After nearly 25 years working to help control the cat colony on his campus in regional Japan, Charles Januzzi is running into stiff opposition from university administration.
After being forbidden from feeding or otherwise care for a large colony of stray cats at his university, Januzzi has launched an online petition. The petition is titled “To University of Fukui: Stop starving the cats who live on campus” and has so far collected just over 2,300 signatures.
“I have been helping outdoor cats since I was a child,” says Januzzi, who is originally from Pennsylvania. “I can remember I got started helping cats in Fukui as soon as I got here because there were so many feral, stray and abandoned cats around the city.”
Januzzi practices a technique called “TNR”, or Trap, Neuter and Release. The purpose of TNR is control the population of feral cat colonies over time.
“For the past 6 months, I have been spaying and neutering all the cats on campus and also at a near-by colony just southeast of campus,” says Januzzi. “There are still 3 cats that need to be spayed or neutered.”
Januzzi says that the irony is that it's university staff and instructors who feed the cats without practicing TNR, which then resulted in the current population explosion he is trying to combat.
“Now [the administration] says feeding cats on their part of campus is banned, and that I must stop everything that I am doing,” says Januzzi. “I only started feeding them because the people over there had stopped. And TNR is almost 100% complete.”
The problem of large colonies of feral cats in urban settings is due in part to the fact that pets are a big business in Japan.
Reporting for Japan Today, Jessica Kozuka notes:
The number of pets in Japan (is about) 21.3 million, far exceeding the number of children under 15 in the country. About 35% of households have a pet and many of them live lives of luxury as pampered members of the family, with Japanese spending about 3.8 trillion yen a year to keep them happy.
While pets are popular in Japan, Charles Januzzi says, many people purchase cats without fully understanding the implications of pet ownership.
“People dump cats (and dogs) on campus, hoping someone else will find and take in the animal,” Januzzi says. “One variation of this is when a student living in a nearby apartment takes in a kitten, raises it secretly in their apartment until they find out what having a bored, adult, sexually mature cat is like, or their landlord tells them to get rid of the cat.”
Still yet another variation of abandonment is when an animal-keeping elderly person dies or is put in a home.
“The son or son-in-law might take the cat and dump it on campus, since it is easier to do it there than many other places,” says Januzzi. “Instead of throwing broken TVs or old tires over the wall, they simply toss the cat.”
A key factor in the relatively large population of abandoned animals in Japan is that “gassing” or euthanasia is used for population control, rather than the more proactive strategy of encouraging sterilization.
“Instead of taking the cat to an animal shelter where it will probably be gassed,” says Januzzi, “They figure it is better to abandon it on campus.”
Activities in other parts of Japan have shown that Trap, Neuter, Release techniques are an effective way to control animal populations.
Kobe and the surrounding region experienced a massive earthquake in 1995. Homeless pets were left to roam freely in the chaotic earthquake disaster zone following the earthquake.
The number of homeless strays combined with lack of resources and awareness of the effectiveness of TNR caused a huge explosion of stray animals in the region for more than a decade.
Animal Rescue System launched a TNR clinic in the region 2006. Data from for the next six years shows the number of feral kittens being caught and euthanized in Kobe dropped considerably.
Back in Fukui, Charles Januzzi says that his efforts at trapping, neutering, and releasing cats has almost paid off. He also suspects that the edict preventing feeding of strays is not official university policy.
So, Januzzi launched his Avaaz petition, which has almost reached its goal of 2,500 signatures.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed in Japan. Freelance journalist Akiko Katori, who often writes about issues affecting animals in Japan, writes:
How can Fukui University prohibit efforts to spay and neuter these cats, and just leave them to starve? This marks a total change in the way cats are treated on campus, and a backwards approach to dealing with the issue. And to think that Fukui Prefecture is trying to attract the Hokuriku Shinkansen!