More pet owners in Japan, graying or living alone, are turning to "guardianship" services for their dogs and cats in case they cannot look after the beloved animals upon their death or other unforeseeable events.

A nonprofit organization in Gifu, central Japan, has provided such services through a mutual aid group it launched in 2017 to assist owners struggling to find reliable places to entrust their pets.

Photo taken July 19, 2023, shows Yoriyuki Okuda, a veterinarian who heads a nonprofit organization in Gifu, central Japan, that provides pet "guardianship" services through a mutual aid group it launched in 2017. (Kyodo)

Naoko Taketomi, who is in her late 70s, decided with her husband to join the group for the sake of their Shiba Inu dog Riki, who has given the couple a renewed sense of purpose in their lives since they welcomed him as the puppy to their home from a pet shop around a decade ago.

Riki has been like a great-grandchild to them and the future of this canine companion had been a source of concern for the aging couple.

"We want to live with our dog without worries while fulfilling our responsibility as pet owners," said the couple living in Hashima, Gifu Prefecture. After discussions, they signed up with the mutual aid group in 2017.

Members of the Tomonowa group pay an initial fee of 100,000 yen ($690) as well as a monthly membership fee of 1,000 yen. Owners should also be ready to pay at least 1 million yen as lifelong care costs, such as by leaving a will.

As of Aug. 21, Tomonowa has taken care of a total of six dogs and cats, with some adopted out to new owners.

While the costs required for each pet may vary, Tomonowa's method of averaging these costs among the members reduces the financial burden on pet owners, compared to using ordinary boarding services for senior cats and dogs, according to the group.

"Our aim is to make this mutual aid system a more familiar option and spread it across Japan," said Yoriyuki Okuda, a veterinarian who heads the NPO.

In a similar vein, Cafe Gatto, a cat shelter cafe in Fukuoka Prefecture in southwestern Japan, has been receiving a number of inquiries -- more often from the pet owners' children and their relatives rather than the owners themselves -- on whether it can take care of animals left behind.

Hoping to contribute to the problem, the cafe in Koga started a mutual aid program, promising to look after a cat for members who pay a monthly fee of 3,000 yen for at least three years, in addition to 500,000 yen that is needed to accommodate the animal at the cafe when the owners are no longer able to care for it.

The cafe said inquiries have been on the rise, possibly because the coronavirus pandemic made people think about the need to prepare for unexpected situations.

Kaoru Togita, an administrative procedure specialist who serves as the general manager of the cafe, pointed out that "there are surprisingly few measures that can be taken once people have decided that they can no longer care for their pets."

"I hope people could explore available services in their regions while they are fit," Togita added.

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