MGC, 1959 Leaver 

Malvern Alumnae 100 Elizabeth Oliver

People often ask me, “Why did you go to Japan?” To which I answer, “out of curiosity.” Actually I came here as a result of several coincidences, as I call them. I loved travelling and had plans to visit Mongolia (this was back in 1965); just before setting off I was staying at the home of an MGC classmate, Louise Wright, whose father had a guest from Japan. He was one of the first Japanese to visit Britain for business. Being a polite Japanese, he offered me his name card and said if I ever came to Japan, to look him up (little did he ever think I might take him up on this offer!). To cut a very long story short, whilst I was in Hong Kong I was debating whether to go on to Australia, when I discovered a cargo boat destined for Kobe, Japan. The rest is history, and the kind Japanese man who had given me his name card, became my mentor and father-figure in Japan. I returned to the UK and studied Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies and eventually returned to become an English teacher at a university in Osaka.

Although I came to adopt several dogs and cats while here, it was only when I began volunteering at another organisation that I came to realise the enormity of the stray animal population in Japan. This led me in 1990 to form my own organisation called ARK (Animal Refuge Kansai), mainly with the help of friends and volunteers. ARK grew steadily but the Kobe Earthquake in 1995 was a watershed moment for us when we took in 600 animal victims. I could no longer continue teaching while heading what was had become a much bigger organisation.

We now have the original shelter in Osaka, a Tokyo ARK office where animals are kept with foster families and a new facility in Sasayama in neighbouring Hyogo prefecture. We care for nearly 400 animals mostly dogs and cats and employ 30 staff. In 2011 we experienced another large quake and tsunami in Tohoku which brought in a further 200 animals but most of our earthquake animals could find forever homes. I might add that 60% of our adoptees in Tokyo are foreigners, attached to Embassies so when people go home they take their pets with them. ARK animals are now to be found in many countries around the world. Most of my work nowadays is involved in management and fundraising and I attend international conferences and give lectures in Japan and overseas.

I was honoured to receive an MBE in 2012 for services to animal welfare and civil society in Japan.

What is your best piece of advice?

With animals, it is easy to become sentimental and want to “save everything.” But this is impossible, so work within the boundaries of what you can accomplish, set your boundaries and do what you can within these.

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