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Charity founder who saved 3,300 dogs in Japan writes her memoirs

Elizabeth Oliver MBE has fought to tighten the country’s weak animal laws

Leila Marshall

Posted 3 months ago

By Leila Marshall

Pet rescue charity founder Elizabeth Oliver MBE has written her memoirs of saving dogs, fighting gangsters and officials who tried to stop her, and amazing stories of battling strict laws in Japan. 

Elizabeth, originally from Weston-super-Mare, founded Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) in 1990 and has since rescued more than 3,300 neglected dogs. But her voluntary work started way before this. 

She said: “After living here some time and buying a house in the countryside, I decided to adopt a dog. That dog came from another organisation with an animal shelter. I started volunteering there and was shocked to find that most of the animals they rescued were euthanised with little effort to finding them new homes. I thought there must be a better way and so decided to found ARK.” 

Elizabeth has become a leading advocate in Japan for her activism to improve the unfortunate treatment of dogs, and for tightening the weak animal cruelty laws. 

She battled officials and dangerous gangs to offer a safe haven to dogs, removing thousands of them from owners who wouldn’t or couldn’t provide proper treatment, respect, accommodation, food, or a loving home for their pets. 

The organisation jumps to help when tragedies strike. The Kobe earthquake and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami were watershed moments in ARK’s history. They rescued around 600 animals reported lost or homeless, and facing euthanising. 

Animal protection laws in Japan have not improved since Elizabeth founded ARK in 1990. She said: “There is only one law concerned with animal protection brought in hastily in 1973, just before Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Japan, since people here thought, since she likes dogs, they needed to have a new law.  

“The law is revised every five years but quite frankly lives up to its name ‘sieve law’. It is hard to get the police or local authorities to prosecute cases of cruelty. I think in the UK around 1,700 cases are prosecuted every year; in Japan, it is around 13. 

“There is no history of animal welfare in Japan and no real definition of cruelty, even veterinarians here don’t understand what cruelty is. I think the Japanese should study animal welfare laws in other countries.” 

Elizabeth has spent her life devoting her time and efforts to advocate for animals. After years of living in Japan, she can speak Japanese but is still unable to read or write it. 

She used to own 17 dogs and five cats in her house. She now has none but explained how there are still plenty outside for her to meet. 

When speaking about her life now, Elizabeth said: “I still have quite a lot of work; giving lectures, attending events, and representing ARK but it’s quite nice having more free time. I really miss the chance to travel abroad and attend conferences due to Covid restrictions and also visit my brother and family who live in Melbourne.” 

She is now transcribing her early hand-written journals from the 1960s on to her computer. These include her travels to Greece and Turkey in 1963, driving by Mini to Iran and back in 1964, and the journey by train from Moscow to Beijing, to Hong Kong, and finally by boat to Japan in 1965. 

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