Joy, a friendly Labrador mix, quietly awaits visitors, hoping one of them will take him out for a walk. In another corner is Kuro, a black gentle giant whose eyes and ears light up with excitement as soon as someone approaches his cage. In the common dog room, you will find Choko, who is always in a good mood and seems to have a perennial smile on his face. And then there is Princess, who is sure to become your favorite after just one short visit because of her exuberance and charming demeanor. These are just a few of the seventy-two shelter dogs that call the Animal Garden in Ishikawa their home. And they are ready to be your new best friend!
The Animal Garden is run by its parent organization, Cherubims, one of the oldest and largest no-kill animal shelters in Okinawa. The shelter accepts cats and dogs from locals who cannot care for their pets. They also take in stray animals that are either left at their doorstep or are found injured. Okinawa has one of the highest percapita stray animal populations in Japan and the second highest animal euthanasia rate. Of the four hundred cats and dogs that are killed every day in Japan, about twenty are from Okinawa. Cherubims is one of the few non-profit organizations in Okinawa working to help stray and abandoned animals on the island.
The mission of Animal Garden is to protect and provide a better life for animals in need and to generate a common spirit of animal welfare on the island. At this small but cozy facility, staff and volunteers devote a lot of time to train and care for the animals. The ultimate hope is that these animals will find their fur-ever families and get a chance to experience life outside of the shelter. Since it is often difficult to find permanent homes for all animals, the Animal Garden plans to initiate a foster program for dogs that would allow people to choose one to keep as a pet for the time they are in Okinawa. This would be an ideal situation for shortterm residents in Okinawa who would like to enjoy the company of dogs in their homes without the worry of what to do with the animal at the time of relocation. Shie Hirano-san, one of the staff at the Animal Garden, feels that “just getting out of the shelter and into someone’s home, even for a shortterm stay, can have a positive change in the animal’s behavior and overall appearance.” She adds, “It is amazing what a little bit of love and affection can do for them.”
For my husband and I, the Animal Garden has become our favorite place to visit during weekends. We enjoy taking the dogs out for a walk in the quiet, forested surroundings of the shelter. On a rainy day, it is nice to spend some time indoors, socializing with and brushing the dogs, especially the more senior ones that are not fit to go out walking. Yet the absolute best part about the shelter are the two common dog rooms, each with twenty to thirty dogs who play together. I often walk into one of these rooms and, before I know it, I am surrounded by friendly dogs, all of whom want my attention. While each dog has a unique personality, one thing they all have in common is the desire for human company.
The animals at the shelter love having visitors, and the shelter is open to volunteers and visitors between 2 PM and 4 PM every day. So whether you want to lounge around in the company of cats and dogs, go for a stroll with a dog, or consider your options for fostering or adopting a shelter animal, visit the Animal Garden in Ishikawa today! It bears mentioning that the shelter receives no government support and runs entirely on donations. Thus any help they receive, in-kind or in cash, goes a long way to help maintain the facility and to ensure a healthy lifestyle for the shelter animals. To find out more about the shelter, visit www.okianimalgarden.com. It is rightly said: “saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that one animal.”
Images courtesy of Cherubims Animal Garden Shelter
Payal Shah is an STG Associate at OIST. She has a PhD in Environmental Economics and her research focuses on species, land and marine conservation. She is passionate about animal welfare issues and loves spending time with shelter animals.