Category Archives: Pets

My Visit to the JCN Inawashiro Shelter

On Thursday, I went up to Japan Cat Network‘s Inawashiro shelter. The shelter is located in a building called “Club Lohas” that is actually a dog cafe and a guest house. Inawashiro is a beautiful resort town in northern Fukushima. Lake Inawashiro, famous for its glassy surface and the swans that come to the lake every year, is at the foot of Mt. Bandai, a popular ski destination at the entrance to Tohoku.

The shelter currently has 5 dogs and 36 cats. (I may not have the numbers exactly right. I’ll ask Susan — the leader of the shelter — to confirm.) Looking after these animals, many of whom have medical conditions, is a full-time job as it is, but the shelter has a dual mission of rescuing and caring for animals from the exclusion zone at the shelter and also going into the exclusion zone on a regular basis (four-hour round trip drive) to feed and care for the animals that have been left behind. Susan has been in contact with some of the owners of the pets and will follow the wishes of the owners to either keep the animals in the shelter until the owner can take them back, try to find foster homes or new owners for the pets, or try to care for the pets in their (abandoned) homes until the owners can return. (That lost option is usually for outdoor pets who would not do well in a shelter and are not good candidates for rehoming.)

The work that the shelter is doing is very important, as they are providing an invaluable service to the people who had to evacuate due to the nuclear crisis. While the initial shock of the triple disasters is over, this kind of support is going to remain necessary for a long time. Also, Susan is dedicated to the idea of implementing a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program in Fukushima to help keep the unwanted pet population in check over the long term.

The shelter can operate on about 200,000 yen per month (at a minimum). That includes the rent that they pay to Club Lohas, gas for the two trips into the exclusion zone per week, and a few supplies. They also receive donations of pet food and some medical supplies. Susan, who runs the shelter, manages to accomplish incredible things on a “barely qualifiying as shoestring” budget. She uses, reuses, and then recycles everything she can get her hands on and has a policy of never throwing anything out that still has a bit of life in it. She and Takumi, the other full-time volunteer, work at the shelter with no compensation. They are surviving on food that was donated by some people at the army bases.

These volunteers have dedicated their lives to a very important cause and I am confident in recommending their shelter as a very worthy recipient of any charity you can bring yourself to give. Everything you donate — food, supplies, money — will be put to very good, efficient, and productive use. No padding, no money wasted on vague “administrative costs”, no frills. And if you can donate some time to help out, on the weekends or during the week, even better. Dogs need walking, litter boxes need cleaning, and Susan and Takumi need to be supported and encouraged! Susan is working on setting up a schedule that can be put on the JCN website to let people know when volunteers are most needed — but basically volunteers are always needed! One of the guest rooms is available to volunteers for 2000 yen per night (which goes to the owner of the building and further serves to keep good relations with the owner). The Inawashiro area is beautiful, so you can make a weekend of it by spending some time helping out at the shelter and then going out and seeing the sights of Inawashiro (and hopefully spending some of your “tourist yen” in the area to help it recover).

I have only good things to say about this shelter and about Susan and Takumi and the work they are doing. I would like to encourage you to support them in any way that you can, and to keep them in your mind as they continue the important work of supporting the people of Fukushima and their pets.

Richard the Lionheart and his Medical Fees

During the summer of 2010, my neighbours moved out. Three days after they left, their dog was still at the house. (This is a picture of him when I found him. Note the very short leash.) I asked around the neighbourhood and no one seemed to know what was going on. As I was going out of town the next day, I asked one of my other neighbours to look after him while I was away. During the time that I was gone, the dog’s owners came and picked him up.

Fast forward six months to early December 2010.

