Japan’s triple disaster has now been underway since 11 March 2011. Many animal rescue groups have come and gone; some have received huge dollar amounts of donations, but disbanded anyway, after quickly running out of money.
Inside Fukushima’s 20km no-go zone, Founder of Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK), Elizabeth Oliver says, “Things have not improved and rumours abound about the fate of the animals in or around the 20k zone. We have been told there is a plan to round up roaming cattle and kill them before the winter sets in.”
In line with this comment, metal cattle pens have been erected and herds of cattle have been lured into them. There are some claims that the cattle pens are to stop roaming cattle from destroying things. But the towns are ghost towns, completely uninhabited, so there is nothing to destroy and no humans to injure.
Many abandoned pets, who survived the tsunami and were abandoned on the streets of Fukushima, are now incarcerated in overcrowded makeshift animal shelters.
Elizabeth continues, “Meanwhile with the passing of time, now nearly nine months after the earthquake, many shelters, both private and government run, are facing the pinch, financially and lacking volunteer help. Animals kept in small cages for this length of time are showing severe signs of stress. ARK was asked to take in more animals from a government-run shelter in Fukushima to relieve pressure on the staff there.”
Eleven of these dogs arrived at ARK just days ago. They had each survived the tsunami, yet found themselves abandoned in a ghost town, starving and terrified. I’m unclear how long each dog was wandering the deserted streets, but one by one they were captured and taken to makeshift Fukushima animal ‘hokenshos’ (holding facilities).
ARK is ready to welcome as many disaster survivor pets as the hokenshos are willing to let the organization have. These eleven dogs had been in the hokensho for some time, but showed remarkable endurance to survive, given what they had already been through before being captured wandering through Fukushima. Normally dogs and cats incarcerated in hokensho’s are gassed after seven days, but the city made special allowances for animal disaster survivors, giving them more time in case owners came forward.
Elizabeth has discovered some of the dogs are microchipped, but their families have either been killed or simply cannot take them due to emotional trauma. ARK will nurture these deserving dogs back to health; not just their bodies, but their minds too.
Remarkably, Elizabeth says, “They are overly friendly!” With all they have endured, their hearts are still so big they still have room to love people! Each one of these dogs will eventually be eligible for adoption and ready to meet their own new “Forever Family.”
ARK is currently on stand-by to rescue a Fukushima pony who has crippled hooves, due to nine months of hoof growth and no trimming. This poor pony must be in terrible pain, but ARK cannot help him until the owner gives permission. This is part of the ongoing frustration involved with Fukushima animal rescue.
During the nine months since the disaster struck Fukushima, tens of thousands of abandoned pets and farm animals have died of starvation due to the Japanese government’s ban on all animal rescue since 22 April 2011. There is also a growing number of feral cats and dogs being produced by the surviving animals.
On 6 December 2011, the government of Fukushima and the Ministry of Environment announced that Japanese groups would finally have permission to enter the zone to rescue pet animals. The joy turned to despair when the rules and regulations were made public. The following includes comments by Elizabeth Oliver in parentheses:
“The area will be open from 5—27 December, between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (difficult within this time since most animals only come out at night!) Only pets can be rescued and only those at the request of an owner; i.e., owner has to send permission in writing (I hereby grant permission for X group to go and rescue my dog X. Animals without owners are not mentioned, so what do we do if we find a stray animal that needs rescue? This is a grey area.)
“All the following details to be supplied at the time of registration:
Organization’s name, address, phone numbers, copy of NPO registration
Details of your shelter; area size, facilities, number of kennels, staff, etc.
Names, addresses, phone numbers of individuals involved in rescue
Car registration, make, licence number, etc.
What are you going to do in the zone? rescue, feeding, etc.
What day and time are you going?
Where are you going in the zone?
Details of animals you are going to rescue; type, breed, size, sex, colour, weight, all details of animals to be rescued to be sent to the prefecture before rescue
All documents to be sent in between 6—20 December
Once approval granted you must rescue within ONE WEEK! Failure to do so means you have to start the application all over again.
There are only two places you can enter the zone, one in the north and one in the south, you must enter and leave by the same place; i.e., if you enter from the south, you cannot leave by the north.
Other conditions to be observed:
No smoking (a dose of radiation doesn’t matter)
You must pick up all your rubbish and take it home with you, including animal food from the ground.
And finally you must sign to say you will obey all these rules.
All documentation must be handed into the Prefecture personally or sent by post; fax is not allowed.”
A good example of the difficulty of this situation is the child’s pony mentioned earlier in this article. It urgently needs help, but until its owner is found and agrees, ARK’s vets are unable to help it, even though the pony is in severe pain with life-threatening problems. To rescue Fukushima pets, the government is demanding forms be filled in and mailed to their offices before approval can be granted. And then rescuers only get one week to act, before having to redo all the steps. Meanwhile, the animals suffer and those not crippled move between many locations, making capturing them all the more difficult.
Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) has been rescuing animals in Japan for over 20 years. After the Kobe earthquake in 1996, ARK housed individual rescued pets for over ten years! Elizabeth says “We expect the Fukushima disaster to be the same. We are in this for the long haul.”
If you would like to donate to Animal Refuge Kansai, please click here.