Animal rescuers respond to the crisis in Japan

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2011:


If animals ran for high ground or took cover just before the
Thoku Chih earthquake hit Japan at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011,
accounts of their behavior did not reach ANIMAL PEOPLE. The
catastrophe appears to have taken Japanese animals as much by
surprise as humans, more than 27,000 of whom were dead or missing.
Rating 9.0 on the Richter scale, with an epicenter 20 miles
below the sea off the northeast coast, the most powerful quake in
recorded Japanese history was followed by a tsunami whose 33-foot
wave hurled cars through third-floor windows. Already airborne,
several news agency helicopters videotaped destruction resembling the
rampages of the cinematic monster Godzilla.

One camera crew focused on a large dark-colored dog, racing
the wave and the rubble it carried. The wave split, surging around
either side of a levee to come at the dog from both directions.
Rapidly reversing course, the dog kept ahead of the water until after
the main force of the waves broke. The camera lost track of the dog
then, but as the wave had diminished to surf-sized, the dog– if
not bludgeoned by debris–had a fighting chance to swim to safety.
What became of most other animals in the path of the tsunami
and subsequent radiation leaks from the damaged Fukushima nuclear
reactor complex was as unclear as the fate of that dog.
About 510,000 people were displaced to emergency shelters in
the immediate wake of the disaster. This number was cut in half
during the next 10 days, as many displaced people found
accommodation with family and friends. Realizing the difficulty for
their hosts of housing more people in small apartments, displaced
persons urgently sought boarding space for pets they had saved. Some
surrendered animals to shelters, but government animal control
shelters near the disaster area suspended their usually rigid 72-hour
holding period before killing unclaimed dogs and cats, to avoid
killing pets who might be reunited with survivors.
Based on Japanese average ratios of dogs and cats to humans,
and one feral cat population survey done in 2006 in part of the
tsunami-stricken region, and taking into account that almost all
pets were home while their people were away at work or school,
ANIMAL PEOPLE estimated that a minimum of about 42,000 pet dogs and
about 45,000 cats, both pets and ferals, were killed outright in
the devastated residential neighborhoods of Iwate, Miyagi,
Fukushima, Ibaraki, and Chiba prefectures.
Another 48,000 dogs, 51,000 pet cats, and up to 2,000 feral
cats might have survived the tsunami, but perhaps not the
aftermath, if not rescued. The World Society for the Protection of
Animals estimated that at peak about 30,000 dogs and cats wandered or
hid in the rubble. Based on licensing norms, about half of the
dogs might have been identifiable, but few if any of the cats.
“Animals who are loose and have foraging habits will have
plenty to feed on,” observed Animal Rescue Kansai founder Elizabeth
Oliver. “Our staff passed a huge destroyed warehouse where sides of
beef were strewn around, and a lot of unrecovered human bodies.
It’s the animals who were tied or left in houses whom I worry about.
Also many horses, cattle and pigs were left to starve.”
ARK, opened in 1990, is the largest and oldest continuously
operating western-style humane society in Japan, with a staff of 30
and kennel capacity for more than 300 dogs plus 300 cats. The ARK
facilities were temporarily expanded to rescue more than 600 dogs
after the 1995 Hanshin earthquake. Oliver anticipated less need to
house animals after the March 11, 2011 disasters, being much
farther from the worst hit region this time. “We may receive animals
if the local facilities get overloaded,” Oliver said. “We think it
is better if pets can stay close to their owners, where possible.”
Though horses, dairy cattle, poultry, and pigs were all
raised in parts of the stricken region, no data was available from
which to project the numbers of these species who might have survived
the initial catastrophe.
Thoroughbred training farms in the hills safely distant from
the tsunami “decided to move their horses to other areas because of
the radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant,” learned
Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report, a horse racing web site. “Three
riding clubs in Miyagi, one of the worst-hit regions, were
submerged,” Paulick added
“Thirty-three riding horses belonging to these riding clubs
were rescued,” Fumiaki Mizobe of the Japan Racing Assocation told
Paulick, “but four horses were reported dead, and at least 18
horses were reported missing.”
Animal rescue organizations in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand,
and Indonesia began contacting ANIMAL PEOPLE within minutes to hours
after the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on December 26, 2004, but the
Thoku Chih disaster knocked down microwave transmission towers in
about a third of Japan and blacked out electricity to much of the
nation. Twenty-four hours and 15 minutes elapsed before Animal
Rescue System Fund founder Hiro Yamasaki, of Kobe, on March 12
became the first humane worker to respond to ANIMAL PEOPLE inquiries.
“I’m alive!” e-mailed Yamasaki. “No quake and tsunami here in the
west. No animal info has come yet, but big animal relief work will
be needed. What shall we do?”
Cataclysmic as the earthquake and tsunami were, they proved
to be just the start of the disaster. Shortages of every sort had
only begun. The destruction of almost every means of transportation
and communication frustrated relief efforts. Evacuating residents
from within a 30-kilometer radius of the overheated Fukushima nuclear
reactors increased the human and animal displacements.
The first hint that any animal rescuers within the disaster
area had survived came on March 15, when an organization called
Inochi no Kai in Iwate appealed for food and cages.
Also on March 15 news media throughout the world aired a
video clip showing a dog who remained beside a injured dog amid the
rubble, instead of departing to seek food and water. Videographer
Kenn Sakurai relayed through Carey Vail, founder of the Japan
Earthquake Animal Rescue & Support page on Facebook, that the
injured dog was taken to a veterinarian in Mito. Sakurai took the
other dog to an unnamed shelter, also in Mito. “Since those two
dogs were rescued,” added Vail, “Sakurai and his team have rescued
dozens more.” Vail and JEARS on March 17 added that the cats of
Tashirojima, also known as Cat Island, were safe. The island is
famous for having more cats than human residents. “The people and
cats are safe but short of food,” Vail posted.

