After the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March, animal rescue groups from around the world came together to help the animals displaced by the massive disaster. One of the groups which was instrumental in coordinating rescue efforts on the ground in the early days was Japan Cat Network. Nine months later, their volunteers are still working in the affected areas.

The current situation

When the area around the Fukushima nuclear reactor was evacuated, many animals were left behind. Susan Roberts, the founder of Japan Cat Network, says it’s difficult to estimate the number of animals in the evacuated areas. People tend to quote the number of registered dogs in the area (6000 dogs in the 20km evacuation zone alone, and evacuations continue beyond this radius), and there is no requirement to register cats, so there is no telling how many cats were left to fend for themselves.

According to Robers, animal welfare exists mostly at a grassroots level in Japan. Shelters are currently not a part of Japanese consciousness, and pet guardians had no idea what to do with their pets, other than to leave them behind. Even if they had known shelters might accept the animals, with so few humane facilities already in existence, there was no infrastructure to deal with such a vast need.

Japan Cat Network volunteers do what they can to help these animals. They are able to enter the restricted zone through a police block. Anyone without a special pass is denied entry. There is almost no human traffic in this area. Radiation levels vary greatly, but a high enough level exists throughout to make the areas unsafe for living. Japan Cat Network volunteers bring in a geiger counter on every trip, and wear regulation masks.


Ideally, they would remove all of the animals they see, but logistically there are simply not enough resources to do so. This is not just due to a lack of funds, but a lack of space and volunteers as well. As a result, their focus has been to monitor the health and risk of any animals that they see, and to remove all that they safely can, while at least not allowing those left behind to starve. Just doing this, in several of the evacuated towns, requires all the resources they currently have. They have also rescued and/or tended to a number of farm animals!


Every so often, Roberts receives a report that the government might let them into the areas nearer to the power plant, and though they have been given access on a few occasions, there has been no consistent access granted to any animal welfare group. Says Roberts “this pains me greatly, as I still see the faces of animals that we were forced to leave behind, when the government completely and strictly closed the 20 km area down.” Roberts says she’s hoping for the best, as the only current access to this area has been by those few volunteers that are willing to risk arrest. Others would also risk deportation, forcing them to leave many animals without the essential help they currently provide. They continue to lobby the government for legal access.

Roberts was just informed that the government will issue some permits for the 20km zone to animal welfare groups going to specific owner requested addresses, but only for the month of December. Even so, says, Roberts, “this is very exciting news, and we are now in preparation. Hopefully this means that the government will take a more compassionate position, on this issue, from here on out.”

What you can do to help

Cat Network Japan needs help in the following area:

1. Donate money. In addition to funding ongoing rescue efforts, they are in need of funding for spay and neuter surgeries at TNR Japan Animal Welfare Hospital. The clinic also participates in the Fukushima rescue efforts. Donations can be sent to via secure PayPal transaction.

2. Volunteer. They need more people who are willing to come out and stay, short or long term. Says Roberts, “this would give those of us who have been here for so long, a chance to at least alternate with new volunteers. We can provide lodging and food. Those who cannot come out themselves might choose to purchase a ticket for someone on our list of volunteers that are willing and able to come, but cannot afford the airfare.” For more details about volunteering, contact

3. Send cat food and supplies. Supplies can be sent to:

Club Lohas
2706-1 ueno, iwasato-aza, oo-aza
Inawashiro-machi, fukushima-Ken, 969-3141 Japan

They also maintain an Amazon wishlist for cat food and other needed items.

4. Contact the Japanese government and express your concern for the pets still waiting for rescue in the 20 km zone. Let them know that there are many animal welfare volunteers still willing to go in and get these animals out to safety. Remind them that these animals were not left behind by choice, and that many families continue to mourn their absence. An English form to leave a comment for the Japanese government can be found here.

The video below shows only a small fraction of the cats left behind in Fukushima. Even a small donation can make a difference in these cats’ lives.


