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Continuing Care for Pets

Japanese pet owners enjoy a full range of services for their animals. There are even fitness trainers for cats and dogs. Some emerging businesses now target elderly pet lovers. They offer them peace of mind.

Kyoko Shibata is 83 years old. She has no children. She lives alone in Tokyo with her dog, Emily. Emily is her partner on walks and in conversation. She says the dog keeps her going.

Shibata takes Emily to the vet every month to ensure the dog stays healthy. But she doesn't know how long she'll be able to take care of her companion.

"I can't ask my siblings to look after her," she says. "They're in their 80s, too."

Shibata's concerns are common among elderly pet owners. A survey by an animal welfare organization indicates that 37 percent of them are anxious they may become unable to look after their pets.

A non-profit organization called Tokyo Cat Guardian has launched an initiative that finds places for pets that elderly owners can no longer care for.

The group has opened a cafe featuring cats. Customers can enjoy the presence of the animals as they sip their drinks. More than 80 cats have been adopted from elderly people. Some live at the cafe, while others have been placed with new owners.

The organization has also set up a system that allows people to live with cats without worrying about their long-term care.

At least one city apartment block comes with its own cats. Residents can choose them as pets. The NPO provides the animals. There are currently about 160 such units.

Some of the flats have a special entrance and exit for cats, or areas where the animals can play. If a resident becomes unable to care for his or her cat, members of the group step in.

The group believes the cats help foster friendship among the human inhabitants.

"Pets are a safe topic of conversation," says Yoko Yamamoto, one of the group's representatives. "They can promote good, neighborly relationships. We hope to spread the system around the country."

Another initiative allows elderly people to provide financial support for their pets. It's based on trust. A pet owner leaves money to a company such as Japan Pet Owners Club. The firm started business this year. The amount depends on the pet's age.

If something happens to the owner, the pet is placed under a veterinarian's care. The costs of caring for the pet are covered by the funds the owner has deposited with the firm.

The caretakers will try to place the animal in a new home, depending on the owner's wishes.

"I believe people want their pets to be happy if something happens to them," says company president Ryosuke Nogawa. "We've come up with a system that can make that wish come true."

Elderly people have plenty to worry about as the end of life approaches. New initiatives like these are meant to ensure the welfare of beloved companions won't be one of them.

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