Photo/IllutrationA woman kicks a Labrador Retriever in Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward in a video taken on Feb. 8. (Provided by a reader)

  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--A video clip of a woman kicking her dog in the belly during a walk here in February generated millions of views after being retweeted with a predictable outcry.

The video comes on the heels of a growing number of reported cases of animal abuse in Japan in recent years that have prompted animal rights advocates to call for harsher penalties for offenders than the current law dictates.

The 29-second footage was posted on Twitter by a man who witnessed and recorded the incident around 5 p.m. on Feb. 8 in this city’s Fushimi Ward.

“I posted the video because I had no idea where to report the incident and I hoped viewers would tell me,” he said.

Yukari Kawamura, 39, who heads animal rights group Shiyukai in Hiroshima, moved swiftly to rescue the Labrador Retriever after watching the clip the same day it was posted.

She identified roughly where the footage was taken on basis of buildings and streets shown in the video after referring to maps and aerial images available online.

The following day, she drove to Kyoto and located a house with a dog resembling the victimized canine after making inquiries with area residents.

She waited outside for several hours until the woman came out of her house with the dog. When the woman kicked the canine again, Kawamura called out, "Why are you kicking your dog?"

After talking with the woman and her husband for about an hour about her proposal to take the dog with her to Hiroshima, the couple finally accepted.

Kawamura has been keeping the dog in her protection as she fears the animal could be abused again if it was returned to its owners.

The couple is now demanding the dog's return, saying they allowed Kawamura to take custody only temporarily.

"My wife kicked the dog to discipline it," said the husband in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun. "She rarely abuses the dog and has taken good care of the dog, which is now 15 years old."

The law on welfare and management of animals, in principle, bans injuring, killing and abusing dogs, including wild dogs, cats and other animals, and stipulates that owners should keep them appropriately.

However, the number of cases of abuse against pets, farm animals and wild animals has been steadily increasing, according to the National Police Agency.

The agency reported a record 68 cases of suspected violations in 2017, with 76 people arrested and referred to prosecutors.

The figures are double the 33 cases involving 40 people in 2010, the first year the agency began collecting data.

In 2017, there were 46 cases involving cats, 16 for dogs, and three for rabbits, with one incident each of abuse of a horse, a goat and a rooster.

Of the total of 68 cases, 20 involved injury or death, while abuse and abandonment accounted for 13 and 35 cases, respectively.

In one incident, a cat owner posted footage online of the animal being held close to a gas burner and being doused with very hot water.

In December 2017, a man in his 20s was arrested by Nara prefectural police on suspicion of killing a cat at his home.

The Kanagawa prefectural police apprehended a man in his 30s in August 2017 on suspicion of animal abuse, including binding a kitten’s forelegs with tape.

The case of two sisters in their 40s suspected of keeping 40 or so cats in their city-run apartment without cleaning up or disposing of their waste was referred to prosecutors by the Aichi prefectural police last September.

The Japanese Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, a group comprising researchers and veterinarians, issued a statement against owners and trainers using force to discipline pets in March 2018. The Tokyo-based group said using force causes physical pain and psychological trauma to animals.

As awareness of animal abuse increases, some animal advocates are calling for harsher penalties for offenders.

The Tokyo-based nonprofit foundation Eva, an abbreviation of the group’s slogan “Every animal on Earth has a right to live,” collected around 245,000 signatures between July and February for a petition to revise the law so as to raise the maximum penalty for an animal abuse offender from the current two years to five years in prison.

Under the current law, a suspect faces a sentence of up to two years or a fine of up to 2 million yen ($18,000). The foundation is led by actress Aya Sugimoto.

Katsuhiro Ueda, who is well versed in animal abuse cases, said: "More people are unleashing their pent-up frustration on pets, which are more vulnerable than they are, showing a parallel between animal and child abuse.

"Some people are isolated in society and use violence against pets in a desperate effort to affirm their existence in society.”