Photos courtesy of Susan Roberts, Cat Network Japan

17 Comments on Cats in Japan still need your help

  1. Hello all. I am also involved with Japan Cat Net and other organizations in Japan helping the animals. I’d like to see if there is someone here who can help with one very specific aspect I am working on right now. The shelters here are overwhelmed with work and financial troubles and can’t spend enough time on promoting adoptions. They are also in locations that are far away from the Tokyo region which is the most promising region to find adopters in. So I am launching an adoptions support group in Tokyo working with the shelters to accelerate the adoptions process and supporting the adopters here in the Tokyo region. A beta version of our website can be seen

    This website has three problems:

    a) it only covers dogs at the moment
    b) the visual presentation is poor
    c) it’s in English only

    Regarding c), help is in the pipeline. All content is being translated into Japanese right now.

    Is there anyone here who could help with a) and b)? We need someone to write a Cat 101, and a cat self-screen questionnaire, similar to the Dog 101 and dog self screen. We need this within a week at the latest.

    Also, is there anyone here who could help build a better website, maybe using WordPress? I need someone who is willing for the initial phase of the project to take overall responsibility for designing and setting up the site and making it fully functional. After that someone else can probably take over if required. Minimum skill level would be substantial experience with web publishing using a tool like WordPress. A higher skill level is of course very welcome.

    You can find me on Facebook if you want to contact me directly.



  2. I didn’t watch the video because I knew my heart would break. But I went to the TNR Japan Animal Welfare Hospital site and the pictures tore my heart out. I wish I could afford to go there and work as a volunteer. But then I’d wish I could bring them all home. I feel for those trying so hard to take care of so many in need. It’s heartwrenching to think of the cats who are lost and alone. Who don’t understand why their families left and they were left behind to fend for themselves. How very sad.

    • I agree, it’s heartwrenching. I’m just so grateful for people like Susan, and Alex, who commented above, and the other volunteers – at least these cats have someone to look out for them.

  3. Well, I tried to send cat food via the wish list link. Uhm… I admit I’m not very internationally inclined, lol. But
    1] It’s all written in Japanese,
    2] I talked to an service person and he couldn’t get it to come up at all, but we fumbled through the rate exchange and I figured out how many bags of what appeared to be cat food I could get w/the yen/dollar difference. But then..
    3] I had to register on which is the Japanese version of Amazon and it wouldn’t let me because my billing address wasn’t japanese. When I tried to change my billing address by doing the english/American version, it then changed the shipping address to my home address.
    All in all, it was a minor international fiasco, lol. So, I’ll just have to try one of the other options geared toward donating money instead. Hopefully that will go more smoothly, lol.

    • Thanks for trying, Reneda. Susan told me that sometimes, it works if you put one item in your shoppping basket by clicking on the yellow bar on the Japanese page (you can always remove it later), and then you’ll see a button somewhere on the screen that allows you to translate everything into English. I wasn’t aware that you have to register with Amazon Japan to be able to do this.

  4. I’m glad that, at least, there are areas where these cats are that were not destroyed by the tsunami. They have grasses, bushes, and structures to hide in and hopefully can find mice and bugs. I realize, though, that the radiation levels are high.

    Thank you for this post today, Ingrid. The video is so beautiful, and while it really grabs at my heartstrings, it also gives me a feeling of hope. It’s great to see those cats with their piles of food. On the other hand, I ache for them, too, and wonder what their emotions are.

    • The video breaks my heart, Pam. Like you, I wonder what these cats are feeling, but I also think about their human guardians who had no choice but to leave them behind. I just simply can’t imagine what that must be like.

  5. This is a very informative, interesting post. It’s so sad to think these animals are still suffering from the earthquake, tsunami. And thanks for pointing out there’s still ways to help.

    • I think this is one of the many downsides of the 24 hour news cycle, Angie – when it’s no longer news, it doesn’t get reported, especially when it’s months later and concerns animals. But the volunteers on the ground are living this each and every day.

  6. Ingrid, thank you so much for covering the work that the volunteers for Japan Cat Network are doing on the ground in Fukushima. I’ve been volunteering at the Inawashiro, Fukushima base since May and it has been the most rewarding, enriching, and heartbreaking experience of my life. I’ve included a link to my blog where I have written about many of the rescues we have conducted in my time here if anyone is interested in reading more about what we do.

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