Dark side of Japan’s pet boom

March 29, 2010

Approximately one and a half million unwanted dogs have been put to death in public animal management centers across Japan in the last ten years.

It was a very surprising figure for me as I had only been covering Japan’s colorful and luxurious pet boom, so I decided to shed some light on the dark side of the industry.

(View the full text story here)

After more than a year of seeking permission, I was finally given the go-ahead to shoot an animal management center in Tokushima and I went on a 745 mile (1,200 km) long journey from Tokyo with my DSRL camera for shooting still and video.

After 8 hours of traveling by car and train, I arrived at the town where I would have two opportunities to witness the euthanasia treatment for unwanted dogs. It became one of the saddest assignments of my life.

There are seven cells in the center, one for each day of the week. When a dog enters the center, it is placed in the cell of the corresponding day, meaning that each dog has only seven days left to survive if it cannot find a new home.

The cells were clean and spacious although the dogs in the cells seemed very nervous. Some dogs kept barking and others were lying or sitting in a lethargic silence.

JAPAN-DOGS

But most of them didn’t forget to wag their tails at me even though they had already been betrayed by humans.

You might think only mixed dogs and stray dogs could have such a destiny but I saw several pedigreed dogs at the center. I was told by animal activists there has been an increase in the number of abandoned pedigreed dogs in urban areas.

During the recent pet boom, some people casually buy dogs which are displayed at a pet shop with little concern for their welfare and then, when they become troublesome, some owners discard them like unwanted fashion goods.

JAPAN-DOGS

According to activists in the area, a hunting dog might be abandoned after a hunting season because it is cheaper to get a new one each season than keep the dog until the following season.

Every morning at 8:30, the button is pressed at the center and the death process is underway.

The dogs marked to die are herded into a so-called dream box and suffocated to death in the box by carbon dioxide. What I saw through the small window on the box right before the death treatment was a pitiful creature, his body trembling with fear. The image still haunts my mind.

JAPAN-DOGS

The center’s workers suffer with the images.

Most of them chose this field because they like animals, but one of them has to press the button to inject the gas that suffocates the dogs which they have cared for up until that point.

They said they felt powerless, a mixture of regret and anger whenever they press the button.

What makes them sad and angry is that about one third of the dogs were brought to the center by their owners, who don’t change their minds even when they are told of the fate of their dogs in seven days.
A lot of people might blame the workers for killing the animals but they are not bad people.

They want to reduce the numbers of dogs that are destroyed. That’s why they made the decision to show their facility to my camera. While covering this story, I got a lot of help from animal activists and staff of the center. They agreed to help me because they wanted people to know the reality facing these abandoned dogs.

JAPAN-DOGS

In fiscal year 2008, 84,264 dogs were put to death in Japan. That translates to 230 dogs killed each day, or more than one dog killed every 6 minutes of the day, every day of the year.

16 comments

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[...] (93)  Del lado oscuro del auge de compañía de Japón [...]

People who treat animals like objects to be discarded when they are bored with them should be put in that “dream box” themselves. I will happily press the button.

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive

Can you put the video on a site with no playback limit or otherwise provide better access for your readers? I cannot watch it embedded above because the video reached its monthly playback limit, and I cannot watch it on the video site because it’s set to “private.”

Posted by chinchillamoose | Report as abusive

Hi, I just reset the video so you should be able to play it. Thanks for the heads up.

Posted by CorinnePerkins | Report as abusive

this is very sad.. I wish there was more about this in the media in Japan.. Well done for bringing it to light. I hope that your work is not wasted..

Posted by wagsinjapan | Report as abusive

[...] Japan’s unwanted dogs Dark Side of Japan’s Pet Boom [...]

m..i saw this movie & picture then my heart rainny..
it’s a gloomy day..maybe her sadness was beyond expression..

Posted by pFOgood | Report as abusive

[...] Source. Reuters Photo Blog Blogroll [...]

that is horrible! people do not throw away their pet!!!
so bad thing…ㅜㅜ

Posted by badkiki | Report as abusive

Kim San,

I would like to thank you from the bottom of heart for your effort in bringing this problem to light. With this very emotional issue for me I couldn’t have asked for a more caring, big-hearted photo-journalist to share this with. The road to hope begins from here for the dogs of Tokushima and Japan and we owe it to you. Thank You!

Posted by HEARTTOKUSHIMA | Report as abusive

According to the Humane Society, 3-4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in the U.S. every year. It’s a worldwide problem. Adopt from shelters. Put pet breeders out of business. Have your pet spade or neutered. Be humane!

Posted by Karmamikomani | Report as abusive

Sadly this is an under reported issue in the U.S. especially people who have had their houses foreclosed are abandoning or neglecting their pets. Another sad thing I found was an article on College students abandoning pets at the end of the school year.
I ran across this sad bit of information “But PETA has a lesser-known claim to fame that has critics fuming:The organization euthanizes over 90 percent of the dogs and cats relinquished to its headquarters in Norfolk, Va. In 2009, PETA euthanized 2,301 dogs and cats — 97 percent of those brought in — and adopted only eight, according to Virginia state figures.”

