Japan’s Pet Survivors – Stories From First Disaster Team
The beautiful brindle dog pictured above spends each day since the disaster in Japan, staring anxiously at the door outside a Japanese evacuation center.
He waits for his owner to come out into the freezing weather to comfort him. Dogs aren’t allowed inside evacuation centers so his owner tethered him to a post and gave the young dog a small kennel and blanket to keep him warm. But the dog insists on waiting in the open air in hopes of catching a glimpse of his beloved human.
This is just one of the daily tragedies witnessed by Kinship Circle, a nonprofit organization that specializes in animal advocacy and disaster rescue. The group was the first U.S. animal welfare organization to be on the ground after the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Outside every evacuation center pets can be found chained to buildings or locked inside cars.
Kinship Circle rescue workers offered to take the man’s dog to an animal rescue shelter in another town that would provide a warm, safe place to stay. The man broke down and sobbed. He had lost everything and his dog was all he had left. Parting with him was too much for the man to bear. The volunteers left the dog behind and gave the man plenty of food to keep his pal alive.
Brenda Shoss, president of Kinship Circle shared this story and others as she explained the daily work her organization’s disaster team is doing to save the lives of animals in the most devastated parts of Japan.
Kinship Circle has partnered with Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS) which is a coalition of local rescue groups, including Animal Friends Niigata, Japan Cat Network, and HEART-Tokushima.
The disaster team is based in Niigata City and drives hundreds of miles every day to search and rescue pets and bring food to stranded animals.
Shoss explained it is important to have a trained disaster team on the ground in Japan because JEARS is comprised of volunteers that specialize in adopting homeless pets rather than tracking through tsunami torn neighborhoods.
But JEARS is invaluable to Kinship Circle because they know the language, the area and have vehicles to rescue animals. Together they make a great team.
Japan is No Katrina
Kinship Circle was instrumental in rescuing pets from the Katrina hurricane, but Ms. Shoss explained the disaster in Japan is very different.
Japan has been hurt from three separate catastrophic events: earthquake, tsunami and radiation.
People are still being evacuated as the radiation comes closer to their towns. Many are choosing to leave their pets inside their homes and try to bring food to them.
But Shoss said, “Once an area is declared a ‘no-go’ zone because of the radiation, the animals become stranded.”
Shoss said they received a plea from a woman who had left a Shiba Inu named Non alone in her home. She thought the evacuation would only last a few days, but after not being allowed to go home for ten days she feared the worst for her pet.
The Kinship team waded through debris, “smashed buildings” and “cracked streets” until they arrived at the woman’s house. Non was alive and brought to the Animal Friends shelter in Niigata.
Shoss said, “Everywhere the team goes the sounds of barking dogs can be heard from inside evacuated houses.”
Kinship Circle reunites pets with their owners and brings food to the evacuation centers. They also drop off literature to let pet owners know that JEARS animal shelters are available to take care of their cats and dogs.
But these tasks are difficult because, “There are thousands of evacuation shelters, so our team goes to the largest ones to leave food and literature,” said Shoss.
One woman recently took advantage of relocating her three cats to a Japan Cat Network rescue center. The cats had been living inside an unheated car outside a no-pets evacuation center. She kissed each one and sent them with the team for safekeeping.
Kinship Circle also aids injured pets and acts as advocates for the animals with Japanese officials.
The group recently negotiated the release of a small terrier that had been confiscated by the government after surviving on its own for 11 days. The frightened dog was scheduled to be euthanized, but after hours of conversation the terrier was released to the Kinship Circle team and taken to a JEARS shelter.
Kinship Circle is desperately needed to help pets in Japan that are scared, hurt and displaced. They are experts in their field who are bringing aid to cats and dogs in the most devastated parts of the country.
“The disaster in Japan is still unfolding with new evacuations because of the radiation. We need to keep a trained disaster team on the ground,” said Shoss.
Photo by Kinship Circle