Japan's Pets Unwelcome in Refugee Shelters
In the aftermath of most major natural disasters, household pets who are lucky enough to survive the initial onslaught have a hard time of it in the weeks and months following the disaster. Evacuee centers rarely allow pets, forcing their owners to make impossible "Sophie's Choice" decisions.
About 600,000 pets perished or were left homeless* in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many pets lost their lives due to the hurricane itself, and others were left stranded because pets were not allowed in the shelters.
It's no different this time around in Japan.
Dogs and cats have been forced to fend for themselves since the earthquake and tsunami.
This is a big calamity for pets, along with people, said Sugano Hoso of the Japan branch of the U.S.-based United Kennel Club. Many are on their own, and many more are trapped in evacuated areas where people have left.
The biggest concerns are reuniting them with their owners and getting them food, medical treatment and shelter, she said. Her group is distributing food and supplies where it can.
Thousands of pets have been left behind in evacuation zones affected by radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility. Those animals also face radiation-related issues.
We have requested the government allow us into those zones to rescue dogs, but the government isnt listening to us, Hoso said.
Tamae Morino brought her Persian-mix cat, Lady, to Fukushima citys main shelter , but Lady is forced to stay outside. Like many of the animal victims of the earthquake and tsunami, Lady is frightened and agitated, and it's been difficult for her to cope with the sudden change in environment.
She got sick, and is still very nervous, Morino said. She is an important part of our family. But they dont allow pets into the shelter, so she has to sleep alone in the car. She seems very lonely. We are happy to have her with us, though. So many cats just vanished.
80 dogs and cats are being cared for at Ryo Taira's pet shop near the city of Sendai. Most of these pets' owners are unable to bring their pets with them to the tsunami shelters.
Evacuees are under a stressful situation, working on reconstruction and searching for missing family members, Taira said. I think they cannot really have much energy to pay attention to their pets. So we want to do what we can to help reduce their stress.
Are you prepared to properly evacuate and care for your pets in a disaster or emergency? Check out The Cat's Meow's Guide to Emergency Preparedness.