If you want to help out but can’t own a pet permanently try being a foster owner, check your local shelter if they have such programs. Remember No kill Animal shelters are also feeling the effects of the economy and some are closing. If you own a pet make sure you spay or neuter.

Posted by ihavenomouth | Report as abusive

This seems symptomatic of a deep-seated cultural issue in Japan: the firmly rooted cultural emphasis on hygiene.

In Japan there is a much stricter classification than in the West between what is “dirty” and what “clean”. Dogs, like other pets, are “dirty”. This means that in many households they are kept outside, and treated lovingly as pets outside, but not allowed in.

It is still quite a big step from treating them as dirty to treating them cruelly. But it would be a bigger step, perhaps, than moving from treating them as clean creatures on a par with humans, to treating them cruelly.

To emphasise, this of course does not mean that if you keep a dog outside you are a bad person – as long as you give them the shelter of a kennel of course.

Posted by Yanbaru | Report as abusive

Kim and Reuters,

Thank you very much for bringing the issue to light.

As the founder of HEART said, it is so true that people do not want “second handed” dogs/cats in Japan, so a lot of people won’t adopt dogs/cats from shelters. That is not the only problem. There are way too many pet shops in Japan (as well as online shops). Since puppies are so popular, in response to the need, breeders are busy producing more and more dogs/cats. They are also eager to produce cuter new breeds to attract more consumers and to make more money. It is so easy to buy a puppy in Japan, just go to a petshop nearby or a megastore. Those shops rely on impulsive shoppers, who do not even think twice about getting a dog. After a few month, they complain that the dogs they bought have grown bigger than they expected or they did not imagine how it was like to be a dog owner. Well the pet business should be better regulated, also consumers need to be educated and more informed.

Japan is an advanced country, yet in terms of animal welfare, it is very behind. But on the bright side of the issue, there is more coverage about the issue on TV, newspapers and magazines, so it is true that people have started paying attention to the issue.. but there is still a long way to go.

Thank you for the great article.
Maho

Posted by Maho | Report as abusive

Maho said most of I wanted to add.

Japan needs its own version of Bob Barker! The problem isn’t that any animals are euthanized at all, it’s the excessive number of unwanted animals. Japanese people tend to very strongly prefer expensive pedigreed dogs over mutts and pound puppies, and I think that needs to change.

Posted by Adamukun | Report as abusive

[...] Dark side of Japan’s pet boom | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters Approximately one and a half million unwanted dogs have been put to death in public animal management centers across Japan in the last ten years. (tags: japan animals animalcruelty)   Leave a Comment [...]

I am a pet owner myself, and it pains me immensely to read something so outrageous and horrendous! A pet is not an object of attraction, but on the contrary is like a family member. The pet business needs to be better regulated and strict laws should also be enforced upon owners. Moreover, society at large needs to understand the responsibility of their caretaking and should be educated. Start ‘severly’ punishing those who abandon pets and see the difference.

Posted by tpawar | Report as abusive

[...] Dark side of Japan’s pet boom from: Photographers on 29 Mar 2010 [...]

[...] blogs.reuters.com/photo/2010/03/29/dark- side-of-japans-pet-boom/ [...]

[...] dödas varje dag. Detta är baksidan av Japans hundindustri. Det gör ont i mig, riktigt ont. Kolla in filmen här. Nu ska jag gå och krama min hund (kärlek!), som ligger nöjt i köket och kikar ut mot [...]

I you live in Japan or are a japanese person, I would like you – and of course other nationalites too – to mail to the Ambassady of Japan, the President etc or engage yourself in this horrible dog-issue. I am chocked and I have mailed to http://www.politica@japansamb.se and to radio and television to inform about this. In our country we love our dogs and cats. In Asea they are real negative to this animals, Please Stop killing!

Posted by ylva | Report as abusive

[...] Read the full article here. [...]

this is so horrible…i watched the video and literally cried. That center is horrible! And that man is no better! Because if he felt bad about it, then he wouldn’t be the one killing them. I hate that center.

Posted by igorawr | Report as abusive

This is extemely sad. Their are some other amazing stories from Japan at http://japan-animals.blogspot.com

Posted by BushidoBryan | Report as abusive

[...] casually looking for an image for another blog post I came upon a Reuters story describing the Japanese system of animal control, including the euphemistically named “dream boxes” in which dogs are still euthanized [...]

[...] perspectives from photographers. One of the most moving I’ve seen, talks about Japan’s pet trade and how dogs are abandoned by owners who find it difficult to care for [...]

[...] Therefore I started selling Pedegree puppies through online. But after I read the article about Dark Side of Japan’s Pet Boom, I feel guilty and sorry for my [...]

[...] info on the drop boxes. WARNING: While not too graphic it does show photos of dogs in a gas cell. Dark side of Japan’s pet boom | Photographers Blog __________________ Please help save Lennox! http://www.savelennox.co.uk/ Let your voice be [...]

[...] According to a blog at Reuters, 84,264 dogs were put to death in Japan in 2008.  The reporter witnessed the process by putting the dog in a “dream box” filled with carbon dioxide so the dogs are suffocated to death.  Read more details here. [...]