Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It’s PCS season. Time for many folks to pack up and head to new duty stations.

It’s also a time when some pets find themselves without a home, left to fend for themselves on Okinawa.

This annual increase in the stray dog and cat population won’t just go away, say animal advocates on the island. And it’s getting too big to handle, they say.

“The stray problem is always worse in summer. It’s always during PCS season,” said Maryanne Tirinnanzi, a Department of Defense Dependents Schools teacher who has lived here since 2001.

Tirinnanzi says she visits the Sunabe Seawall daily at 4:30 a.m. to feed the strays and also volunteers a couple of hours daily at a Yomitan farm that accepts donated or abandoned large animals such as goats, pigs and llamas.

If a cat or dog is malnourished or injured, she takes it off the streets and cares for it. She estimates that she spends about $500 to $1,000 a month on animal food.

But she can’t save them all, she says.

Every summer, Okinawan-American Animal Rescue Society, a nonprofit American-run organization, receives numerous requests from people PCSing to take in their pets, said Lora Barker, OAARS vice president.

The off-base shelter runs a small facility that houses about 35 dogs and provides temporary foster homes for additional dogs and cats. It isn’t enough to meet the need, Barker said.

“We’re overloaded and we’re having to turn people away,” Barker said. “Sometimes it’s sad and you feel drained because there is just such a need.”

And the island’s only military animal shelter, the Kadena small animal shelter at the Karing Kennels, is no longer accepting strays, according to the facility’s Web site.

The shelter gets 150 to 200 animals monthly, about half of which are turned in by owners. The shelter even has had animals abandoned at its gates, according to the Web site.

Take responsibility“People are not planning for their PCS moves and not finding their pet a home,” Tirinnanzi said.

“I know that base officials are doing their best to deal with this problem,” she added.

Kadena Air Base officials declined to answer several queries regarding pet owner responsibility and sanctions for not following animal control regulations.

Pets must be microchipped before they enter Japan, according to the Army’s Japan District Veterinary Command.

The Okinawa Branch Veterinary Service, the lone military vet clinic on the island, run by the Army on Kadena, won’t provide treatment unless a pet is microchipped, according to the clinic’s Web site.

According to a 2005 memorandum from Kadena’s 18th Mission Support Group, all military pet owners must microchip their pets.

But Americans are circumventing the system when they get pets on the island, Tirinnanzi said.

Some owners don’t register new pets with base officials and use off-base veterinary clinics that don’t require microchipping, she said.

Even with microchipping, Tirinnanzi said, some American-owned pets still become strays. She suspects that Elsa, one of the dogs she adopted, was dumped.

An OAARS volunteer found Elsa near the Sunabe Seawall a few years ago. The volunteer took Elsa to the Kadena clinic, where a vet estimated the dog had been on the streets several weeks, Tirinnannzi said.

A scan of Elsa’s microchip revealed her previous owners were a Camp Courtney-based family that was PCSing that week, she said.

“They claimed the dog ran away and they no longer wanted it anyway,” she said, adding that Elsa was found on the other side of the island.

And then there is Stitch, who was rescued June 5.

Salesmen at Johnny’s Used Cars called Tirinnanzi, known locally as “The Animal Woman,” when they saw Stitch, a small Labrador mix, trying to get into their office near Kadena during a heavy storm.

Tirinnanzi called an OAARS volunteer who took the dog to Karing Kennels. There they learned Stitch was chipped and his family had PCSed three weeks earlier, she said.

Tirinnanzi can tell numerous sad tales, such as the neighbor who found an abandoned golden retriever locked in his trash receptacle and the man who dumped a pet from his Y-plated car right in front of Plaza Housing.

People have to be held accountable, she said, and she has a suggestion for how to do that: Ask off-base veterinary clinics to insist Americans have pets microchipped and registered with the military vet clinic.

Off base, people can be fined if caught abandoning pets.

Grim situationUnfortunately, people assume abandoned pets will find new homes, but that’s not always the case, Tirinnanzi said.

The Kadena shelter returns about 10 percent of abandoned pets to their owners. About 95 percent of the remaining animals are adopted, but the other 5 percent are euthanized, according to the Karing Kennels site.

The numbers are far worse for the Okinawa Animal Rights Protection Center. In 2005, the center euthanized more than 11,600 of the 12,400 strays received.

OAARS and similar organizations are overwhelmed trying to provide an alternative.

“We just don’t have enough volunteers” and the dogs they already house need daily care, OAARS’ Barker said.

Added Tirinnanzi: “We just need more people who are willing to step up and help out with this problem.”

But the bottom line is simple, she said: “Plan to take your pets with you, find them a home before you leave, or don’t get pets here.”

Military flight facts

n Your pet can accompany you on PCS travel. Advance reservations are required.

n Air Mobility Command travel with cats and dogs is authorized only for PCS travel.nSponsor or family member must travel with the pet.nMaximum weight for pet and container is 99 pounds. A combined pet/container weight of up to 70 pounds will be charged $85. A combined pet/container weight from 71 to 99 pounds is charged as two pieces of baggage and costs $170.nBring pet records from veterinary treatment facility.nAll animals need a health certificate issued before travel. Health certificates are valid for airline travel for 10 days from issue.nAnimals being exported through a commercial airport are required to be inspected by a Japanese Animal Quarantine Office before check-in at the airline ticket counter.nFor transport to the U.S., dogs must receive a rabies vaccination at least 30 days before entry, except for puppies younger than 3 months.

Documents neededn Rabies Vaccination Certificate (DD form 2208: the original and minimum two copies per pet)nrabies tagnAnimal Health Certificate (DD form 2209: the original and minimum two copies per pet)nyour travel orders or USFJ Form 380 EJ (one photocopy per owner)nyour ID cardnitinerary/flight information.

Pet travel tipsn Try to arrange a flight with the fewest possible stops and transfers.n During hot weather, morning or evening flights are best to avoid the heat.n Most animals travel better without tranquilizers.n Don’t feed your pet within six hours of travel. Provide water in a kennel water bottle or frozen in a dish.n Lightly exercise your pet before the flight.n Make sure your pet is used to the kennel in which it will travel.n Remove pet’s collar before the flight to prevent it from catching on something. The collar can be attached to the kennel.nPlace absorbent material in the bottom of the kennel, such as towels, a blanket, pet pillow, etc.n Put something that smells like you in your pet’s kennel. The scent may comfort the pet during the flight.

Sources: Marine Corps and Army Web travel Web sites, Okinawan-American Animal Rescue Society

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