The Animals of Fukushima

Nearly a year ago, the world watched in horror as one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded happened off the coast of Japan, causing devastating tsunamis and triggering nuclear meltdowns at the power plant in Fukushima. The result of the disaster was catastrophic: more than 15,000 deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes, many still unable to return. This also had a dramatic impact on the pets of these families and other animals. Many of the displaced people had to put their animals in shelters, because most of the human shelters do not allow pets. As I detailed in a recent post, some of these animals from Fukushima are still in shelters around the country, awaiting their families, or for a few, adoption into a loving home.

As you can imagine, access to Ground Zero of the nuclear disaster is severely restricted. I was grateful to be afforded a visit to the area to tour one of the two shelters still operating and to learn about the dangerous, courageous, and extremely vital work people have done and are still doing on the ground there every day.

My first stop was to an animal shelter in Fukushima. This facility primarily houses larger dogs and lots of cats, while the smaller canines were mostly transferred to shelters in Tokyo, such as the temporary shelter I visited a few days ago. All rescued and captured animals were first scanned with a Geiger counter, thoroughly washed, and then transported to this relatively new shelter, which, as it stands now, will remain in operation for some time to come.

Owners are still awaiting word on when they can return to their homes in the “no entry zone,” but a timetable for that has yet to occur. The government has stated that it will take approximately 30 years to remove the effects of radiation from the environment, which is a fact many pet owners are not able to face. They are retaining the ownership rights to their animals, because for them, the act of holding on to their beloved pets with the goal of one day bringing them home is the last glimmer of hope for a return to normalcy.

The two vets from the government prefecture overseeing the facility, not to mention the staff, were all personally affected by the earthquake. Nevertheless, they remained extremely committed to the task at hand: caring for the animals. Though the earthquake occurred last March, the shelter workers could not rest until August because of all that needed to be done; heeding the nuclear warnings, they would report to work in their protective gear.

A resident of the Fukushima animal shelter

A resident of the Fukushima
animal shelter

This cat was rescued from the disaster site in Fukushima

This cat was rescued from the
disaster site in Fukushima

A map of the disaster area in Fukushima
A map of the disaster area in Fukushima
Following the visit to the shelter, our party made for the coast where the tsunami devastation is still quite evident. We traveled until we were close to “Japanese No Entry Zone,” a mere 20 km away from the heart of it all. The stories we heard are stunning; sadly, they are still more about loss than healing. Many young people are worried about what their future holds and the long-term impact on their health. There is a planned national study on the impact of radiation on the animals, but to date no samples have been collected. Geiger counters did not reveal alarmingly high levels of radiation on the rescued and captured animals, but these were the animals who were able to escape. Many of the animals living inside the housing units who were left behind likely perished due to a lack of food and water. We still have much to learn about how this series of disasters has affected farm animals, horses, and wildlife.

The effects of this catastrophe will be felt for decades. The sad fact is life may never be the same for those close to the disaster zone. American Humane Association remains firmly committed to helping in any way it can. The government prefecture is interested in learning more about our disaster tips for children and animals which we developed in 2011 for the US.

American Humane Association will be working with the animal welfare agencies and the local shelters on assistance and a sharing of ideas and best practices to help. As the founding principle of our historic Red Star program states: everyday, everywhere — we are there to rescue and save animal lives and reunite them with their families.

A final report will be forthcoming upon my return to the U.S., entitled “State of the Animals of Fukushima.”

The shelter in Fukushima doesn't afford nearly the amount of space for the animals as does the temporary one I visited in Tokyo.

The shelter in Fukushima
doesn’t afford nearly the
amount of space for the
animals as does the
temporary one I visited in Tokyo.

This wall is all that remains of a house that once stood near the ocean. Now, the whole street is desolate and all you can see is this rainbow.

This wall is all that remains of
a house that once stood
near the ocean. Now,
the whole street is desolate
and all youcan see is
this rainbow.

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1 Response

  1. cats April 1, 2012 / 7:19 pm

    I think about those animals abandoned and it breaks my heart, we need to help them, for they depend on us for everything.

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