More than four years ago, on March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck 40 miles off the coast of Japan. The quake tilted the earth’s axis and triggered a series of powerful tsunamis, which wrought destruction for more than 6 miles inland. Sixteen thousand people died. There are no statistics on how many animals died in the quake, but the number is sure to be staggering. The earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in the complete evacuation and closure of a 20 km restricted zone around the reactor. Many animals were left behind as a result of this evacuation.
A couple of weeks ago, a story on Bored Panda, titled “The Radioactive Man Who Returned to Fukushima to Feed the Animals that Everyone Else Left Behind” about a 55-year-old former construction worker who lives in the restricted zone, went viral. According to the article, Naoto Matsumura is known as the “guardian of Fukushima’s animals,” because of the work he does to feed and care for the animals left behind.
Mr. Matsumura isn’t the only one who puts the animals’ welfare ahead of his own personal well-being. For the last four years, Japan Cat Network has been working tirelessly to help cats and other animals left behind in the restricted zone. Founded by two American ex-pats, JCN established a shelter in Inawashira near the exlusion zone two months after the disaster. Since then they have worked tirelessly on rescue and recovery efforts for animals left behind in radiation-evacuated areas. They travel to the exclusion zone multiple times a week to provide life-sustaining food to abandoned cats and dogs, to pick up sick, injured, or young animals, and to control the stray and feral cat population through spaying and neutering.
Susan Roberts, one of the founders of JCN, says the need for assistance is overwhelming at times. “There’s a small cat shelter nearby,” says Roberts, “with 36+ cats and a woman working all day at a convenience store outside the evacuated area, in order to fund the shelter. She can’t get volunteers and does nearly all of the cleanup work herself after she gets off work.”
There’s a doctor from Tokyo who fills JCN’s feeding stations in the restricted area every week so that the spayed/neutered ferals from TNR projects that still live there have a constant supply of food.
There’s a shelter with 70+ cats (as well as an unknown number of dogs) just outside the exclusion zone, which is run by a couple who repeatedly go into restricted areas to catch and remove dogs. Some of these animals are feral and are socialized after rescue.
“There are more people,” says Roberts. “Many regularly ask for our help.” Roberts tries to to connect them with whatever resources she can. “We’ve managed to get volunteer drivers for the hay for the farm animals in the exclusion zone. I’m working on sending out a volunteer cleanup team to give the two shelters some much needed assistance. We’ve taken animals for rehoming, we’ve ordered traps…collected pet food donations. We offer whatever help we are able to provide.”
What you can do to help
2. Volunteer. They are looking for positive, animal loving people. Says Roberts, “some animal experience would be great, but positive attitude is most important. None of us gets a salary here, so our morale and the belief in what we are doing is what keeps us going. We’ve worked hard to create a caring atmosphere.”
Their base is located in an area of Fukushima that has the same background radiation level as an average city in the world, so there is no concern about radiation at the shelter. Japan Cat Network can provide free lodging. The work includes morning and evening dog walks, cat care, general cleanup, and building projects.
Those who wish to join the rescue work in the evacuated areas are also welcome to do so. These areas have varying levels of radiation, but volunteers wear masks and spend a limited amount of time in the higher radiation areas. There is never any pressure to join the weekly feeding and rescue mission into the zone, as there is always plenty to do at the shelter.
For more information about volunteering with Japan Cat Network, visit https://japancatnetwork.org/volunteer.