When I left my house to go to work one December morning, I noticed a dog that looked an awful lot like the same dog sleeping in the former neighbour’s yard. Since I had taken some pictures of him in the summer, I compared him to the pictures and, sure enough, it was the same dog. I called the real estate agent to get in touch with my former neighbours, and after a great deal of time, I finally found out that they had asked someone to look after the dog, but that it had run away and returned to its former home. I’m not sure whether that story is true or not, but it is clear that they didn’t have any intention of looking after the dog anymore. They had moved to an apartment building and there was no way for them to keep the dog. They offered to take him to the pound (which would mean that he would die within one week), but I refused to let that happen. So, now I am the proud owner of my former neighbour’s dog, whose name was Fugu (but who was renamed “Richard The Lionheart” soon after he adopted me).

When I checked his records at the city hall, I was told that my neighbours had registered their ownership of a dog named Fugu who was born in 1999. They also said that the dog was a Shih Tzu (which Richard is not), but I assumed that was a clerical error. I also asked some of my current neighbours and they agreed that Richard had been around for a long time, so I just assumed that he was around 11 years old.

When I took him to the vet, I was told that he had heartworm and that there was nothing that could be done about it. I figured that he was old and sick and probably wouldn’t last out the year. During the summer months, I gave him heartworm prevention medicine, but other than that I didn’t treat his sickness.

I had to bring Koi, my cat, to the vet last night for her shots, so I thought I would bring Richard along for a second opinion. His coughing was getting really bad and I had run out of the preventative medicine, so I thought I would give it a shot. (I brought Richard to the closest vet to my house originally, but Koi has been going to a vet in Ninomiya since before I moved to this new place, so her vet is different.) My cat’s vet took one look at Richard and said that there was no way he was 11 years old. She thought maybe he was more like 7 or 8 years old. She also said that there was a treatment for heartworm, but that it was expensive, so I had to decide if I could pay for it. He would need an x-ray, ultrasound, and a blood test to figure out the best treatment. If he is determined to be a good candidate for treatment, he would have to take three different pills for about two years. One of the pills will hopefully kill the worms and the other two pills will protect his organs so that he can live long enough for the other pill to work.

I don’t know all of the details of the costs, but there is no way I want Richard to suffer if he doesn’t have to. It is heartbreaking to watch him cough. When I told my friends about this development, they told me to figure out a way for them to donate towards Richard’s medical fees so that he could get the treatment he needs. I am a bit embarrassed to ask for money for this, but it certainly will help me out. I will keep track of his medical bills and if the amount I receive is more than his bills cost me, I will donate the extra to Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, which is a group that is doing amazing work up north in the tsunami- and radiation-affected areas of Japan.

Here is a ChipIn widget that you can use to donate towards Richard’s medical bills.

I’ve never done this before, so I’m not sure if it is going to work smoothly. Fingers crossed!

Richard Now

Richard and I thank you very much. (Koi begrudgingly does too.)

Help My Friends Help the Kitties

There is a cat rescue group called Japan Cat Network in Shiga Prefecture and it is run by an American couple, David and Susan Wybenga. They are really doing amazing work in trying to decrease the stray cat population, find new homes for animals that get abandoned, and educate the public about animal welfare. They use “trap, neuter, release” techniques to try to decrease the stray population and they run a shelter in their own home for the ones who are able to be re-homed. I have been to their house and met both of them and I can vouch for the fact that they are doing good work and are not making any kind of profit off of their organization. I have never met such a dedicated team.

They are currently trying to raise money to buy more cat food for the winter months. They are running a sponsorship drive, but they are also accepting donations of cat food and money to be put towards cat food. The details of their current drive are here.

Their main website is here.

And you can find information about other ways you can help here.

If you like to donate money at this time of the year and you are looking for a worthy cause, I would recommend Japan Cat Network as a good recipient of your charity. I guarantee they will put your money to good use.

Tactics and Techniques for Controlling the Pet Population: Spaying and Neutering Cats

I work as a volunteer web designer for several animal advocacy groups in Japan. One of the biggest problems these groups face is trying to make a dent in the number of dogs and cats that are put down by public authorities. The Ministry of the Environment of Japan has stated that public authorities kill 160,000 dogs and 240,000 cats every year (source:, which means that over a thousand animals are put to death every day. One seemingly obvious way to alleviate this problem is for people to have their pets spayed or neutered at a young age. Unfortunately, a great deal of prejudice and misinformation surrounds spaying and neutering in Japan, and it is often perceived as being prohibitively expensive, especially for females, so it is not widely practiced. Thus, the problem persists.

