When I opened the door, I heard energetic barking and saw different colored bodies running towards me. Some smaller dogs snuggled up and jumped onto my lap.
This is “HOGOKEN CAFE®” (shelter dog cafe) which harbors dogs and cats abandoned by their owners or taken from breeders because of their age or health. The store is not only a place to interact with pets, but also to match them with potential foster owners.
The cafe was opened eight years ago by the non-profit organization “Love Five,” headquartered in Higashinari-ku, Osaka. The NPO has 9 stores all over Japan, with about 15 animals enrolled in each store at the time of the interview.
The stores get about 250 visitors a day nationwide, including those who come to adopt them. Happily, more than 16,000 pets have found new homes here so far.
Adopted dogs may also come with their foster owner to play at the dog cafe.
On the day we visited, a 54 year old woman had dropped by the store with her pet, a toy poodle. She had previously adopted her pet, Cocoa, when the animal was retired from a breeder.
At the time, the woman also had an aging dog named Milk who had lost her eyesight. Initially Cocoa was aggressive toward her new owner, biting the woman’s hand no matter how many times she was told not to. Yet she was kind to Milk, who couldn’t see, walking in front of the older dog to lead the way when they went for walks. When Milk had to have her vocal cords removed due to a chronic illness, she was left with no voice but managed to let out a sound to communicate with her owner.
Cocoa is also getting older now. Her eyesight has deteriorated and she is therefore afraid to go for a walk. But on this day she appeared calm, resting comfortably in her owner’s arms. “I’m really grateful she came to me,” Cocoa’s owner reflected.
Junya Yoshii, 37, a Love Five board member, voiced the NPO’s concerns about the current situation. The COVID-19 containment measures imposed since 2020 have increased the demand for pets as more people looked to them for comfort.
Once the pandemic subsides, people will go back to their jobs and resume their daily life, making time for their hobbies. “I’m afraid that more people will give up taking care of their pets and let them go when that happens,” Yoshii said. “In any event, one needs to be determined to make them [pets] happy until the end. We would like people to be prepared to welcome pets into their lives.”
(Read the Sankei Shimbun column in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Yuka Sudani, Photojournalism Department