With dogs living longer thanks to better living environments and improved medical treatment, owners are increasingly confronted with the challenges of caring for their aging pets, but the founder of a dog care service near Tokyo hopes to change that.
Sachiko Shimizu, who has around 15 years' experience working in an animal hospital and has qualifications in pet care and rehabilitation, opened a business called "Dogcare Smile" last November in Hanyu city in Saitama Prefecture, around 60 kilometers north of Tokyo.
"I want people to learn proper care, so that both the owner and the dog can live a long, healthy life," the 42-year-old said.
As part of her service, Shimizu makes house calls in Saitama, Tokyo and the surrounding areas, with the first 90-minute visit inclusive of counseling priced at 6,480 yen ($60).
(Sachiko Shimizu (L) and Hiromi Harada)
During a home visit in Kitamoto, Saitama Prefecture, in late June, Shimizu cooed to a toy poodle while stroking it. "Shall I give you a paw massage today?" she asked tenderly.
At 15 years old, which is equivalent to around 75 in human years, the poodle's appetite and physical strength is weakening.
Owner Hiromi Harada, 53, said having to take the dog out every two hours to use the toilet at night was taking its toll on her mental and physical state.
But after receiving advice on liquid diets and other ways to care for the dog, she said, "Now that I have someone I can talk to that I trust, the weight has lifted."
According to a 2018 estimate by the Japan Pet Food Association, there are around 8.9 million pet dogs in Japan, and roughly 56 percent of them are considered elderly at 7 years old or above.
"There has been an increase in cases where an elderly owner has to take care of a dog with dementia, weak legs, or other ailments," Shimizu said.
Exacerbating the issue is a shortage of vets with expertise on caregiving, leaving many owners feeling exhausted as they have no one to turn to, she said.
In addition to the house calls, Shimizu also shares her knowledge with struggling owners by holding regular caregiving seminars, in which she gives tips on how to conduct dementia prevention training and make dog nappies from baby diapers among other topics.
Mariko Ikeda, 44, who attended one of Shimizu's seminars in Saitama city said, "I feel more positive after learning about how to prevent illness in day-to-day care, and getting ideas on how to make caregiving easier."
And Shimizu is more than happy to assist. "I want to do all I can to help owners have fun with their beloved dogs for as long as possible," she said.