Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Soapbox Moment: My thoughts on pets in Iwakuni

Author's note: I have been informed that some of these animals' being rehomed may have extenuating circumstances. I don't claim to know the stories behind these pets, they are simply the posts I have noticed in a public forum in a certain time period, and serve as a sampling of what happens to a lot of pets here.

Yep... I'm dragging the proverbial soapbox out and placing it out in front of Crossroads Mall so I can shout to the rooftops. Well, in my mind I am. I don't even own a soapbox, or know what one looks like, so I'm going to have to go with a mental picture of this. I invite you to also imagine me standing on the soapbox of your mind. I would paint it teal and put peacock feathers on it, by the way. I would probably be wearing my blue dress and flip flops... Just helping you with the visual...

Soapboxes aside, it's time to explain about having pets aboard MCAS Iwakuni. Essentially... don't get one. Don't bring one... unless you have patience, enjoy filling out paperwork and have plenty of spare cash.

So, first, I invite you to watch this recent video produced by Sgt. House of the local AFN station... it's 6 minutes, but explains a lot about what it's like when owning a pet in Iwakuni. No, really... watch the video. The rest of what I have to say will make a lot more sense.

Watch the dang video, lazy.

I am going to assume you have watched the video. Don't make an ass out of u and me.

Moving on. Kuni Kritters, as I call them, are, sadly, a huge reality here. Here are some of the ones posted on Iwakuni Classifieds and Information Facebook Group just in the past several weeks (names and profile photos have been removed to protect the... "innocent":

A cat that pees in my house? Excellent! I'll take two.

A year old? Rabbits live to be about 8. So, you didn't know you were going to be moving within his lifetime?

2 months?!
Yes, pets are a lot of work. So are kids. Do Iwakuni a favor and hold off on having kids for awhile. 
Again, you didn't know you would be moving?

And my personal favorite, because every crying toddler needs a pet rabbit (skip the top post and come back to it):


Yes... aside some parenting advice that I will have to reserve for a different blog post, all I can do is shake my head. And blog. I have no idea what happened to the poor bunny that was the casualty of the immediate gratification junkie who purchased her. I don't really want to know, either. I just hope a life lesson was learned.

Now, while I stand on my soap box, realize that I also am a pet owner. I'm really a dog person, but my dogs had all died by the time we moved here, with the exception of my 14-year-old boxer, Marble, who would never have made the international flight. She passed away in the wonderful care of my husband's aunt and uncle, who live on a farm, a few months after we arrived in Iwakuni. It was a tough choice, and my heart was heavy because I'd had her since she was 7 weeks old, but it was best for the dog, because she was quite old, especially for her breed, and because we had no guarantees as to what kind of house we might get once we got to Iwakuni. There weren't any 3-story row homes or 2-story duplexes with yards available then, just townhomes. Unlike Okinawa bases, where you can have dogs on the first couple of stories of the towers, in Iwakuni, you cannot have dogs in the towers (also known as midrises). This was, in fact, looked in to by the Iwakuni family housing office last year and the Okinawa housing office said not to do it primarily because dog owners do not clean up dog crap and kids step in it and track it all over the towers. Valid argument.

So, I got a sugar glider. I think I was her third or fourth owner, and she was 4 years old. Within a few months, she died of a blocked intestinal tract, which is common in sugar gliders kept in captivity. While you might be able to find a small animal vet in the States that handles marsupials, the vets in Iwakuni do not. That was a very sad new years week in 2013. Later I tried beetles, which only live for the summer, and a street fair goldfish that went belly up in three days. But I needed (ahem, wanted...) something fuzzy. And something a vet would be able to care for. And something we could fly back home with us. So, that left a cat. The only pets you can fly back with you as pets are dogs and cats. No rabbits, sugar gliders, hamsters, rats, snakes, turtles, etc. Unless you have paperwork saying you need them because you have a mental disorder. No kidding. I am not being funny. I met a woman on the Patriot flight (the round trip the flight that the military charters to bring American military and their families to and from Japan each week) a couple of years back who had two sugar gliders and a doctor's note saying she needed them to stay sane. She came from Okinawa, where there are a lot more health services. If you try that here in Iwakuni, you may get medically denied to come here. There is only a certain level of crazy they allow here. Well, as a military member. If you're a contractor or Department of Defense employee, you can bring a higher level of crazy here with you. Again, not kidding, but fodder for another soapbox blog post in the future.

So, I wanted a cat. The kids wanted a cat. The spouse did not want a cat. I monitored the Iwakuni Classifieds anyway. And found a free cat, complete with food, litter box and rubber toenail covers. I called the spouse to get a verbal confirmation that he would begrudgingly accept a cat in the house. I picked up the cat that afternoon before the kids came home from school. I named her Oreo.

