Having been raised in a family that always kept dogs, not having a pet was one of the things I missed most about home when I moved to Japan. Then, last year, we got a rescue poodle. Baz had spent his first five months starved and deprived of light. A psycho? No, a poodle breeder. Here’s how we got Baz and what we learned:
DO: TRY AND GET A RESCUE DOG
If you have a breed you love, and many do, the pet store is probably for you. But if you are happy with any old pooch, rescues are great. They are more difficult to train, but it’s worth it. Getting a rescue dog can be tough, though. One network told us that their dogs were social and could not be left alone – my wife and I both had office jobs at the time. Eventually, we found Baz, a five-month-old, too-big-for-toy poodle who had been locked in the dark and starved by his breeder. He was on death row. As soon as we met him, he got a hug and has been happy ever since.
DON’T: ER, LET THE DOG OFF THE LEASH
Maybe it was naive of me to think that the pooch could go to the park and be let off his leash. Nope. Our local park goes as far as to discourage extender leashes. Nice one guys. Some sneak their dogs off the leash at night and dawn. We have chosen not to do that. So to make sure he gets proper exercise, we have to commute to a dog run – a piece of fenced-off concrete the size of a tennis court.
DO: GET PET INSURANCE
We did not. Baz got sick. It cost around half a million yen. Ouch. We would have saved hundreds of thousands of yen by paying the ¥2,000 or so a month to insure the mutt.
DON’T: BE FOOLED BY ‘PET-FRIENDLY’ HOUSING
Read the apartment rental contract you sign carefully. We paid a month’s rent extra for dog rights. Once home, Baz had a problem sleeping alone at night. We were training him when the letter arrived: ‘You will have to leave if your dog does not stay quiet at night.’ We read the contract’s small print: ‘Animals must not make a noise.’ So now the dog sleeps in our room.
DO: FIND PEOPLE TO CARE FOR YOUR DOG
One holiday, we decided to try out one of the legendary wacky Japan pet hotels as we could not find anyone to watch Baz. The hotel had appeared in numerous articles. It was not a hotel. It was a kennel. They charged us extra to walk him three times a day. Funnily enough, when we returned, his paws were soft. He had not been walked.
DON’T: FALL ONTO THE PAMPERING PATH
Dogs do not need clothes; that’s people. And they do not need weekly grooming at the salon. That’s nobody. Take your dog for a haircut every second month. It still costs around ¥8,000 a time. Standing still in a harness to be trimmed properly takes a toll on dogs anyway. You aren’t being nice to your dog by doing this.
DO: EXPECT TO MAKE NEW FRIENDS
It’s weird. Other dog owners will speak to you unprompted. At the vet, people share stories. Japan is not a particularly open place, but with a dog, you’ll find yourself part of a new community. Including the neighbours, the ones that haven’t been speaking to you for years. And that’s nice.
P’s First, an ethical store, has rescue dogs available nationwide.
– By Richard Smart. Illustration by Bunny Bissoux.