Selling the latest fad breed of cat or dog is big business in Japan. Puppies at Japanese pet shops seem to sell for about ¥200,000 each. When you walk past the pet shops and see the fluffy bundles in the window, what you don’t see are the puppy mills out in the countryside where breeding dogs are confined in terrible conditions and unsold animals are disposed of.

Because of puppy and kitten mills, irresponsible owners, and elderly owners, there is an increasing number of unwanted pets looking for new homes. The neglect is not always intentional. For example, elderly pet owners suffering from dementia might forget to feed their animals or to take them to the vet when they’re unwell. As a result, there are plenty of opportunities to adopt a pet in Japan, rather than buy.

laser cat wifi router internet
Photo by iStock/Andrey Zhuralev

Where to look for rescue dogs and cats

An organization that does a fantastic job with rehousing rescued dogs and cats is ARK. The organization started as Animal Rescue Kansai, but they mainly go by the ARK moniker these days. Although much of the support network in terms of foster families and adoptions is in and around Tokyo, most of the animals are sourced from Kansai or the countryside.

two tokyo rescue cats
Photo by Ali Shearer

Tokyo pet adoption process

The first step is to check the ARK website to see if there is a dog or cat that suits your preferences and lifestyle. Your living arrangements might not be suitable for all sizes and temperaments of pet. If there is an animal that interests you, inquire with ARK and request an interview. Interviews usually take place at adoption events. The adoption events also give the dogs or cats an opportunity to inspect you. Often an animal might look good in theory, but chemistry is chemistry—if you don’t get on, then it won’t be fun for either party.

If you’ve decided you would like to adopt an animal, there is then, usually, a two-week trial. After this, you can decide to adopt the cat or dog, or you can go your separate ways. If you decide to keep the animal, you pay a fee of ¥20,000, which covers some of ARK’s costs for things like desexing, vaccinations, and microchipping.

Dog using a computer
ARK dogs are multi-talented | Photo by Gregory Lane

What are the running costs?

The day-to-day running costs of a cat or dog in Tokyo are relatively low. Food and toilet materials (depending on the animal) should cost no more than a ¥1,000 per week. (Check out this article for a full cost rundown of keeping a cat in Tokyo.)

Two significant costs that you will have to face are vet fees and pet accommodation fees if you decide to leave your beloved behind when you go on vacation. Although it’s rather obvious, pets aren’t covered under your health insurance, so you’ll have to pay for 100% of any vet fees. If your pet has a serious accident or illness, then vet bills could exceed ¥100,000. Rescue dogs tend to be a bit older and if they’ve been neglected, then medical issues can be quite common.

Kennels are known as “pet hotels” in Japan. This seems appropriate as the fees sometimes exceed those of human hotels. Prices of ¥5,000 per night with all the dogs kept in a small room are not unusual. To be fair, most will take the dogs for two daily walks and you’ll be able to monitor your pooch or kitty via a webcam. Our local pet hotel gave our dog a trim on the day of pick-up and provided a memorial photo with a seasonal backdrop of autumn leaves or cherry blossoms.

Kakigori cat
Photo by Felix Wilson

Alternatively, you can use a pet taxi and send your pet companion to a hotel in the countryside, where they can take long walks on the beach for about ¥4,000/night.

One of the more unpleasant pet stores. Yes, that’s a large owl for sale in the window. | Photo by Gregory Lane

There are also plenty of exotic pets available in Japan.  Ethical issues aside, you should probably avoid getting a 6.5 metre reticulated python.

Interested in petsitting in Tokyo? Check out TrustedHousesitters to see what you can do.

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