In light of this, I decided to use an assignment on “developing resource guides” in my library class as an opportunity to explore any research that has been done on techniques for controlling the pet population, in particular as it pertains to spaying and neutering cats. I am hoping that some research has been done on successful tactics in North America or Europe that will serve as an example of what can be done in Japan.


Broad Search
spay or neuter and cat

Narrow Search
American Veterinary Medical Association
Early age altering
TNR (trap neuter return)

Subject Headings

Animal Welfare
Population Control
Spay and Neuter
Veterinary Medicine


Print Resources

  • American Veterinary Medical Association. “AVMA: Mandatory Spay/Neuter a Bad Idea.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 234.10 (2009): 1232-1232. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: One way to encourage pet owners to spay/neuter their animals is to make the operation mandatory. Laws mandating altering of pets by a certain age have been adopted in some communities in the United States. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association does not support mandatory spay/neuter legislation because the decision to perform the surgery needs to be made in consultation with a medical professional. Furthermore, it is believed that pet owners who have not spayed/neutered their pets will not take them to veterinary clinics for medical care after the age of mandatory spaying/neutering in order to avoid detection. This can lead to increased risk of various diseases. See also: AVMA policy on “Dog and Cat Population Control” (

    Access: Full text not available in Langara library, but one copy was located at the following link.

  • Chu, Karyen, Wendy M. Anderson, and Micha Y. Rieser. “Population characteristics and neuter status of cats living in households in the United States.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 234.8 (2009): 1023-1030. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 22 Aug. 2009.

    Note: I was not able to see a full-text copy of this article without paying a fee. The abstract notes the relationship between income and neutering cats, saying that households with incomes below $35,000 only neutered 51% of their owned cats, whereas the numbers were in the 90% range for households with incomes over $35,000. The study concludes that approximately 80% of owned cats are neutered in the United States (Can we find a figure for Japan?) and that annual family income was the strongest predictor of whether cats in the household were neutered (Can we say whether this is also true in Japan?). The study did not address feral cats.

    Access: Full text not available in Langara library, and not located online.

  • Longcor, Travis, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan. “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return.” Conservation Biology, 23.4 (2009): 887-894. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 22 Aug. 2009.

    Note: Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is advocated by many animal welfare groups as a way to control the cat population through spaying/neutering animals and then returning them to their habitat. This resource claims that TNR may improve the welfare of feral cats, but is not necessarily an effective way to control the population. According to mathematical models, 71-94% of a population must be neutered for the population to decline (as long as no new cats are introduced). It may be possible to achieve a decrease in the population by pairing TNR with adoption. It should be noted that this article is written from the perspective of conservation rather than animal welfare, so its primary goal is to advocate for the protection of birds and other wildlife from predation by cats rather than advocating an alternative solution to the problem of controlling the cat population.

    Access: Full text not available in Langara library, but one copy was located at the following link.

  • Lord, Linda K. “Attitudes toward and perceptions of free-roaming cats among individuals living in Ohio.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 232.8 (2008): 1159-1167. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: I was not able to see a full-text copy of this article without paying a fee. A study was performed to discover Ohio residents’ attitudes towards feral cats and the need for them to be regulated by the government. It was found that attitudes and perceptions differed according to whether the respondent was a cat owner and where he/she lived (area of Ohio). The author suggests that statewide approaches to regulate feral cats will be “challenging or unrealistic” to implement due to these differences in attitudes.

    Access: Full text not available in Langara library, and not located online.

  • Macejko, “Christina. DVM auctions spay/neuter surgeries on eBay.” DVM: The Newsmagazine of Veterinary Medicine, 40.6 (2009): 3-3. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: This article is informal and does not include original findings. A veterinarian in Davidsonville, Maryland offers sterilization services via eBay. Her fees are $250 to spay any size dog or $100 to neuter, and $100 to spay any size cat or $40 to neuter. (This is roughly in line what what it costs in Japan.) She states that some vets charge $600 to $800 for such services.

