Photo/IllutrationA cat crosses a road where many motorcycles run in Miyazaki. (Osafumi Sato)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

MIYAZAKI--Business owners and around 200 stray cats, once the source of complaints about stench and hygiene, are learning to coexist in the Nishitachi nightlife district here.

With help from volunteers, a local organization comprising shop owners in the district began trapping, neutering and returning the cats to their habitat to control and protect the felines.

The Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) activity is said to be an effective way to reduce the number of stray animals that have to be euthanized.

One day in late April, Koji Iwasaki, 59, head of the local shopping street association, opened a cage on a street and a brown tabby raced out.

The tabby is one of six cats caught the previous day on the street, sterilized at Miyazaki city’s animal protection center and returned to where they originally lived.

“We resolve to coexist with felines while curbing their number,” Iwasaki said.

The association had received complaints about abandoned cats and their odor from its 400 member bars and restaurants in the Nishitachi district, which is lined with around 1,500 shops.

To deal with the issue, Iwasaki decided to use a system that Miyazaki city started two years ago. The program allows local communities to control stray cats by sterilizing them at the protection center for free.

Working with four women, including Hiromi Ueno, 50, and Kiyomi Yamamoto, 51, Iwasaki set up a volunteer group called Kaminomachi Nekoshokudo to catch, sterilize and release felines once every two months.

Ueno, a senior official of the SG Nishitachi Fudosan real estate agent, has been feeding cats on streets three times a day and providing a litterbox in front of the outlet since around five years ago. Yamamoto does clerical work for Miyazaki-shi Neko TNR Volunteer Team, another group that helps stray cats.

Yamamoto was appointed head of Nekoshokudo, which started to control the feline population in five zones in Nishitachi in spring in cooperation with other shopping street associations.

The cats are now being used as free entertainment for patrons in the district.

The Oak bar, for example, leaves its door slightly open during business hours to allow the cats to enter freely. The felines are treated like “pop idols,” and customers were recently seen playing with two black cats, saying, “Look at us!”

“Cats have traditionally been living with humans,” said Takashi Iwakiri, 49, manager of the bar. “We may as well get along because cats are predators of rats and cockroaches, which annoy eateries.”

But not all people welcome the association’s project.

In spring, Iwakiri found a cat named Sabu, which frequents his bar, lying listless near the entrance.

A veterinarian diagnosed Sabu as “having a crushed lung and damaged diaphragm caused by somebody kicking it.” The injuries required surgery a few days later.

Iwakiri visited the veterinarian the day after the surgery to pick up the cat and saw signs of recovery in the feline’s eyes.

After Iwakiri detailed the incident on social media, regulars of his bar and others made donations that covered half of the 200,000 yen ($1,836) in surgery and other medical costs.

Some people in Nishitachi still hate cats, and some of the drunk individuals tottering in the district may view cats as an easy target for aggression. Cats are also often involved in traffic accidents, while others suffer from illness and malnutrition.

Nekoshokudo is moving to install collection boxes at shops and stores to cover expenses to treat those animals.

Iwasaki also said he hopes cats will help the district in its attempt to shift from the traditional business strategy.

“Restaurants in Nishitachi are making aggressive efforts to promote their lunch meals and other services in the daytime,” he said. “Nishitachi will clear the name of ‘a nightlife district’ in the near future, and cats will provide entertainment for a wide variety of people.”