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As America grapples with the idea of defunding police, and as citizens struggle with finding alternative ways to think about crime and social justice, one Japanese neighborhood is relying on tiny dogs to bring a community together.
Tokyo’s Wan-Wan (which can be translated into ‘Bow Wow’) is a refreshing mainstay in the Karasuyama neighborhood of the greater Tokyo area. It’s an old practice, according to France 24, where locals walk one of about 150 brightly-clad pups to patrol the streets and make others feel safe.
The small dogs are used to deter crime and assist children on their walks to and from school.
Yurika Igarashi is one such child who talked to Agence France Presse for France 24 about the Wan-Wan patrol.
“Sometimes, I’m scared when I’m coming home alone,” said the girl, who looks forward to meeting Sakura, a small poodle, on her walks. “But I feel okay when I’m walking with Wan-Wan Patrol.”
Tokyo has been lauded as one of the safest cities in the world, according to the 2019 Safe Cities index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. But it doesn’t mean that people should not take safety measures.
Jun Ameie, Kyuden Elementary School’s principal, spoke to the AFP about the initiative.
“Parents appreciate that many people in the neighborhood care and make sure the environment is safe,” said Ameie. Especially these days, when we hear a lot of reports about crimes involving children.”
Yurika Igarashi continued.
“Of course, it’s fun to walk with the dogs,” she said. “But I also feel protected by them.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, policing agencies around the country are struggling with widespread budget cuts and racial disparity in policing, much of it a result of the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Despite tensions, similar efforts to introduce canines to the community have been introduced in the US on a much smaller scale, including the Franklin County Sherriff’s Office in Ohio, which was the first in the state with such a program, according to their website.
In their statement, the canine program “offers yet another innovative tool for assistance and community engagement to Franklin County’s communities.”
Community-based initiatives have been growing around the US, not just in light of police tensions, but because of a growing rate of hate-fueled attacks. One initiative from California is Compassion in Oakland, which has volunteers escorting the elderly in response to growing anti-Asian attacks.
“All of us need to come together if we hope to make this a safer community for the years to come,” leader Jacob Azevedo told CNN. Within days of starting his Instagram campaign, hundreds of volunteers offered to help keep the Asian community feel safe by walking them home.
“I wasn’t intending to be some kind of vigilante,” said Azevedo. “I just wanted to offer people some kind of support.”
The Wan-Wan Patrol, also, is not an official law enforcement initiative.
“Individual owners walk whenever they can and have their dog wear the same scarf,” the Patrol’s leader, Keiko Shimizu, told the AFP. “We can help make the neighborhood less prone to crime.”
Recently, one of the pups found an elderly person after they’d passed away.
“They [the dog] realized by noticing a room light still on in the morning,” said Shimizu. “We walk at around the same hours on the same route every day, so it’s easier for us to notice if there is something unusual.”
Principal Ameie continued.
“I’m sure children can play outside of school and anywhere in the neighborhood because they know many adults keep their eyes on their safety.”
The Wan-Wan Patrol shows all signs of being a long-lasting staple of the community.
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