    Access: Full text available online from Langara library. Also available at the following link:

  • Murray, J.K, E. Skillings, and T.J. Gruffydd-Jones. “Opinions of Veterinarians About the Age at Which Kittens Should be Neutered.” Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association. 163.13 (2009): 381-385. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: I was not able to see a full-text copy of this article without paying a fee. This study looked into veterinarians’ perceptions and beliefs about early age altering. It showed that British veterinarians believed that a mean age of about 22 weeks was appropriate for altering kittens. The veterinarians beliefs tended to depend on the time since they graduated, their perception of the population control issue, and their clinic’s policies. Vets who thought that kittens should be altered before adoption were more likely to agree to the appropriateness of altering at 12 to 16 weeks. Vets who believed that surgical complications and diseases could result from early age alteration were significantly less likely to agree to the appropriateness of altering at 12 to 16 weeks. (Have any studies been done on the beliefs of Japanese veterinarians regarding age of alteration? What is considered to be the right age in Japan?)

    Access: Full text not available in Langara library, and not located online.

  • Poss, Jane E. and Julia O. Bader. “Results of a Free Spay/Neuter Program in a Hispanic Colonia on the Texas-Mexico Border.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 11.4 (2008): 346-351. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: I was not able to see a full-text copy of this article without paying a fee. This study followed a free spay/neuter program in an impoverished community. It noted moderate success despite the residents’ initial reluctance to alter their dogs.

    Access: Full text not available in Langara library, and not located online.

  • Whitcomb, Rachael. “Cat Neuter Rates Reflect Income Levels.” DVM: The Newsmagazine of Veterinary Medicine, 40.7 (2009): 26-26. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Langara College Lib., Vancouver. 22 Aug. 2009.

    Note: This article is informal and does not include original findings. It reports that a study by Alley Cat Allies found that nearly 91 percent of people in the $35,000 to $75,000 income bracket neutered their pets, whereas only about 51 percent of those who earned less did so. The surgery needs to be made more accessible to low income families. As the source of this article is a magazines for veterinarians, it points out that vets cannot be expected to shoulder the extra costs. The author sees the role of veterinarians being to “educate potential or new pet owners about the lifetime costs of caring for their pets and help them budget for the best care”.

    Access: Full text available online from Langara library. Also available at the following link:

Listservs, Newsgroups, or Blogs

  • Blog: Japan Cat Network

    Note: This blog documents the activities of the Japan Cat Network, a non-profit organization that is run by an American husband and wife team. This group is the leading proponent of trap-neuter-return (TNR) techniques in Japan. They also run a shelter and work towards finding adoptive homes for the cats they take in.

  • Listserv: Angels with Fur Japan

    Note: This is a mailing list for people in Japan to share information about pet ownership and pet welfare. Key leaders of animal welfare groups in Japan are members, including the leaders of Animal Friends Niigata, Animal Refuge Kansai, Heart Tokushima, and Japan Cat Network. This list is a useful starting point for finding information that specifically relates to pet-related issues in Japan.

  • Listserv: Veterinary Medicine Library Issues and Information

    Note: In the archives of this mailing list, one of the members mentions a “Spay/Neuter Pack” that is a compilation of scientific studies done over a twelve-year period on spaying and neutering. (See: The message dates from 2004, so it is possible that the pack is no longer available, but it would be worth trying to contact the author just in case it is.

Specialized Subject Directories (i.e. Collections of Resources Related to the Topic)

  • Open Directory Project >> Recreation: Pets: Cats: Issues: Health: Elective Surgery: Spay and Neuter 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: This is a collection of twelve links to web-based articles on the advantages of spaying and neutering cats. Some of the articles are written by veterinarians, but others are by lay people and individuals who run shelters. There are two dead links.

