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Sunday, April 29, 2001

Gimme shelter: animals in need

Staff writer

Picking out an adorable puppy from a pet-shop window, plunking one's money down and carrying the furry bundle home is fun. It's easy. It's gratifying. Literally warm and fuzzy, it's a feel-good situation.

Caring for a pet properly, however, is a lot more demanding than most people realize, and as a result hundreds of thousands of animals are abandoned by irresponsible owners every year

Right at this moment, thousands of cats and dogs sit on death row at pounds throughout the country; nearly 40 percent of the dogs and nearly all the cats brought to Tokyo facilities in 1999 didn't leave them alive. "Put to sleep" is a sorry euphemism for the slow death by suffocation that awaits these animals.

Many people, sickened by this situation, would like to adopt an abandoned animal from a pound but are daunted by the often complicated procedures involved. Requirements vary from city to city: In Tokyo, you must be a resident, promise to give the animal a permanent home, provide a copy of your house or apartment lease indicating permission to keep pets, and take two classes on pet care to qualify to take an animal home.

To locate the pound nearest you, usually called dobutsu aigo sentaa (animal-welfare center) or dobutsu kanri jimusho (animal-control office), contact your ward or city office. Tokyo residents should call either of the two main facilities, located in Setagaya Ward, (03) 3302-3507, and Ota Ward, (03) 3790-0861.

Pounds always have cats, kittens and adult dogs in need of homes. Puppies, however, can be scarce as people tend to let them grow out of their cuteness before dumping them.

An alternative to adopting directly from a pound is to contact an animal-rescue group. Dobutsutachi no Kai, a private organization run by Renate Herold in western Tokyo, is looking for people who can offer permanent homes to cats and dogs.

Like government pounds, Herold also requires that people wishing to adopt an animal provide a copy of their rental lease as proof their landlord permits pets. However, she also needs people who can give animals foster homes until permanent homes can be found and in this case isn't concerned about breaking the rules. "We can take them back in case of trouble with the landlord," she says.

All Dobutsutachi no Kai animals are neutered as well as vaccinated before they go out to new homes. Herold also provides transportation for anyone wishing to bring pets to her low-cost clinic for neutering, which she stresses is the best and most humane way to reduce the number of unwanted animals. She can be contacted by fax only at (0425) 84-4354.

Animal Rescue Kansai, a private animal shelter founded by Elizabeth Oliver, currently has 200 dogs and 150 cats in need of homes. Those wishing to adopt must visit the ARK shelter in Osaka Prefecture, where you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire and/or be interviewed before being presenting with prospective matches. "It's like a marriage, and we hope that it will be successful and not end in divorce," explains Oliver.

Like Herold, Oliver stresses the need for neutering. All animals at ARK are neutered at 2 months of age and none leaves the shelter without being sterilized.

ARK also runs Virtual Pet Owner, a sponsorship program for people who are unable to keep pets but still want to help an animal in need. For a monthly fee starting at 3,000 yen, people can sponsor an animal (many of whom are abuse cases, with resulting psychological problems that prevent them from being placed in a new home) and receive a certificate, photographs and updates on their health and happenings. Several cats, dogs and a wild boar are among the animals currently in need of sponsorship. To contact ARK, call (0727) 37-1885 or fax (0727) 37-1645.

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