One of the members of staff takes an energetic dog for a walk (Photo: John Carter)

Animal Refuge Kansai

Giving a good home to Japan's strays

One of the members of staff takes an energetic dog for a walk (Photo: John Carter)
John Carter   - 4 min read

For those visiting Japan the only face of the country you will likely be exposed to is the friendly glow of neon signs, tourist destinations and almost endless shopping experiences. Though of course this side of the country gives you an insight into Japanese society many do not realise it is not all glitz and glamour. In fact, Japan has a serious problem with animal abandonment and Animal Refuge Kansai or ARK has been working to reduce this for the past 23 years.

With Japan’s fashion trends and technological progression advancing at an incredible speed, it’s sadly no surprise that this disposable mindset affects more than just people’s wardrobes. For example, ‘handbag dogs’ are a popular fashion accessory but this is just one contribution to animal abandonment. Of course the large number of homeless animals is not all the result of human neglect. Natural disasters such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake saw a huge rise in the intake of animals at the centre. Of course natural causes cannot be prevented but human neglect can be. Something that is also very surprising is that veterinary expertise in Japan are not to a level adequate with dealing with this problem so it is further exacerbated in some ways.

Founded in 1990 by Elizabeth Oliver, ARK is the main organisation for the welfare of animals in Japan but it has taken some time to get to this point. The organisation has steadily grown over the years from the generosity of supporters and volunteers and in that time has housed 3127 dogs and 1294 cats. This is an incredible number but unfortunately there are more out there and housing them all is not possible.

Offering a peaceful environment for the animals, the centre is located in the picturesque mountains of Myokenguchi just outside of Osaka. The facilities have grown significantly since the organisations founding and currently a new site is being constructed as a replacement. The new shelter actually plans to house a fewer number of animals in the future but it is important to understand diplomacy is key when dealing with such issues. The centre plans instead to increase its focus on education and tackle the problem at the root. Aimed at everyone, a better understanding of what it takes to looks after an animal is an effective way of reducing the number coming to the shelter. For those that cannot be housed there, centre also offers services to these animals. Stray cats for example are neutered thus reducing the problem in other ways.

Though facilitating the neglected animals of Kansai and Japan as a whole, ARK is not aimed as a permanent residence and hopes that people can offer a new life to these animals. Of course ARK is not just somewhere to easily obtain new pets so only those who support their plight and can offer the best possible environment should adopt an animal. There is of course an evaluation process involved and the centre will deem you an appropriate candidate or not. Thankfully this system works effectively and there have been no problems with animals becoming strays again.

Of course not everyone can take in an animal so offering help in any way you can is appreciated eternally. Visiting the centre is encouraged though of course it is no tourist destination. Whether just passing through Kansai or if you live in the area then volunteering on a regular or even a one time basis can help the centre run efficiently and cater for the animals in the best ways possible. I’m sure you can imagine the feeding, cleaning and walking of all the animals is quite a feat. Just receiving some deserved attention can help improve the quality of life for many of the animals at the centre.

Though Japan is by no means the worst offender in terms of animal cruelty it’s still a serious issue in the country and this is why ARK is extremely important. Being an almost a one of a kind organisation, ARK is close to being alone in dealing with animal welfare. Staying strong and keeping the centre working effectively is imperative and with your help the organisation can gain further recognition and reduce the issue.

John Carter

John Carter @john.carter

I'm a Visual Effects Graduate from the UK. With a passion for photography I hope to travel Japan and capture its unrivaled beauty.