ARK News

ARK in Metropolis Magazine

December 1, 2007

Animal Refuge Kansai

“Fun loving blonde looking for love, long walks in the park, cuddles and…some chew toys.”

by Karryn Cartelle

Behind the cheery facade of many of Tokyo’s pet shops lies a dark secret, one that nobody wants to think about when watching the boisterous puppies inside their display cases. Few customers consider how the animals made their way to the store, or the fate that awaits them when the shop needs to “refresh its stock.

Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) was established in 1990 as a non-profit organization seeking to bring to light the realities of animal welfare in Japan, and to help the animals find new, loving homes.

In order to keep up with demand for the latest pet fad, some unfortunate animals live out their days as breeding machines. Their life passes by in a cramped cage, where they give birth until reaching their use-by date. “Popular breeds go through trends here,” says Briar Simpson, a Tokyo ARK Representative. “If everyone wants a husky, the pet shops want to cope with the demand. They don’t consider that a husky isn’t suitable in Tokyo. They just sell them.”

ARK takes many factors into consideration when finding homes for the abandoned dogs it saves. Yet even after rehoming 196 dogs and 96 cats in 2006, the group still has over 300 dogs and 200 cats at its Osaka shelter looking for new owners.

Families interested in adopting can browse animal profiles on ARK’s website. Or they can leave the decision to those who know the animals the best. “The people who seem happiest with their adoption are usually those who let the staff choose the pet,” Simpson says.

Prospective adopters are required to fill out a questionnaire to determine their suitability, then attend a meeting with an ARK representative. If all goes well, ARK’s Osaka team readies the pet to be flown up from the shelter to its new home. All dogs arrive at their owners’ doors vaccinated, neutered and micro-chipped, which, says Simpson, is necessary for when the owner wants to take the pet back to their home country.

Adopting a pet, however, is only one of the many ways that ARK needs support. Others include sponsorship, foster care, or volunteering.

“We have some great foster families in Tokyo,” says Simpson. “We have a group of Nova teachers that foster a cat. Because they all have different shifts and are home at different times, they can give their foster pet a good quality of life.”

Keeping animals at the ARK shelter does not come cheap—each animal costs the organization well over 150,000 a year. Yet adoption fees are low. A puppy from one of Tokyo’s pet shops can set you back 500,000, and you don’t know how they got there.

To adopt a dog through ARK you’ll only pay 15,000, and you’ll have the satisfaction of supporting a worthy cause.

That’s where sponsors come in. People who want to show their support for ARK but can’t adopt can sponsor an animal through a variety of packages, starting from just 3,000 per month.

ARK operates no shelters in Tokyo, so volunteers here cannot interact with the animals. But they can still help ARK’s cause. Bilingual assistants are needed for translations, and the organization is also on the lookout for a new part-time representative in Tokyo.

Japan’s pet industry has received a lot of bad press recently, and some action has been taken to change the way animals are treated. But with few laws and an even lower level of enforcement, groups like ARK face a struggle. “There is no reason why Japan cannot improve its animal welfare situation,” says Simpson. “It could even be better than other countries, judging from how quickly Japan moves when it adopts a trend.”

But until people know the reality of what goes on behind the scenes of the pet industry, ARK has a tough battle ahead.

Upcoming ark events

Tokyo Adoption Show
March 25, noon-3pm at George, a pet goods shop near Komazawa Daigaku station. Tokyo representatives will be available to discuss adoptions. A group of pets will also be displayed.

6-7-9 Fukazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-5752-5353.

ARK Presentation & Charity Party
March 31, 6:45-10pm at Jambo International Center in Takadanobaba. Entry fee: 1,000.

2-6-3 Shimoochiai, Shinjuku-ku. Nearest stn: Takadanobaba.

Tokyo Adoption Event
July (time and location: TBA). In conjunction with Goldman Sachs’ charitable works team, ARK will run a three-day adoption event. 15-20 dogs will be flown up from Osaka for the event.

Email or call 080-6146-3889 for more information.

Tokyo ARK is looking for a bilingual staff member to work Mon, Wed and Fri 11am-6pm. For more information, email Briar at