by Kelly O’Meara
Nearly six months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, HSI staff made a follow-up visit to Tokyo to see the key players involved in animal disaster response in the wake of the devastation.
In the weeks after the catastrophe, HSI provided funding and sent a team to help coordinate rescue and recovery; now, decisions had to be made about how best to support ongoing efforts to help impacted animals in Fukushima and other affected locations.
To discuss these issues, we met with the Japan Animal Protection Coalition, including the largest animal protection organization in the country, Japan Animal Welfare Society (JAWS). JAWS, a major partner and vital advisor to our on-the-ground team at the time, helped create the first emergency shelter for animals in the city after the disaster.
Effects still felt
As recovery began, JAWS helped organize pet rescue by developing an animal monitoring system for the “hot zone,” 20 km out from the nuclear power plant. Since residents of the zone were given only a short window of time to visit their homes and gather their belongings, plus any companion animals previously left behind, it was essential to have a system for organizing transport of the animals to safety. Animal control vans followed people to their houses if they had a pet to collect, and then drove the pets to an animal-friendly evacuation center or an emergency shelter for displaced animals. In addition, the animal control units monitored different parts of the zone weekly to trap any strays found wandering.
By August 2011, animal control personnel were still bringing an average of 10 animals a week out of the affected area.
More housing needed
With animals still being found, the original Fukushima disaster shelter became overcrowded, so a decision was made to build another one. The doors to new shelter, designed to hold 80 dogs and 50 cats, will open soon. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, HSI was able to commit a substantial amount toward its construction and management in the hope that displaced animals will have a comfortable stay there while awaiting reunion with their families or adoption to new homes.
Supporting those who gave
We are only now hearing about some of the unsung heroes of this tragedy. A number of veterinarians in the coastal locations of Japan most ravaged by the tsunami, such as Sendai and Iwaki, sacrificed tremendous amounts of personal and professional time in their dedication to aiding animals in need. To this day, some of them still have lost pets in their care. HSI applauds these veterinarians and their compassion and has offered a significant donation toward helping them get their lives and businesses back on track and supporting the animals they are looking after.
Preparing and sharing
There are many lessons to be learned from these events. HSI will attempt to glean any information we can from studies and research on the radiation aspect in particular in order to better prepare to help animals and people, if something like this were to occur again in the future. We will also continue to communicate and work with Japan’s Ministry of Environment, JAWS and other local groups and agencies to offer our expertise in disaster response and animal protection. Support our international disaster fund.
Kelly O’Meara is director of Companion Animals and Engagement for HSI.