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Photobook on senior dogs prior to euthanasia warns irresponsible owners in Japan

A senior Pomeranian that was left at an animal shelter by its owner who refused to watch her pet die, is seen in Sae Kodama's photobook "Rokentachi no Namida: Inochi to Kokoro o Mamoru 14 no Hoho," published by Kadokawa Corp.

TOKYO -- A photobook of senior dogs taken by a Japanese photographer while they waited to be euthanized at public animal shelters was recently published.

A Labrador retriever that was left at an animal shelter after its elderly owner was suddenly admitted to a hospital, is seen in Sae Kodama's photobook "Rokentachi no Namida: Inochi to Kokoro o Mamoru 14 no Hoho," published by Kadokawa Corp.

The facial expressions of such dogs later put to sleep, regardless of advancing efforts to end animal euthanasia in Japan, are shown in "Rokentachi no Namida: Inochi to Kokoro o Mamoru 14 no Hoho" (Tears of senior dogs: 14 ways to protect their lives and hearts), published by Kadokawa Corp.

Photographer Sae Kodama has based her works on the co-existence of humans and animals for over 20 years. She takes images of dogs and cats right before they are put down at public animal shelters and puts them on display at photo exhibitions called "Requiem to animals," which she has been organizing since 1998.

The exhibits have helped make the harsh reality of animal euthanasia in Japan attract greater public attention. She says there are more local bodies putting efforts into eliminating animal euthanasia and the yearly numbers of canines put down have decreased compared to when she began holding the exhibitions.

However, 8,711 of 39,327 dogs that were abandoned at animal shelters were put to sleep in fiscal 2017 without ever returning to their human partners or finding new owners, according to the Environment Ministry's data. Many of the dogs that are euthanized are of old age.

Kodama explained, "Compared to puppies and young dogs, it's hard to find people who will adopt senior dogs. With a few exceptions like leading-edge animal shelters and facilities that promote adoption, they (senior dogs) become subject to euthanasia immediately after arriving (at shelters)."

To inform the public of what is actually happening, Kodama conducted interviews at various animal shelters across Japan to ask workers how senior dogs ended up in the facilities and also took photos of the animals that were abandoned there.

A senior dog that was left at an animal shelter, is seen in Sae Kodama's "Rokentachi no Namida: Inochi to Kokoro o Mamoru 14 no Hoho," published by Kadokawa Corp.

Based on her interviews, Kodama provides four reasons in her new book why senior dogs are left at animal shelters: owners become too old themselves or move to a new place, or they abandon their responsibilities to take care of senior dogs, or for unknown reasons. These include instances when workers at facilities catch stray senior dogs.

According to the photographer, because of Japan's aging society and trend toward nuclear families, some people get their own canine friends after they themselves have grown old. It has become common for these pets to be left at public animal shelters when their two-legged partners become ill, hospitalized, enter care homes or someone else discards them after the dog owner's death.

During her visit to one animal shelter, Kodama witnessed a middle-aged woman leave her pet Pomeranian, still inside a carry bag, at the facility, because the owner thought "it would be too sad" to watch her dog pass away. Instead of spending its last moments with its human partner, the senior Pomeranian was put down in a gas chamber.

"The ones killing senior dogs aren't employees working at these facilities. It's the owners who shirk their responsibilities for taking care of the dogs and abandon them," said Kodama.

In her book, she also provides 14 ways to change this kind of situation, which she came to realize while carrying out interviews at animal shelters, including finding someone who can take care of a senior pet dog in case something happens to its owner and saving money for the pet dog, among other measures.

Kodama added, "By spreading information about the reality of abandoned senior dogs and their agony, I want to warn people against getting such pets without careful consideration and becoming irresponsible owners. I hope it (the book) helps increase the number of dogs that lead happy lives after they've grown old and die a natural death, and reduce the number of unfortunate senior dogs."

(Japanese original by Satoshi Tokairin, City News Department)

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