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Do You want Your Pet To End Here?

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-03-05

Every year, thousands of cats and dogs are euthanized in Okinawa. The large number of stray animals that live on this island presents a very severe and sobering problem for those willing to fight for animal rights. Many of the strays are pets, unwanted and tossed away. While killing these unwanted animals is the local government’s only solution for the time being, animal welfare groups exist that offer more hope and possible alternatives to death.

The Animal Welfare League is one group that plans to make an impact by building a no-kill shelter for animals on Okinawa. Currently, no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or humane society operates in Okinawa, leaving the individual Good Samaritan to care for stray dogs and cats. The Okinawa Prefecture runs 7 animal centers on this island, with animals coming in from the outer islands as well as the local cities. Animals given to the Prefecture animal centers will most likely meet an untimely death as the animals are given roughly 5 days to find a new home.

The Animal Welfare League was created as a not-for-profit group to promote animal issues and education. The Animal Welfare League also rescues and fosters stray animals and offers advice or information to pet owners on the island.

“Building a [no kill] shelter here is a starting point for a real impact,” says board member Kathy Diehl. According to Diehl, the Animal Welfare League is currently working with a Mrs. Risa Nakamura, the founder of a local welfare group - Cherubim - to find land and raise funds for the shelter.

Animal Welfare League is also working with Cherubim to educate the Japanese Population on the need for improved animal rights laws. Because there are innate cultural differences between the Americans and Japanese regarding the treatment of animals, Animal Welfare League believes that the best way to reach the local population is by offering education and information. “We don’t want to condemn people, we just want to show that there are better ways to do things and better ways to handle animals,” says Diehl.

The Okinawan Prefecture animal center, for example, has very crowded conditions - by US standards. Cats and dogs are placed in holding pins together each day, as they are brought in or captured, and only the “biters” are separated from the population. Adoption is available. But given the short time that the animals get to live, it is not very likely. In 1999 alone, 16,643 dogs entered the animal center; 13,017 dogs were killed and 2,568 were found dead in Okinawa and the surrounding islands. 373 dogs were adopted from the center. Cats faced a similar fate as 6,210 were killed and 3,627 were found dead on the island. Only 67 cats were adopted from the animal center last year.

The way in which animals are euthanized is also quite different than the US method of individual lethal injection. Here in Okinawa, animals are given a lethal dose of Carbon Dioxide after being place in a metal box.

Although the center’s main purpose is to control the stray animal population on the island, educational services are offered and all pets adopted must be sterilized to prevent further multiplication. According to center management, a key effort must be made to educate pet owners about the importance of neutering or spaying young animals before they get a chance to have puppies or kittens.

Efforts are also being made to educate the military community. The Animal Welfare League also gives out information at the Base Newcomer’s brief and is working towards a set of rules that will be enforced by base commands on Okinawa. “During PCS season, you can usually see a long line of people waiting to turn their pets into Karing Kennels,” says Diehl. Karing Kennels, located outside Kadena gate 3, is a facility for SOFA status families and individuals that offers boarding services as well. For those animals turned in for adoption, many are put to death because space is very limited.

“We want to see specific rules enforced, such as offering good shelter for dogs left outside and also requiring that all animals be spayed or neutered.” According to the Animal Welfare League, spayed and neutered animals make more loving pets and are less likely to be stricken by sexual organ cancers. The tropical climate of Okinawa has also been known to cause cats and dogs to reach sexual maturity at a much earlier age than in the United States.

Much like the United States 30 or so years ago, a mass effort will most likely be needed in Okinawa to change laws and to change ways of thinking. Educating the children will no doubt play a key role in how future generations view animal rights. Cultural differences aside, it seems that anyone who loves animals can make a difference.

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