April 4, 2011
On the ground in Japan
by Bernard Unti
HSI’s disaster response team is now operating in Niigata, on Japan’s western coast, and working within the coalition established by the Japan Animal Welfare Society to develop a unified command framework for emergency response and near-term recovery. This collaboration will focus on transport, sheltering, reunification, and the distribution of supplies and equipment.
The JAWS-led coalition is actively working with the Japanese Veterinary Medical Association and local veterinarians, as well as with animal control centers in each prefecture, to coordinate animal recovery, pet-friendly sheltering, and veterinary care.
Surveying the situation
On Sunday, April 3, the HSI team went with JAWS personnel to Sendai to visit the main animal care center there, and to consult with the veterinarian responsible for immediate response and care. The team also visited the local pet-friendly evacuation shelter serving victims of the disaster, and aided ground rescue teams with recovery of deceased pets. In addition, HSI responders assisted in stocking the new temporary facility and visited disaster-affected areas with members of the JAWS team.
No live animals were found running loose in Sendai, but the team saw many families with pets living in temporary facilities and hotels. The animal control center in Sendai is sheltering rescued and surrendered pets, recording animals with photographs and scanning for microchips, and preserving other identification information. JVMA vets in the Sendai area have offered their assistance with long-term sheltering and medical care.
Dealing with radiation
The inability of responders to access Fukushima within the 30 km radius of the affected nuclear zone remains a serious obstacle, as does the uncertain threat of radiation release from the damaged nuclear plants. Animals in this zone are in the most danger and the greatest need, due to the rapid evacuation of owners, some of whom left their pets and cattle behind. Authorities are discouraging people from attempting to enter the no-access zone to feed their animals, but some citizens do enter the area at night once law enforcement is reduced.
The HSI team is working urgently with our Japanese partners on a plan for addressing the plight of animals in the zones affected by radiation release, and on training and other protocols for scanning, handling, and treating animals possibly contaminated by radiation. The safety of both animals and people throughout Japan depends on a strict adherence to agreed-upon protocols.
Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy advisor and special assistant to the CEO/president of The Humane Society of the United States.