Okipets finds homes for needy animals
CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Once again, Vixen, a playful mixed breed dog, is smiling after roaming aimlessly day in and day out in the scorching heat of Okinawa.
She no longer needs to fight hunger and loneliness because she has a new family and a comfortable place to stay.
Vixen got her new home through a Web site created by a Marine couple living on Okinawa.
She was found and picked up by Kim Petersen, the wife of Army Maj. Coby Petersen of Torii Station, on the Chibana Golf Course last Wednesday.
“The dog had been seen at the golf course since the last typhoon,” she said. “But nobody was feeding her because they did not want the dog to stay there.”
When Petersen checked the dog, the collar was very tight and almost growing into the dog’s neck. “I could tell that the dog had been lost for a long time,” she said.
She brought the dog home to feed and wash her. But there was a problem. Their family cat did not get along with the dog.
Petersen searched the Internet and found an animal Web site — www.okipets.com.
She sent a photo and description of the dog to Vera Fry, founder of the nonprofit organization Okipets, who placed them on the site. The next day, Susanne Frey, wife of Senior Airman Jared Frey of Kadena Air Base, contacted Fry to adopt the dog.
Fry created the Web site on Sept. 1 to reduce the population of the island’s homeless animals. It offers opportunities for people to post photos and information on their pets for free adoptions.
There also is a “Lost and Found” section where people who lose their pets or find stray animals can post pictures and descriptions of the animals free of charge.
The Web site is not only for dogs and cats. There also are pages for birds, fish, reptiles and other small, furry animals. It was designed and created by Fry’s husband, Maj. David Ratzel, a C-12 pilot at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
“He has done tons of work,” Fry said at their Camp Lester home.
The key to generating interest in an animal is its photo, she said, pointing to pictures on the computer screen. “Photos are very powerful.”
The animals shown looking at a camera with innocent and appealing eyes quickly find homes, she said.
“Right now, we have listed 16 animals for adoption on the Web site,” Fry said. “So far, five dogs and one fish were adopted.”
Okipets also has a volunteer pool of people willing to help animals and pet owners.
“If a dual military couple have no time to take their pet to the vet, the volunteers would do it for them,” she said.
Fry said Okipets also offers a “PCS registry” to match up people who need help transporting their pets to the United States and those who don’t have pets but are willing to carry someone’s animals back to America with them.
“My goal is to prevent as many animals as possible from going to a shelter,” she said.
“I think it is a great idea,” Petersen said. “It will ease the stress on Karing Kennels.”
Fry came up with the idea of forming a cyberspace animal network after her 3-year-old tabby cat disappeared from their Camp Lester home last August.
“It was about one month after we moved to Okinawa,” she said. After desperate searches in her neighborhood, Fry made countless trips to Karing Kennels to see if he was among the strays picked up from the streets.
There, she saw the sad reality of abandoned animals and pets on Okinawa.
“I was depressed. There were so many animals and all the cages were full,” she said.
Kadena Karing Kennels is a facility run by Kadena Services Squadron that provides an animal shelter and kenneling service. About 150-200 animals are turned in monthly, either by their owners or people who find them on or off base, according to its Web site.
Half of the animals are brought into the shelter because their owners decided that they did not want them any longer for various reasons, according to the Web site.
Through tireless efforts by the staff of the Karing Kennels, about 50 percent of the animals are adopted by new owners, while 10 percent reunite with their original owners. The other 40 percent are put to sleep, according to the Web site.
The number of abandoned animals on Okinawa is astonishingly high.
Last year, more than 13,000 dogs and cats were taken into the Okinawa Animal Humane Center in Ozato.
“Either captured on the streets or brought in by their owners, a total of 9,316 dogs and 4,440 cats were brought into our facility last year,” said Ryusei Kosugi, chief scientist at the prefectural government-operated animal humane center.
“The number dropped to half compared to four to five years ago because more and more owners began to have their pets spayed and neutered,” he said.
Still, the number of abandoned animals per capita on Okinawa is extremely high, he said.
“For dogs, it is the third highest and for cats, it is the fifth from the worst in Japan,” he said.
“While the number of abandoned animals has decreased in the rest of Japan, the dropping curve on Okinawa is still too slow,” he said.
“If Okinawa remains as it is now, it won’t take too long before Okinawa becomes the nation’s top in the number of abandoned animals,” Kosugi warned.
He said the staff at the humane center often was saddened and appalled by the owners’ reasons for giving up their dogs and cats.
“Some say that they cannot take their dog to their new apartment, while others say that their dogs bark too much,” he said. “And there are some elderly people with illnesses who decide to bring their pets in saying that they could no longer take care of them.”
Kosugi said he was shocked one day when a man brought in his dog, saying he was tired of it and wanted to exchange the animal for another one at the humane center.
“No way! Go home!” Kosugi told him.
The adoption rate at the humane center is minimal. Kosugi said about 250 puppies and 100 adult dogs are adopted each year, and around 8 percent of the animals are claimed by their owners. The rest are euthanized with carbon dioxide gas.
Every Wednesday, the center hosts a puppy adoption day. After attending a 90-minute dog training session, anyone can adopt a puppy that is dewormed, spayed or neutered and has updated shots. There is no adoption fee.
Vixen, once a stray, is now a joy of the Frey family. Frey said she gets along well with their other family dog, a 3-year-old Dalmatian named Roxy, and Hope, a silver-colored kitten Frey rescued in the neighborhood about a month ago.
Frey said that when she saw Vixen’s photo on the Web site, she was immediately attached to the dog and decided right away to adopt her.
“She was very cute and sweet,” Frey said.
The dog brought her family laughter, she said.
“We don’t need to watch TV. It is so much fun to watch her play with Roxy.”
For detailed information about completing a PCS with pets or other services offered by Karing Kennels, visit the Kadena Services Squadron Web site at www.18services.com and click the “pets” link.