As many owners worry about who would care for their pets if they are quarantined with the novel coronavirus, companies and organizations in Japan are struggling to provide relief, with an insurance firm starting to watch over dogs and cats for free.
An animal shelter in Gunma Prefecture received an email from an elderly woman in March. She had contracted a fever and with no immediate family wanted to leave her 17-year-old cat with the shelter in the event that she was infected with the virus and had to self-isolate.
Although her fever was gone within a few days and the shelter did not take care of the cat, the group decided against accepting pets following the inquiry.
"There are many uncertainties over whether the virus infects animals or not and it's too high risk," the shelter said.
The Japan Pet Salon Association, which has around 700 affiliated salons and hotels for animals, similarly said they would avoid taking the pets of coronavirus patients.
However, the Tokyo Veterinary Medical Association says animals should be entrusted to a facility as soon as possible if owners test positive for the virus and are unable to care for their pets.
Architect Mieko Okawa, who lives with her husband and 4-year-old Dalmatian in Tokyo, is also worried about living in quarantine if she or her husband becomes infected with the virus. It has proved difficult to find a facility that would accept their large dog, which weighs over 30 kilograms and measures over a meter in length, she said.
"We've been making extra efforts to prevent infection and have been in contact with friends to help each other out in an emergency," the 47-year-old said. "But we're still worried that the dog might get left behind."
In order to alleviate the anxiety of owners, pet insurance company Anicom Insurance Inc. launched a new service in April allowing coronavirus patients to entrust their pets to a designated facility while they are in hospital or isolation.
Owners can apply for the Stay Anicom program online and do not have to buy pet insurance or be registered prior to contacting the company.
The insurer accepts dogs and cats, which are looked after by veterinarians and staff for free while the owner is away. Two dogs were being looked after as of Friday.
"The facility we secured can accept up to around 10 animals, but we have also received offers of cooperation," a company spokesperson said. "We would like to build up our know-how in order to expand our services."