This morning on my way to school I heard a cry. My ears are innately tuned to kitty cries in a maternal fashion, and it cut through me like a knife. I can hear Samson’s pathetic little mewl from opposite ends of the house. I looked around and thought I was mistaken, since I couldn’t determine the source. A few steps later, crouched near a car in the parking lot I saw this tiny little thing, no more than 8 or 9 weeks old, mostly white with black little cow spots, limping and meowing. As I got closer, it snuck under the car, but then tentatively crept out and towards my open hand. It was purring! I immediately scooped it up, since a parking lot is no place for a sweet little kitten. I was on my way into the building to ask if anyone knew about the cat, when someone came out and told me I couldn’t bring it inside and that it was 捨てた猫 (literally, ‘thrown away cat’). Acting on the innate belief that you don’t leave starving and hurt kittens who obviously want human contact in a parking lot, I took it home, put it in my shed, and fed it some tuna.
Back at school, over the course of the next half hour, the kitten was a hot topic in the teacher’s room. I was worried and torn, wanting to keep it, knowing that it needed to go to a vet, but also knowing that at the moment, I was physically ill-prepared to take care of a cat – no litterbox, no food. I asked repeatedly if they thought the cat had a home. Everyone said, no, probably not. Also, nobody wanted to give me their opinion, though the one idea that they threw around was that it should be taken back to the bridge in town where it was found (it followed a student on her commute this morning) even though it had no home, and left there.
At this moment is where my cultural beliefs on animal treatment and most Japanese people’s cultural beliefs on animal treatment clashed. In as sweet and sincere a way as possible, I said that I could give the animal to a shelter where someone would take care of it, but that I could not and would not leave it outside to die. This is when they called in to my supervisor to make a decision. Evidently, while I was in class, a decision was made and my supervisor came by to pick up the cat. Apparently, they are going to take care of it until they can take it to a humane society, where it will get vet treatment and hopefully find a home. If this indeed happens or not, I’m not sure. I did, however, get the sense that I had created more work for them than they wanted, even though I would have happily adopted the kitty and carried out all necessary errands concerning its health.
So here’s my struggle and assessment. If that kitten had scurried away and didn’t want to be helped, so be it. There would have been nothing I could do. Yet, it’s sweet demeanor and how it obviously craved human contact broke my heart. Here I was holding a good, snuggly kitty with a hurt paw and an empty tummy. For all my Japanese coworkers, I might as well have been talking about a rabbit or a squirrell. Atleast here in the inaka, they don’t consider cats as pets. Many stray cats run around town, probably being fed every so often, but ultimately shying away from people and living a feral lifestyle. I see dogs locked in 4×4 foot yards, or relegated to the genkan area by a leash, but never allowed to come inside the house. On my way to Mutsu, on the side of a highly trafficked road, there is a golden retriever locked in an approximately 5×8 foot pen, with a doghouse, surrounded by weeks worth of its own feces. I can only imagine it is never let out, nor taken care of in the least. It is animal cruelty and neglect for everyone and anyone to see, and no one does a thing. And how???
One reason, is the cultural framework. Many people I’ve come across don’t understand the American notion that a pet is a member of the household. In Japan, it is treated as an animal is meant to be treated, and that means, not at all human-like. (This confuses me, though, since name-brand ‘fashion’ cats and dogs are doted on like Paris Hilton’s stupid little chihuahua. And just look at all the Japanese youtube videos people take of their cute Scottish Fold kittens!) Going back to the cultural reasons though, another one is that the infrastructure we are accustomed to for unwanted animals doesn’t exist here. People are more likely to “throw away” a litter of kittens outside than take them to a shelter where they might find a good home. Needless to say, people then don’t go to a shelter to adopt like we do in America. From my experience, nobody takes direct responsibility for stray animals, or maybe even their own. In fact, if I hadn’t made a big deal out of it, that cat would have been left to fend for itself.
So, this upsets me because I love animals, and specifically, because I could give that cat a better future than it will likely get. (Also, because I so dearly want a kitty and, while I have decided I won’t go out and buy one, would not object to the responsibility if it fell into my lap. Which, it more or less did.) And I believe that humans are and should be responsible for the ethical treatment of defenseless creatures. And it upsets me because I don’t think Japan can hide behind economic reasons that afflict many poor and developing countries, as far as their treatment of animals. By far, the more heartwrenching aspects of traveling in Cuba and India were the countless stray and unwanted dogs and cats. However, how can you blame a country for not feeding or neutering their animals when they can’t even feed themselves? As a wealthy and developed nation, Japan should not have stray animals running around and they should have a wider infrastructure set up to deal with this problem. Maybe in the more urban areas this is the case, but given that the nearest veterinarian is 1 hour away from my town, the Japan inaka has a long way to go in terms of animal welfare.
Poor kitters…what will become of it?
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