The idea of adopting a dog from the pound has not caught on in Japan where many strays are seen as second-hand goods. Now a group has been formed in Japan to try to save dogs from death row.
Presenter: Mark Willacy
Akinori Kume, dog welfare centre vet; Kensuke Kuramoto, dog trainer; Susan Mercer, founder of animal welfare group Heart; Mika Takahashi, dog owner
WILLACY: Once upon a time, these dogs were pampered pooches - eating expensive pet food and being carried round inside handbags by adoring owners. Now they're behind bars in the pound where they seem to sense the fate that awaits them.
(Akinori Kume speaking)
"When an owner comes in to turn in their dog we try to talk them into changing their minds," says welfare centre vet Akinori Kume.
"If they can't keep the dog, we ask them to find a new owner," he says.
Japan is a country obsessed with canines - there are cafes for dogs, dog fashion shows, and designer clothing boutiques for dogs. This month a man was even sentenced to hang for killing a former Japanese deputy minister and his wife - blaming them for the death of his pet dog 30 years ago.
But some here treat dogs as disposable accessories - living, breathing commodities which can be tossed away when they go out of fashion.
(Kensuke Kuramoto speaking)
"Too many people are raising dogs in Japan, and people tend to view their lives too lightly," says Kensuke Kuramoto, who's a trainer at a school which deals with abused dogs.
"There are those who treat dogs as members of their family, but there are others who buy them for simple reasons like celebrating a daughter's birthday," he says.
Eventually, many of these dogs end up at the pound. In 2008 alone there were 120,000 pooches abandoned by their owners. In Britain less than 10 per cent of dogs in pounds are put down. In Japan that figure is more than 70 per cent. Susan Mercer is a Canadian who's set up Heart, an animal welfare group in Japan which tries to save dogs from death row.
MERCER: In Japan people don't like second-hand items so these dogs that are going into the centres are almost somehow considered damaged goods in a way.
WILLACY: There are nearly seven million dogs in Japan - that's more canines than kids under the age of six. And while many abandon these once-fashionable accessories when the novelty wears off, other Japanese remain dedicated to their dogs.
(Mika Takahashi speaking)
"I can't even think of abandoning them as being possible," says Mika Takahashi. "I have these two dogs because someone abandoned them. But dogs are living creatures. So it's like murder if you just throw them away," she says.
In a country where fashions change as fast as the weather, it will be difficult indeed to convince consumers to stop buying that doggie in the pet shop window and instead pick a pooch from the pound.