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'Divine volunteer' ordered to pay damages after death of abandoned dog in west Japan home

The male dog Melon, who died after being placed under the care of a woman known as a "divine volunteer," is seen in this photo provided by animal protection group Tsumugi.

OSAKA -- A woman in Kyoto Prefecture who took abandoned dogs and cats into her home was ordered by the Osaka District Court to pay around 67,000 yen (about $590) in compensation, after the head of an animal protection group filed a suit claiming that she had a dog die in a poor environment.

    The presiding judge recognized that the woman took the dog in even though she lacked the will or ability to look after it properly, and let it grow weak.

    For the past 25 years, the 55-year-old woman is said to have voluntarily taken in many shelter dogs and cats and raised them at her home in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture. She was known by those around her as a "divine volunteer."

    According to the Nov. 26 decision, in 2016, animal protection group Tsumugi of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, took in male dog Melon after a public health center took charge of the animal. About two weeks after the group began looking for a new home for the animal, it handed the dog over to the woman, who volunteered to accept him.

    The ruling pointed out that the woman had abandoned dogs and cats that became ill due to a lack of financial resources. It was recognized that Melon, who was received by the woman though she had no will or ability to properly care for him, died of emaciation in a poor environment.

    The animal protection group had demanded about 1.45 million yen (about $12,800) in compensation, but the court kept the amount of damages low, on the grounds that the dog was transferred to the woman only a short time after the group received it.

    Following the ruling, Chikako Hattori, 61, head of the animal protection group, said in tears, "This is not a result that removes the sorrow that the animal had. Human and animal lives are equally important. I'm disappointed." The group plans to file an appeal.

    The woman was arrested by Kyoto Prefectural Police in November 2020 after it was found that about 30 animals under her care were abused, and some had starved to death as they were given no food or water. At the time she had been subject to a summary order fining her 300,000 yen (about $2,646).

    (Japanese original by Yumi Shibamura, Osaka City News Department)

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