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Volunteers try to find new homes for unwanted pets

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-14

Stray dogs and cats are a common problem in Okinawa. Whether you are driving in your car, out for a jog, or just walking to the local store, you have probably noticed a hungry homeless dog or cat at least once. The animals suffer a great amount of physical and mental pain from trying to survive on their own, and in some cases the animals can become dangerous to humans. The problem therefor, should be a major concern for not only animal rights activists, but for all of us.

One local resident has taken her concern for the general welfare of these poor suffering animals into her own hands. Risa Nakamura, originally from Kyoto, has 10 dogs and 50 cats under her own care. "My cats and dogs started out as pets, but then I started taking in strays. Over half of the animals I have, used to be on the streets," said Nakamura. She then went a step further and visited the Okinawa Prefectural Government, lobbying for funds to help pet owners with the cost of getting their pets neutered or spaded. "The operation costs money, and some pet owners can not afford it, or they simply don't want to spend the money. Other prefectures in Japan have programs that provide part of the cost of the operation, so I thought it was a good idea to have such a system in Okinawa," explained Nakamura. The very energetic woman started a petition to help convince the government of the necessity to start such a program, and has already collected 12,000 signatures. "Okinawa is about 20 years behind on this issue," further added Nakamura. She also set up a hotline at her home for pet owners that want to get rid of their pets. She answers questions and explains the caller's options, but first lets them know about the responsibility they have toward the animal they brought into their home.

The hotline also answers questions about animal care, and is part of a volunteer program that helps find homes for unwanted pets. About two or three times a month Nakamura sets up a few tents at local festivals and brings stray dogs and cats with her. She also has pet owners, who no longer want their pets, bring their animals to be left with her for the day. They are then given away, providing them with a new home by people wanting to properly care for them. "The pets are for free, but the new owners must agree to take care of their new pets for the rest of the animal's life. We also explain to them the costs and responsibilities that are involved with having a pet," said Nakamura.

Usually there are about 10 to 20 dogs and another 10 to 15 cats at each event, and about two thirds actually find new homes. The animals that were left behind are required to be taken back home by their current owners until the next event, or they can be put on file. "We keep an album of all the animals that didn't find homes with a picture and small profile. The file is also used to assist volunteers in finding homes for the animals listed," said Nakamura.

Last weekend Nakamura and her troops were in Yomitan busily handing out pamphlets and talking to people at a small local matsuri. She educates children about the responsibility of owning a dog or a cat, and she takes the time to talk to everyone who visits the area. There is plenty of printed information for both children and adults, and she also sets up special games for kids to enjoy. No animal will leave the premises, unless their new potential owner is completely informed about the care involved with a new pet. Nakamura makes sure of this personally.

Everything that Nakamura does for these animals is strictly volunteer, and she manages to cover costs through donations. She hopes to expand her volunteer project by getting an animal shelter built. The shelter would provide a safe home for stray animals until proper homes are found for them, unlike the current system, where animals usually are put to sleep. She is currently collecting information from various organizations around the world, and is also asking for donations for the shelter. Nakamura hopes that people begin to realize that pets are not stuffed animals and that they need special attention and care. Too many pets are left alone in cages or on a short chains everyday with no exercise or contact with humans.

She continued by saying, "People always buy a pet, first thinking that they are cute. When the pet gets big, they want to get rid of them. If their dog has puppies, they have trouble giving them away, and they are usually abandoned. A dog is like a child. It feels just like a human does, so people need to look at their pet like another family member."

Anyone wishing to help Nakamura find these pets a home can visit the next "pet fair" at Naha Pareto Kumoji on the second floor terrace, located at the end of Kokusai street, on March 22. Nakamura and her animals will also be at Okinawa Family Land in Itoman on March 22. Both events are from 1 pm until 4pm, and all pets can be taken home for free. Nakamura welcomes Americans who would like a pet, but stresses that any pet must be brought back to the US together with families when they return. For further information please send a FAX to 890-6476. The hotline number is 890-6477, but only Japanese is spoken.

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