Breeding Dogs Need New Homes as Japanese Industry Rules Tighten

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A dog is seen at an adoption event at the Sunshine City commercial complex in Toshima Ward, Tokyo.

Former breeding dogs are in need of new owners after a regulation capping how many dogs breeders could keep took effect last year. The regulation is part of the revised Law on Welfare and Management of Animals, which is designed to eliminate problematic breeders who breed large numbers of dogs and put profit first. However, if no one takes in the dogs given up by breeders, they might be put down. Dog adoption events have been held around the country to try to ensure the canines get new homes, and now the question is whether such events will spread and attract more interest.

In mid-May, Animal Welfare Tokyo held a dog adoption event in Tokyo and about 400 groups of people visited. The 35 dogs at the event were all popular breeds, such as toy poodles and Pomeranians. They were all former breeding dogs that had had puppies several times for breeders and were received by Animal Welfare Tokyo from breeders.

The organization examines the family structure and home environment of visitors hoping to adopt the dogs and decides to whom they will give the dogs. The organization has held a dog adoption event almost every week since June last year and asked those adopting dogs to donate around ¥100,000 per dog to finance the organization’s activities, veterinary checkups for other dogs and other costs. Naomi Uezu, 50, from Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture, who adopted a 5½-year-old female Welsh terrier at the event, said, “My family had decided that if we were going to have a dog, it would be from a shelter.”

147,000 dogs to be given up

The revised animal welfare law was put into force in 2020 with the aim of weeding out unscrupulous breeders who keep large numbers of dogs in small cages and make them give birth many times. In June 2022, a cap took effect on the number of dogs that can be kept by a breeder. Out of consideration for breeders that currently have many dogs, this upper limit is being reduced in a phased manner, with 30 dogs per employee allowed in the first year, 25 in June 2023, and 20 in June 2024. This has led to more and more breeders giving away their dogs to try to meet the cap.

According to the Dog and Cat Welfare Management Guideline Committee, which comprises the pet supplies industry, the Japan Veterinary Medical Association and others, about 147,000 breeding dogs are expected to be given up by breeders over the three years due to the revised animal welfare law. Consequently, animal welfare organizations and others have been increasing their number of adoption events for dogs they receive from breeders.

Shelter adoptions relatively rare

However, when people want to get a dog in Japan, they often purchase one from a pet shop, and the practice of adopting dogs from animal welfare organizations is not common. According to a survey by the Japan Pet Food Association, 76% of people purchased dogs from pet shops or breeders while just 7% adopted dogs from animal welfare organizations and others. About 33,000 dogs are estimated to be adopted in a year, well below the 49,000 dogs expected to be given up by breeders per year due to tighter regulations.

Dogs not adopted at adoption events live in shelters maintained by animal welfare organizations. However, regulations on these organizations are also being gradually tightened. Takafumi Ohira, 30, of Animal Welfare Tokyo, said: “If things go on like this, our shelter will reach its limit and some dogs might be culled. I hope that people will consider adoption when they want to get dogs.”

Yoshihiro Hayashi, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo who is familiar with the dog breeding situation in Japan and abroad, said: “The dog supply system is changing in Japan, too. There is a need to increase the number of dog adoptions so that breeding dogs that are given up due to tighter regulations will not be sacrificed.”

Smaller market for cats

On the other hand, far fewer cats are set to be given up by breeders due to the tightening of regulations, with the estimated total coming to about 17,000, about 10% of the figure for dogs.

According to the Japan Pet Food Association, 87% of pet dogs in Japan are purebreds or mixes of different purebreds while 82% of pet cats are mixed breeds. More than 60% of people get their cats not from pet shops but by picking up abandoned cats or adopting one from an acquaintance. This means that while there are an estimated 8,000 breeders specializing in dogs in Japan, the number of breeders specializing in cats is thought to be much smaller, at about 1,000.

Meanwhile, the revised animal welfare law established a new regulation in June 2022 that requires existing breeders to keep cats in cages with two or more levels in order to accommodate the behavior of the felines, which like to climb to high places. Due to the regulation, some breeders unable to secure a proper space have given up cats that they cannot keep.