Japan's disaster puts pets in dire need

AP News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2011 4:07 AM
Japan's disaster puts pets in dire need

Their fur caked with mud, pet dogs trot forlornly in rubble-filled streets along Japan's devastated coastline, foraging for scraps and searching for owners.

Luna, a six-year-old Beagle mix, is tied to a tree, barking for attention or sleeping in a cardboard box on a dirty cushion, two bowls of frozen water before her.

Still she is one of the lucky ones. She has food. Passers-by pet and comfort her. She gets walked twice a day. And her 55-year-old owner is alive _ he just can't take her into the shelter he's staying at because of a no pets rule.

Many other dogs and cats have been forced to fend for themselves since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which obliterated homes and killed more than 10,000 people.

"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.

As well, thousands of pets have been left behind in evacuation zones affected by radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility, which was swamped by the tsunami and remains unstable. Those animals also face radiation-related issues.

Faced with life-or-death predicaments, many pet owners didn't have the presence of mind or weren't able to see to the safety of their pets.

"We have requested the government allow us into those zones to rescue dogs, but the government isn't listening to us," Hoso said.

Luna came from the evacuated area, but her family had time to pack their things and hers before they escaped.

"When we were told to evacuate, one of the first things we did was make sure we had Luna and enough food to keep her going for a few days," said Masami Endo, a 55-year-old grocer.

He lives in Minami Soma town, in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear facility. Residents have been ordered either to evacuate or remain indoors because of the radiation risk.

Endo decided to come to Fukushima city's main shelter _ a gymnasium where about 1,400 people have taken refuge _ about a week ago.

Tamae Morino brought her Persian-mix cat, Lady, to the shelter, though the pet stays outside. The earthquake and tsunami, along with the sudden change of environment, have left Lady frightened and agitated.

"She got sick, and is still very nervous," Morino said. "She is an important part of our family. But they don't 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."

Ryo Taira's pet shop and animal shelter in Arahama, near the city of Sendai, is caring for 80 dogs and cats whose owners are unable to bring their pets with them to tsunami shelters.

The pets, mostly smaller dogs, spend the nights in crates stacked on top of each other. Volunteers and staff take them for walks to a nearby park.

"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."

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Associated Press video journalist Johnson Lai in Arahama, Japan, contributed to this story.