Few shelters

Humane organizations outside the disaster area, including
ARK, kept busy trying to house the animals of the displaced–first
expatriates who fled Japan on short notice, leaving pets behind;
then refugees who had saved their animals, only to find nowhere to
live where they could keep the animals. “One of the biggest problems
we are facing,” observed the Japan Cat Network on Facebook, “is the
extreme lack of existing shelters. Most animal welfare groups here
work informally at a local level, and rely entirely on fostering.
It will be a real challenge to find places to put the large numbers
of animals who are now in need of rescue.”
WSPA personnel arriving in Japan on March 15 announced that
“A coalition including the Japanese Animal Welfare Society have
developed a plan for the next three months. WSPA will establish 30
temporary animal shelters near human evacuation centers,” where WSPA
will “supply food, water, cages, bedding, litter and veterinary
supplies, so that families can visit and help care for their pets.”
Added Humane Society International representative Bernard
Unti, “HSI has made a $50,000 grant to the Japan Animal Welfare
Society, arranged for the purchase and shipment of $120,000 in
supplies, and helped to set the stage for emergency sheltering. In
the coming days,” Unti pledged, “HSI will give and do more.”
The Japan Animal Welfare Society and the Japan SPCA jointly
reported, “We have secured locations in three cities and are
preparing to transport pet supplies. We’re communicating with local
vet groups and municipal governments. We hope to be able to send
rescuers to the disaster zone.”
“PETA Asia-Pacific campaigner Ashley Fruno has been in Japan
with Isabella Gallaon-Aoki of Animal Friends Niigata since the day
after the devastation,” said the PETA web site, “providing food,
water, and care to animals abandoned when their guardians fled, and
are also providing food to animals whose guardians are having a hard
time getting supplies.” The North Dakota-based organization World
Vets also sent trained personnel.
The most consistent source of information about animal rescue
operations was, however, Elizabeth Oliver, who e-mailed daily
updates, beginning on March 18, when she noted the threat to
surviving humans and animals from “cold winds and snow in the north.
Influenza is spreading,” she added. An H5N1 outbreak in Chiba
prefecture [see below] was not known to have crossed into humans,
but the potential for an epidemic was recognized. “Am writing this
at Haneda airport,” Oliver mentioned, “where hundreds of people are
trying to leave Tokyo for safer places, many with pets.”
Animal Refuge Kansai that evening sent a team to Sendai to
distribute animal supplies at evacuation centers. Oliver meanwhile
directed workers building a new ARK shelter in Sasayama, Hyogo
Prefecture, to build temporary housing for animals who had nowhere
else to go.
Accommodations offered by the Guide Dog Association for the
ARK crew in Sendai turned out to be just a parking space, obliging
the ARK crew to sleep sitting up in the van. Oliver sought to obtain
additional vehicles, to send more supplies and help, but “There are
no rental trucks available now,” she learned, “and the only one we
had a chance of renting would not allow us to carry pets.” Next
Oliver tried to buy a new four-wheel drive vehicle, only to find
that “Even new vehicles are unavailable until May or later,” because
of loss of inventory when the tsunami hit major vehicle assembly
By March 24, ARK personnel from Osaka and Tokyo had
partnered to evacuate animals with Niigata Animal Garden, the Japan
Cat Network, Heart Tokushima, and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, of
“We are concentrating on the area of Ishinomaki in Miagi
Prefecture,” Oliver wrote, where 200 evacuation centers housed as
many as 1,000 people each. “At present people keep their pets in
cars outside. But these centers will close at the end of March, so
we worry where people will move to and what will happen to their
pets,” Oliver said.
ARK staff were unable to get near Fukushima, Oliver said,
but they learned that “There are many animals within that area,”
while nearby animal control shelters had empty cage space for any who
could be recovered.
Oliver’s last report before ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press came
on March 28. “Although quite a few animals were seen [in the
disaster areas] after the quake, there are none to be seen now,”
she said. “It is thought that they died from trauma, shock or
stress.” Oliver preferred talking about pianist Rika Zayasu, who
held a pair of concerts in London, England, to benefit the Japanese
Red Cross and ARK.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.