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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Send cat food and supplies. Supplies can be sent to:
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