YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Japan hasn’t had a case of animal rabies since 1956, and health officials want to keep it that way.

This means making sure American military bases enforce the country’s strict quarantine laws, as U.S. Forces Japan personnel currently enjoy special privileges when it comes to bringing their pets to the island nation.

But missing paperwork worried Japanese officials, prompting a request during a meeting with military veterinarians this year, said Animal Quarantine Service official Makoto Iriki. Animals entering Japan undergo a 180-day quarantine period, but paperwork proving the quarantine’s completion was not returned to Japanese officials for all of the military’s incoming animals, Iriki said.

"We have no choice but to request it to be completed without fail," Iriki said. "We hope veterinary officials will instruct [pet owners] to ensure the quarantine is completed properly."

Since Japan’s quarantine law changed in 2005, status of forces agreement personnel can quarantine animals on base, in kennels and in their own homes, instead of using costly off-base Japanese facilities. Pets quarantined on military grounds are not allowed off base until the quarantine is complete.

But home quarantine is a "privilege" and not a right, points out the U.S. Army’s Japan District Veterinary Command’s pet requirements memo.

The command recommends starting the process as early as possible before arrival, as it involves microchipping, two rabies shots at least a month apart, a Fluorescent Antibody Viral Neutralization (FAVN) test, a 180-day waiting period and several forms and examinations.

The process is the same for dogs and cats, and can shrink in-country quarantine time to 12 hours, if all the preparations are in order. Unfortunately, military families "rarely" have 220 days notice to complete the full process before they arrive, which results in long quarantines in Japan, the memo said.

At Yokosuka, where the veterinarian’s office has about 2,500 "patient files," the most common infraction is not taking animals in for their final examination and quarantine release, said Capt. Daniel Weed, the base’s commanding officer.

The base now requests a list of quarantine delinquents and lets them know their housing and other base privileges are at risk, Weed said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

"The warning letters inform sponsors that they may be evicted from base housing unless they comply with all applicable rules and regulations required in accordance with Japanese quarantine procedures," Weed said.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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