We were Oreo's fourth home. She was four months old when we got her. She is now two. She has no behavioral issues, aside from being obstinate, stubborn and a huge fan of the spouse's. In fact, she is laying in the front hall waiting for him to get home as I write this. Smart cat. He definitely would have put her back on Classifieds if it hadn't worked out.

So, what is the point of making you watch a video, posting Classified posts on my blog and telling you about my cat? So that maybe you stop and think before bringing a pet to Iwakuni, or buying/adopting one while you are here. Actually, there is no need to buy a dog or cat... just wait for them to pop up free on the Classifieds. And try to tamp down the urge for immediate gratification for your inner toddler. And make sure you have a savings account with at least $1,000 in it. Spaying Oreo, microchipping her (as required by the base) and getting her the necessary shots (she did not come with any) cost about $500. Sending her home, if we can't get her on the Patriot next summer when we PCS, will cost about $600 and be a huge pain in the ass. If you're a lazy person (and you know if you are, don't lie to yourself) having a pet overseas is much more complicated than having one in the States. The animal needs it's own evacuation paperwork in case North Korea gets a wilder hair than usual, for God's sake!

In other words, don't be selfish. You're being cruel to the animal by uprooting it and contributing to the Kuni Kritter cycle. Having a pet to merely entertain you (or your 2-year-old) temporarily, and fulfill your unrealistic childhood fantasies of pet ownership is not something to be done in Iwakuni. Wait until you get back to the States, even if you did just get married and feel like "setting up house." If you've thought about it seriously, have the funds and the begrudged blessing of your spouse, by all means, get a pet. Just be prepared that for every hour of fun with the pet, you're going to have about  five minutes of complete frustration that comes with pet ownership here.

OK, rant over. I'm taking my peacock feathered soapbox back to my house until the next time I need to drag it out...  yelling at the cat to leave the damn feathers alone while I do so.

Update 11/28/15: Here is a link to an organization who may be able to assist with PCS expenses for pets. Be sure to do your research....

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dahlias and Pear Picking Part 2

One of my favorite day trips last year was when we went to Sera (about 2 hours from Iwakuni, exit the Sanyo at the Hiroshima airport exit) to see the dahlia flowers and pick asian pears. so, I made sure to repeat the trip this year, taking more ladies with me. This is my last autumn in Japan, so I want to make sure I see as much as possible!

For your reference, here is my blog post from last year, which includes a guilt free dessert recipe for pears, and then the web sites for Sera Kogen (dahlias) and for Sera Kosui, which is where you pay and get on the bus for pear picking. If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, the sites will be automatically translated to English for you. Both farms have different flowers/fruit at different times of the year, so it's a place I visit two or three times a year.

We went to Sera Kogen first, and paid our 800 yen entrance fee. Sera Kogen has a huge field of dahlias, dozens of varieties, which come in the standard size bloom of three to five inches in diameter.

However, my favorite flowers can be found in a small field, and these blooms can be more than a foot wide.

If you like pretty flowers, here is some eye candy for you:

It was a cloudy day with light rain now and then, but I loved the water droplets on the flowers. I just hoped that the serious rain would hold out until we had managed to do our pear picking. Once we were done with the dahlias, we hopped back in our rented vans and drove 13 minutes to the next place, which is a market where a lot of produce is sold... as well as snakes in bottles.

I thought that maybe these were snakes to let go in your garden to get the vermin out, but no. These can be purchased for about $25 so you can make Okinawan sake... the snakes are used as part of the distilling process. The snakes end up dead in your bottle of sake, but if you're a man, this is apparently what you want. The snakes supposedly help virility. Sure, boys, go ahead. Keep drinking dead snakes. Yuck.

All you can eat pear picking is 1,000 yen for adults, and 500 yen for children 4 to 12. If you want t pick pears to go home with you, the baskets are 2,500 yen for a small basket, 3,000 for medium and 4,000 for large. I took home a large and had about 20 small and medium sized pears in it.

We headed over to the ticket booth for pear picking, only to find out that the field were closed due to rain. What?! But we drove all this way... thank goodness we had Chie, who is Japanese, and she was able to convince them to open an orchard for us. We had to wait fifteen minutes (they told us 30) so they could put a tarp up for us to sit under and to bring the bus around that would take us to the orchard. Which was smart on the farm's part because there were 10 of us, we all did the all you can eat thing and most of us took home pears. And thanks to the rain finally showing up, we were not out at the orchard for a full hour. So I'd say they made their money's worth on us.

When you pick a pear, you want to lift it up and then tug gently. That way the pear comes loose easily and you don't ruin the stem for next year's fruit.

They give you a knife to peel the fruit... I sucked at peeling. Bring a towel... there is a place to wash your juicy, sticky hands, but a towel would have been nice.

My "all-you-can-eat" threshold was three medium sized pears.

So dahlia and pear season usually lasts through the first week of October, but be sure to check the websites for information, They are pretty good at letting you know how long the season looks like it will be. Enjoy!