About 15 months after the revised animal welfare law was put into effect to help reduce problematic sales of pets via the Internet, industry efforts have led to some improvement of websites brokering their sales. New businesses have also been launched to work as proxies, helping breeders living in regional areas contact prospective purchasers to better observe the law.
However, some proxy services and breeders have yet to become fully aware of the significance of observing the law.
The revised Animal Welfare and Management Law was put into effect in September last year because many people who had purchased pets on the Internet ended up asking authorities to take in their pets as the animals were not what they had expected.
The revised law requires pet dealers to show pets to their prospective purchasers personally and explain also personally to them 18 clauses included in an Environment Ministry ordinance, such as precautions for keeping animals.
In line with the revised law, Minna no Breeder (Breeders for everybody), a pet broker website registered with about 1,000 breeders, suggests that people who wish to contact breeders after seeing photos of dogs posted on the site check to see if they can visit the dogs' kennels or, failing that, ask breeders to meet them elsewhere.
A questionnaire conducted on people who have purchased dogs on the site asks whether they actually met breeders. Any breeders who are found to have not complied with this requirement are deleted from the site's registration.
Puppies, a broker site launched in August, has prepared a document certifying that breeders have sold dogs to clients after meeting them in person. These documents are given to breeders so they can have prospective purchasers write down their names when they meet before returning them to the site operator.
"The pet industry has been regarded as having little awareness of laws and rules," said Hokuto Suzuki, 37, head of the site. "We will build our system better, in line with the law, and improve awareness throughout the industry."
In the summer last year, Kazuo Sakusabe, 65, who operates a pet shop in Koto Ward, Tokyo, started providing a paid service that gives explanations to prospective pet purchasers and shows pets to them on behalf of breeders who do business on the Internet. Sakusabe is commissioned by these breeders to provide the service.
He has animals sent to him by breeders and shows them to prospective purchasers at his shop or elsewhere. He also explains hereditary diseases peculiar to certain species, how to feed them and so on, on behalf of breeders. If purchasers agree to buy the animals, he receives money for them and sends it to the breeders by bank transfer.
Sakusabe has built a network with other pet shop operators. Currently, 25 operators across the nation have signed contracts with about 300 breeders. The service costs ¥16,000 per case. Sakusabe, who has provided the service for about 50 clients so far, said: "Many breeders live in regional areas while a majority of people wishing to buy animals live in urban areas. So it's often difficult for them to meet each other."
A 48-year-old man living in Tokyo came to learn about a breeder in Okinawa Prefecture on a website and bought a puppy from the breeder using Sakusabe's service.
The man said: "I couldn't travel all the way to Okinawa, so Mr. Sakusabe personally met me and explained about things. He also answered questions that sprang up when I met him. I found his service trustworthy."
No complaints since revision
According to the Environment Ministry, since the revised law was put into effect, the ministry has received no complaints regarding pet transactions on the Internet. The ministry also has received no reports on illegally operated websites selling pets only through online transactions.
However, it has been pointed out that some businesses seem to be looking for loopholes in the law.
A proxy agent for breeders suggests on its website that breeders receive payments for puppies from potential buyers before their actual purchase under the pretext of "deposits," and also asks breeders to provide explanations via e-mail or phone.
But such a method does not meet the law's requirement for face-to-face explanations, which are meant to help prospective purchasers decide whether they should buy the pets or not.
Some breeders registered with Puppies fail to send back the properly filled out documents, according to Suzuki.
"In future, we need to put in place a system to ensure breeders send them back without question," Suzuki said.
The ministry has been conducting surveys through local governments on the actual conditions of pet transactions, since the law's revision.
"The revision is meant to reduce the numbers of abandoned dogs and cats as much as possible," a ministry official said. "We'll ask pet business operators to be more aware of the importance of observing the law, to help build a society where humans and animals harmoniously live together."