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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — There’s no vacancy for transient pets at this northern Japan base.

Military members and civilians moving into or out of Misawa and needing to stay in temporary lodging may find there’s no place to board the family dog or cat.

A busy permanent-change-of-station season, combined with dwindling availability of so-called pet suites on base, is forcing some pet owners to pay a premium for kennel space in town, find a pet-sitter or ask their sponsor for help.

Lodging officials estimate they’ve been unable to accommodate from 75 to 100 pet owners since the PCS season began in April, and the pet lodges are booked through September.

“I tell them sorry, I can’t help them — I don’t have the space,” said Barbi Wills, lodging manager for the 35th Services Squadron, “and I can’t let you keep your Great Dane upstairs” in the Misawa Inn.

The Air Force prohibits housing pets in the service’s lodging facilities.

Misawa has a waiver for a cluster of two- and four-bedroom, 1940s-era houses, designated as pet suites, since they are to be razed by 2007.

Those homes gradually are being boarded up and utilities shut off as demolition approaches, Wills said.

“When I got here, we had 17. Now there are 15,” she said, noting that two more are to be shuttered by the end of July.

During the past year alone, the pet suites generated 4,189 “bed nights,” representing the number of times guest and pet stayed in one of the houses.

The problem is compounded by the lack of a kennel or pet-boarding facility on base.

Wills said that at one point a base kennel was “in the works,” and she’s not sure why the plan was scrapped.

The animal shelter Pets Are Worth Saving, or PAWS, is for strays and abandoned pets. PAWS is boarding animals for billeting this summer but only on a space-available basis, said PAWS co-president Sabrina Leuthold. PAWS charges $15 a night for boarding but doesn’t accept reservations.

The alternatives are few and expensive: Off-base kennels charge about 4,000 yen (about $36) per pet per night, said Staff Sgt. Curtis Hill, Misawa lodging operations manager. The cost is more for larger animals and space is limited.

Lodging officials keep a list of pet-sitters who will watch animals in their home; they did not know what they typically charged.

Misawa’s housing office recommends that families moving to Misawa consider not bringing pets, letting people know that they may be required to seek an off-base pet boarding facility while in temporary lodging.

But often the word doesn’t reach incoming personnel, Wills said, adding that sometimes families with pets show up at the Misawa Inn and say they don’t have a sponsor — a person usually from one’s unit or work organization designated to help a new family get settled.

“Sponsorship needs a lot of work,” she said.

Master Sgt. Donald Bell, Misawa’s lodging superintendent, said that if the pet suites are booked and there’s no kennel space off base, it’s up to the sponsor to find someone to keep the family’s pet until they move into permanent housing.

“Plan your move,” he added.

Guests in the pet suites also are urged to go to the housing office as soon as they arrive at Misawa to speed up the wait time for on-base housing.

“Be courteous to other folks who might be needing a pet suite,” Hill said.

Servicemembers are authorized up to 30 days in temporary lodging, while civilians can stay up to 90 days.

Lodging officials said they aren’t sure where PCSing pets will board after the pet suites are torn down in 2007. But they’ll be off the hook then, no longer involved in booking rooms for people with pets.

“When it goes away, it’s gone,” Hill said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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