Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where it all started

I lived in mainland Japan for 11 years. In that time I rarely if ever saw stray dogs and if I did they usually had their chains still attached. I could probably count on one hand the number of loose dogs seen in those 11 years. The most common way people keep their pets here is on a short chain tied up outside their house. Some have shop bought kennels others have DIY enthusiasts as owners. Cats? Always harder to say with cats. People tend to leave them go walk about even though there are quite a few deadly viruses out there for them to come in contact with. I won't bore you with the details, but personally speaking if an animal is in my care then I'm not going to risk its life by letting it be exposed to prevalent diseases, cars, inclement weather, other people and in Okinawa's case, snakes.

Now I call Okinawa, (down south near Taiwan) home. I love Okinawa for its subtropical beauty, crystal clear seas and for the most part nice weather, although last night we had a doozie of a typhoon.

Okinawa is a far far cry from mainland when it comes to animals. I was here 2 months and I had already seen plenty of strays but what started this ball rolling were the four puppies frolicking around the convenience store parking lot at night.Convenience stores are open 24/7 and this one was on a particularly busy thoroughfare. The Mum dog was tethered in the back and she was barking frantically at her babies to come back. But they were pups and they were having a wild time in each other's company.What kid is going to listen to Mum when a game of tag with your siblings is so much more fun? I watched several near misses with cars pulling in. It was something I didn't want to watch but couldn't pull away from. I asked the staff, they wanted nothing to do with it and said talk to the owner of the adjacent dump.I had to leave and come back the next day.

I met him and told him what I had seen the night before and told him it was kind of scary.Was there any way he could maybe block their "escape" route. He kicked me in the stomach with his reply. "Sure if they get run over, then I don't have to find homes for them".While I was choking with incredulity, he said "do you want one?" I said I want them all.So that is how I ended up with tears in my eyes, lump in my throat and four of the cutest, flea ridden, little monsters in the back of my car.

They say the 1000 mile journey has to start with one step, I've done more than 1000 miles on this road but there is no end in sight because this is the prevalent attitude on Okinawa, drastically different from pet lovers on mainland.There is a neighbour down the road who keeps a female mix breed on a chain out side the front of the house.She never has water, she has no shelter from the elements and she is walking around in her own excrement as the chain is the length of her body. The family doesn't get them spayed. The dog gets pregnant, has the pups then once they are weaned the cutest female pup stays and the Mum and her babies get sent to the pound. As it is owner relinquishment Mum will get gassed within a few days. The puppies will get longer as potential adopters go for "Cute" rather than good nature.

Purebreds cost a fortune, yet even though people have paid an arm and a leg for a puppy-mill pet shop dog they will still have it tied up outside the house. A friend has very wealthy neighbours, as evidenced by their decision to be ostentatious with their material assets.Several high end Italian cars, a TV screen my friend can watch perfectly well from inside her own house.Statues in the front yard, not the garden gnome variety, I'm talking full size Davids here.But their miniature dachshund is tied with its lead to a kennel that has a door in but only one wall. This creature gets pummeled in storms.

I said earlier we had a pretty rough typhoon last night. There is usually a spike in requests to animal rescue groups in the aftermath of one of these storms. Animals, scared out of their wits, decide running from "it" is a better option. Today, coming back from the shops I saw a very underfed, rib visible, skinny dog. I had an opened bag of dog food in the back of my car and thought I could catch this fella and see him right. I prepped a bowl for the food, made contact with him, he continued on his way for a bit. Instead of following on foot, I decided to drive ahead so he would be coming my direction. I pulled over about 20 meters ahead of him, got out and waited. He was coming towards me, I opened the back of the car to fill the dish. He passed a house where the owner was sweeping garden debris from his drive. There was a stray cat in the drive, that caught the dog's attention. The cat darted, the dog followed as did the home owner. I turned and ran with the bowl of food in time to see the owner corner the dog and beat him several times with the broom. My shouts at the man were barely audible over the dog's yelps of pain. But he heard me and turned, giving the poor creature an escape hatch, which he thankfully took. When I get angry, I get tongue-tied, maybe this is my inbuilt self-preservation mechanism but the only Japanese that would come to my head was 'BAKA' (stupid).Very frustrating for a language major to be left speechless.

The pet owners I met in Tohoku restored my faith in Japan as a nation of animal lovers at street level. Yet my neighbour this morning blew that all out of the water.Down here he is not alone, there are unfortunately many more cut from the same cloth They are the reason I took this path and why I can't just sit back and watch.

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