In Japan, Pets Come with Leash and Lease

Fur Rent: In Japan some people get pets for the short-term. animal dog
CBS
In this story, which originally aired Oct. 19, 2008, CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen looks at the growing trend of people in Tokyo owning pets for the short-term.

In Japan, animals and people have coexisted and even enjoyed the same things for centuries.

Snow monkeys relax in the mountain hot springs that also attract people. Some monkeys even have day jobs working in restaurants - keeping their hands off the food and just serving those nice hot towels.

They can even be found rubbing shoulders with Tokyo's urban environment like at subway stations, not so much taking part in the daily grind with commuters but riding along with their owners.

Around here, pets are on the rise.

Just stop in at a local dog dancing class. Having a dog is part of a decade-long trend. There are now more pet dogs and cats - 23 million - than there are children under 15.

However, the bonding of Jew-bay and owner Ben Ishikawa might be a bit too good. He says he enjoys dancing with his Labrador as much as he enjoys dancing with his wife.

And getting a Labrador to line dance is not an easy trick. But for Jew-bay and other dogs in the doggie dancing class, there are incentives aplenty, with acupuncture for aches and pain and treadmills to trim down from too much love.

Momo is one dog who receives a lot of love. She's obese because she's been fed like a spoiled human with chips and cheesecake.

"If this were my son, I'm not sure I'd spend the money to bring him to gym," Momo's indulgent owner says. "I would just talk to him."

Not all Japanese spoil their pets, because a lot of animal companions here are what you might call short-term friends. Here, you can rent them.

Why? In this crammed urban area of 34 million, many apartments say no to pets.

When it comes to pets-for-rent, pooches are more popular than parrots, even at $25 an hour.

For Juli Tanaka, choosing dogs is easy with her twin Juna "because they are cute."

But some worry that changing humans by the hour can confuse animals born to bond, unless, like the Tanakas, they are trying to see if dog ownership is for them.

Keiko Yamazaki writes about how best to treat animals.

"If they really want to try one out, like going up to your dealers and driving a Maserati before you buy it, I think it might be that if they really saw a 50-kilo St. Bernard and was actually dragged down the street by one, they would think twice before going for that cute little teddy bear puppy," Yamazaki says.

Which brings us to cats - you knew there would be cats.

Everyone knows that cats actually own humans, not the other way around. And here at the Kitty Café, they will sometimes give humans attention and sometimes not.

"Cats are free and that's what I long for," says one weekly customer.

Many Americans grew up with pets. Now Japan is finally catching up. But it's still not clear in this trendy new dance of puppy love if it's humans - or animals - who are leading.
By CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen