The 100-odd decomposing dog corpses found over the past few weeks in Tochigi and Saitama prefectures reflect what Shukan Josei (Dec 9) calls “the dark side of the pet boom.”
The heart of the matter could, perhaps, be put this way: dogs are cute, dogs are living beings, dogs are “companion animals” – but they are not human and may not fit as seamlessly into human society as the more ardent dog-lovers like to think.
The dogs in question are miniatures – toy poodles, Chihuahuas, Maltese. The tone of the reporting, the stress on the large and furtive nature of the disposals, gives the impression something new is afoot.
Not so, says Shukan Josei. The fresh canine corpses join some 2.3 million nationwide. Pet disposal (though generally done legitimately, via official channels) has a long history – owners seduced by cute puppies discover after purchase what a nuisance this animated cuteness can be, and seek to free themselves of it.
The general procedure is to get the local government to gas unwanted pets, but a September 2013 amendment to the Animal Protection Law has made that more difficult. It empowers local authorities to refuse to put an animal to sleep without a clear and adequate reason. Still, the magazine hears from a Saitama prefectural official, the change was more symbolic than practical: “Even before the amendment, we repeatedly asked (discouraged pet owners) to reconsider. Being ‘empowered to refuse’ is no more than a reinforcement of what we’d always done.”
The suspect arrested in connection with the Tochigi dog corpse dumping is not a pet owner but a former pet shop employee who reportedly told police he acted on behalf of a professional breeder. That news was still fresh when, in late October, a stroller in Saitama City’s Akigase Park noticed five dogs, weakened but still living, evidently abandoned, and two dead ones lying in a puddle, as though they’d exhausted their last strength looking for water. Shortly afterwards came the discovery in the same park of 33 canine corpses – all Chihuahuas, their ages ranging from roughly 1 year to roughly 8. DNA tests showed they were related.
Why the particular vulnerability of Chihuahuas? “The Chihuahua boom is over,” is the blunt explanation offered by Mika Hirota, who heads an organization called Dog Rescue. “Unsalable dogs are simply regarded as defective merchandise.”
Possibly when you breed and sell dogs for a living, you lose sight of the fact that your “merchandise” is alive, sentient and helpless. “Is it right” Shukan Josei asks rhetorically, “that life should be at the mercy of booms?” The question is framed in such a way that you have to answer no, but are breeders and sellers alone to blame? What about consumers whose enthusiasms, imperative but transient, create a fluctuating demand that suppliers must hustle to conform to if they are to survive?
Hirota sees a silver lining. “Abandoning and dumping pets has always gone on,” she says. “Now, finally, it’s being recognized as a problem.”© Japan Today