Informational websites (with links)

  • Cruden, Diana. A Winn Feline Foundation Report On Early Spay/Neuter in the Cat. The Cat Fancier’s Association website, Inc. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: This article discusses a study where three groups of kittens were altered at different times and then compared for physical and behavioural differences. Group 1 kittens were altered at 7 weeks of age, Group 2 were altered at 7 months, and Group 3 were not altered until they were at least 12 months old (after the first phase of the study was finished, so for these results, they can be considered the control group). It was found that there was no difference in food consumption or level of activity between the three groups. Kittens in Groups 1 and 2 were larger (longer and taller) than Group 3 cats. Group 3 cats were noticeably less affectionate and more aggressive. There were some physiological differences noted in secondary sex characteristics, but nothing that would affect a cat’s normal development. Pre-adoption early age altering has been adopted by several organizations in the United States with anecdotal success in decreasing the number of pets being euthanized over a period of several years.

  • Dog and Cat Population Control. Vers. April 2009. American Veterinary Medical Association website. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: The AVMA does not support mandatory sterilization, but it does support mandatory licensing of all dogs and cats. It also supports prohibiting the sale/adoption of unaltered dogs and cats by humane organizations and animal control agencies. (Does the organization representing Japanese veterinarians have a similar policy?)

  • Little, Susan. Early Age Spay and Neuter in the Cat. Dr. Susan Little website. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: This article reviews a number of studies on the health and behaviour effects of altering cats, focusing on the practice of early age altering (spaying or neutering between 8 and 16 weeks instead of 5 to 7 months). The author states that “[o]wner compliance with sterilization programs [after adoption] is often under 50%, despite screening of adoptive homes, prepayment of or discounted surgery fees, contracts requiring altering and follow up by shelter personnel.” She includes a list of references to consult on the topic of early age altering of cats. (Do shelters in Japan perform early age spaying/neutering of their cats before adopting them out? Have they considered it?)

  • New Scientific Study Finds Vast Majority of Pet Cats Are Neutered. Alley Cat Allies. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: This article reiterates the Chu et all (2009) findings about the relationship between income bracket and neutering. It also states that while owned cats are generally being neutered in the US, this is only true for about 3% of feral cats. However, I could not find a specific citation to confirm this figure.

  • Nolen, R. Scott. $75M Dedicated to Nonsurgical Contraception for Cats and Dogs. American Veterinary Medical Association website. 23 Aug. 2009.

    Note: Since there are economic and psychological barriers against surgical sterilization, a non-profit organization called the Found Animals Foundation has decided to award US$25 million to “the first person or group that develops a safe and efficacious nonsurgical means of permanently sterilizing cats and dogs”. A further $50 million in grant money has also been offered to assist in the development of promising technologies. There have been advances in this area, but a lack of funding has prohibited the ultimate development of a nonsurgical solution. (Since the same economical and psychological barriers exist in Japan, the development of a non-surgical form of contraception could possibly make a dent in the feral populations.)

Major Findings

  • Mandatory spay/neuter legislation is not supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
  • In the US, household income is related to the decision to spay/neuter pets. (The higher the income, the more likely the owner is to alter the pet.) Also, it is believed that while approximately 80% of owned cats are neutered, only about 3% of feral cats are (need to find a source for that figure).
  • Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) techniques alone are not enough to decrease feral cat populations. They may need to be paired with adoption. More scientific study is necessary on TNR.
  • State-wide (or nation-wide) attempts to solve the feral cat issue may be hampered by differing attitudes on and perceptions of the problem.
  • Some veterinarians in the US charge over $600 to spay or neuter a pet.
  • Early age alteration has been proven in scientific studies not to adversely affect the development of cats. However, it is not yet widely accepted by veterinarians in Great Britain. It is gaining acceptance amongst vets who have performed the procedure or who believe in having pets altered before being adopted.
  • Even free spay/neuter programs may only meet with limited success.
  • Grant money is available for people who are working on one-time non-surgical contraception methods for cats and dogs.