dog/). This site gives out information to dog owners not only on the facilities available at service areas throughout the highways but also on such things as dog-friendly camping sites, hotels etc.
People around the world are increasingly including their best friend, our canine companions, into every aspect of their lives, and it seems that Japan is no exception.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Apr.
2012

Memorial Ceremony for the Animals Lost in the Earthquake and Tsunami

On March 25, 2012 a memorial service was held in Rikuzentakada City in Iwate Prefecture. Rikuzentakada is one of the cities that was literally wiped out by the tsunami following the earthquake that hit the area on March 11, 2011. This was probably the first such endeavor and was appreciated by locals as well as by citizens around the country. As soon as the news of the event was broadcast by the local branch of the national broadcasting company, NHK, the hosting organization was flooded with phone calls from around the country commending them for their compassion for our "voiceless friends". The memorial was a two part affair starting with a talk on pet loss and bereavement delivered by the head of the Companion Animal Study Group "Go", Keiko Yamazaki. The talk focused mainly on how losing an animal friend is no different from losing a human family member and also on the fact that due to the magnitude of the disaster in terms of human deaths, pet owners in the disaster area were having a difficult time expressing their grief without feeling a sense of "shame". As one person put it, "when your neighbor has lost a child, a spouse, a sibling...you can't really say I am grieving for my cat...you just can't". Yamazaki stressed that this was indeed understandable, but then added to the 60 some participants,, "but look around you, you are not alone in these feelings, neither are you social misfits, you have every right to grieve". Having created a safe environment for the grieving pet owners the hosting organization then moved the audience to a Buddhist temple atop a hill overlooking what had been the entire port town of Rikuzentakada, now reduced to never ending open space spotted here and there with skeletons of once large corporate structures. At the temple the head priest presided over a Buddhist ceremony to rest the souls of the animals that had died in the disaster. Since most owners were unable to find the remains of their animals the hosting organization provided memorial cards upon which the owners wrote a message to their lost family member. These cards were put on the alter before the priest began the service. Each owner was given a chance to burn incense for his /her animal. The ceremony at the temple was attended by the Mayor of the city. Despite the fact that the mayor himself had lost immediate family to the tsunami, he very gracefully apologized to the grieving owners on behalf of the city for not thinking of holding such a service earlier and expressed his gratitude to the hosting organization for their thoughtfulness. This organization, Save Animals Iwate, came about as the result of a generous donation from the Humane Society International. Though a majority of the money will be used to support local owners and the veterinary community to provide as much care as is possible to the pets of disaster victims the memorial service was a fitting way to start.
At the end of the Buddhist service all the participants walked out to a small stone memorial that the head priest had built on the temple grounds. Some left flowers, some prayed silently, some cried openly.....and yet they all left with a look of relief on their faces, to start another page in their lives.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2012

One Year After the Disaster

Almost an year has passed since the earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. It is hard to believe that time has passed so quickly. Many of the citizens who had lost their homes in this tragedy are now either living in new homes in other areas of the country or have been able to enter temporary housing facilities built by the local governments. Many animals have also been either rehomed or reunited with their families. However there is one very serious issue facing the animal rescue efforts. The issue has arisen in connection with the animals in the nuclear evacuation zone. There are two outstanding issues in this particular area. One is that of the animals still left inside the evacuation area. According to the Fukushima prefectural authority there were approximately 10,000 dogs and cats within the current evacuation zone. The tsunami, and the evacuation of the human population following the nuclear accident, which left many of them to fare for themselves, most likely took the lives of 60-70 % of these animals. Though efforts have been made to bring these animals out from within the danger zone, there is estimated to be about 4-500 dogs and cats still roaming the region. Due to the fact that pet ownership in these rural areas tend not to adhere so much to current standards of husbandry, many of these animals most likely not spayed/neutered. This means that the population of roaming pets can increase at an alarming rate if the situation is not handled appropriately. The Ministry of the Environment is currently putting together a task force to counter the situation. Their main goal currently is to bring out as many animals as is possible. This may be practical for dogs but as for cats an aggressive TSNR program would most likely be the best way to deal with the issue. The other issue pertains to those dogs and cats that are currently residing in the 2 official shelters that the prefecture has built. There is also a temporary shelter built on the premises of the animal control authority of Tokyo to house those animals brought in by refugees from Fukushima. Tokyo alone experienced an inflow of about 3000 families after the nuclear accident, many of whom are now housed in apartments belonging to the Metropolitan Housing Authority, which unfortunately do not allow pets. The Tokyo shelter was built to accept the pets belonging to such families as well as to bring in animals from the two shelters in Fukushima routinely for adoption in the city where there is a higher population density and hence a higher chance of being adopted. The big issue underlying all of these efforts is the fact that many owners from Fukushima who own animals being housed in these sheltering facilities are extremely reluctant to surrender ownership. In other words these "shelters" are at the moment, not true shelters but rather free temporary holding facilities for owned pets. This tendency is unique to the pet owners in Fukushima. Since many of the families are still unsure of when and how they will be able to return to their homes within the nuclear zone, they do not want to "give away" their pets. Because their ancestral land has not been washed away by the tsunami or totally devastated by the quake, they still have hopes about returning to their homes once again and living with their animal companions. About 60-80% of all animals currently being kept in the two Fukushima shelters are "owned". Needless to say, the longer the animals are kept in a shelter environment the larger their mental stress. If this situation continues much longer, the animals will have become "difficult placements" by the time their families finally decide to agree to adopt them out. The main issue here is how to convince the humans to "let go" for the sake of their pets. In order to do so there will have to be professional involvement to deal with this human factor. The humans themselves have experience so much loss, how would it be possible to convince them to "lose" yet another part of their lives. It is indeed a difficult problem.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute