Evacuees risk radiation to save pets
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2011:
TOKYO-The Japanese government on April 21, 2011 introduced
penalties of up to 30 days in jail and fines of $1,000 for people
caught infiltrating the 20-kilometer “no-go” zone surrounding the
failing Fukushima nuclear reactors.
The penalties came into effect two weeks after the leading
Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported that “An increasing
number of people from the 20-kilometer evacuation zone are defying
authorities to return temporarily to take care of their pets,” four
weeks after a March 11 earthquake of record magnitude and ensuing
tsunami critically damaged the Fukushima nuclear complex.
“Volunteers from animal protection groups also have been entering the
evacuation zone at pet owners’ request for such purposes as feeding
the pets,” Yomiuri Shimbun added.
The exclusion zone is expected to be maintained for at least
a year, and may become permanent.
“I understand the nuclear danger and everything, but the
animals are just being left to starve to death, basically. I feel
personally that the risk is worth taking for what I can achieve,”
Isabella Gallaon-Aoki of Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support
told Kyung Lah and Whitney Hurst of CNN.
Rescue teams fielded by Animal Refuge Kansai had recovered 71
dogs, 15 cats, and a bird from the exclusion zone through April 20,
but had begun finding more dead animals than survivors.
“I remember the story of one dog who survived the 1995 Kobe
earthquake, with no food, only water to drink, for 40 days,”
Animal Refuge Kansai founder Elizabeth Oliver e-mailed. “Of course a
lot depends on the age and condition of an animal. We are most
concerned about the animals who are tied or shut in.
“I can’t understand the people who are sitting around in
evacuation centres with nothing to do,” Oliver fumed on April 15,
“like the woman who phoned yesterday, knowing a pet has no food or
water, not doing anything to try to save the animal.”
Oliver had more patience with a call “from a woman from
Futaba, who left her cat in the house with a little food and water,
over a month ago. Futaba is right beside the nuclear power station,
so we can’t ask our staff to go in there.
“When talking to evacuees about why they haven’t been back to
rescue their pets,” Oliver continued, “they answer that many of
them have no transport. They were bused to the evacuation centres by
the authorities. Even if they have a car, they have no petrol.
There is no public transport. When they were evacuated, they thought
it would only be for a couple of days, so they left their pets with
enough food and water for that time. They are constantly told of the
dangers of radiation and prevented from going back home. This is of
course a real fear, because nobody knows how much radiation is in
the air or on the ground.”
The Animal Refuge Kansai team and the animals they rescued
were washed to remove radiation and checked with Geiger counters
before the animals were taken to the ARK headquarters in Osaka.
“We are doubling up all facilities here at Osaka ARK for more
intake,” Oliver said. “We found a possible place for setting up an
animal evacuation shelter just inside Fukushima, but it would take
around a month to set it up. The same goes for our land in Sasayama.
Tokyo ARK too is over-stretched, as they have to take the animals to
outside vets for checking and neutering before placing them in foster
homes. Therefore the logistics of moving to Fukushima and arranging
for staff to go and work there are really not possible. We have
therefore decided to divide the facilities here as much as we can.
It will mean a lot of extra work for our staff and less space for
animals, but without doing this, the animals in Fukushima cannot be
Ryan Nakashima of Associated Press described how animal
shelter volunteer Etsumi Ogino, 56, of Chiba prefecture, led a
successful effort to identify and rescue a pack of shelties whom
Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge and photographer Hiro Komae
discovered running at large in Minami Soma, near Fukushima, on
Wrote Talmadge, “Their fur caked with mud, pet dogs trot
forlornly in rubble-filled street, foraging for scraps and searching
for their people. Luna, a six-year-old beagle mix, is tied to a
tree, barking for attention or sleeping in a cardboard box on a
dirty cushion, two bowls of frozen water before her. Still she is
one of the lucky ones. She has food. Passers-by pet and comfort
her. She gets walked twice a day. And her person is alive– he just
can’t take her into the shelter he’s staying at because of a no pets
Talmadge recounted how Tamae Morino kept her Persian-mix cat
Lady in her car outside the Fukushima shelter for displaced persons,
and how Arahama pet shop owner Ryo Taira took in 80 dogs and cats for
people living in shelters.
“The pets, mostly small dogs, spend the nights in crates
stacked on top of each other,” Talmadge wrote. “Volunteers and
staff take them for walks to a nearby park.”
“Many people are very anxious, having lost their houses and
most everything else,” veterinarian Kazumasu Sasaki told Mark
Magnier of the Los Angeles Times. “One way to take care of anxious
people is to take care of their pets.”
Magnier described how teacher Toby Weymiller rescued a dog
who had been left tied in Fukushima and a cat who had been left
inside a house, and how Ofunato resident Atsuko Oikawa was overjoyed
to recover her two miniature dachshunds.
Reports of animal survival and rescue encouraged the nation,
even as the human toll of dead and missing rose to more than 27,000.
Yomiuri Shimbun staff writer Toru Asami described how Babu,
a usually lazy 12-year-old shih tzu, suddenly insisted that his
person, Tami Akanuma, 83, of Miyako in Iwate prefecture, should
take him for a walk–and pulled her up a steep hill, saving her life
when the tsunami hit.
The Japanese public broadcasting network NHK broadcast the
rescue of a two-year-old mixed breed dog named Ban from floating
debris more than three weeks after the tsunami, and later aired the
reunion of the dog with her person, who was not identified.
LiveScience staff writer Jennifer Welsh picked up the story
of a Sendai resident named Kamata, who lost his Akita named Shane
while running to alert his neighbors to the tsunami. Six hours after
the tsunami Shane found his way to the same shelter where Kamata
The Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado
flew 235 pets to the U.S., along with 5,200 family members of
American military personnel who were living in Japan before the March
Relatively few outside animal rescuers were able to secure
the permissions and transport arrangements needed to fly into Japan
and venture north from Tokyo to join the relief effort. The St.
Louis-based online alert network Kinship Circle, however, managed
to send a team of five, including Cheri Deatsch, Courtney Chandel,
Adrienne Usher, Sister Michael Marie, and Ron Presley, a
firefighter from Marietta, Ohio.
Presley previously rescued animals in connection with Kinship
Circle efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and
after the 2010 earthquake in Chile, but he found that the situation
in Japan was quite different, he told Kathryn Malone of the Marietta
Daily Journal. Instead of breaking into houses to rescue trapped
pets, Presley found, “Mostly we’re looking for pets who were able
to escape the tsunami–who were able to run free, or their people
were killed, or who just had nowhere else to go, and the shelters
wouldn’t allow people to bring in their animals, so the animals were
left to roam.”
Wrote Malone, “In most cases when Ron Presley and his team
find a pet, they take a picture and post signs around the area to
alert residents. Then they take the animal to one of the three Japan
Earthquake Animal Rescue & Support shelters in their network and keep
the animal there,” until reclaimed or adopted.
JEARS will “keep trying to get them adopted,” Presley said.
“They’ll keep the animals as long as they can. All three of the
organizations [who collaborated to form JEARS] are no-kill, so if
the animals have to live out their life in their shelters, then
that’s what they’ll do.”
Kinship Circle Animal Disaster Aid also took food to pets
whose people were in evacuation shelters. “Up in Rikuzentakta one
lady just burst into tears because she hadn’t been able to feed her
dog for two weeks,” Presley told Malone. “The people are barely
getting any food in the evacuation centers. Some of them are getting
a banana and some bread a day. They don’t have much themselves and
nowhere to get any food.”
Observed Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle
at the March 22, 2011 Genesis Awards gala in Hollywood, “Japan has
a terrible animal welfare record,” particularly pertaining to whales
and dolphins. But, Pacelle added, noting the concern of many
March 11 disaster survivors for their animals, “Amid the catastrophe
there’s an opportunity to have a Katrina moment,” when the status of
animals takes a quantum leap in public policy recognition.