Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Today is the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that 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. Fifteen thousand people died, thousands are still missing a year later. There are no statistics on how many animals died in the quake, but the number is sure to be staggering.
Immediately after the quake, animals rescue groups from around the world came together to help animals displaced by the massive disaster. One of the groups instrumental in coordinating rescue efforts on the ground in the early days was Japan Cat Network. I got in touch with Susan Roberts, the founder of Japan Cat Network, to find out how cats are faring in the earthquake area, one year later.
Japan Cat Network’s volunteers are still tirelessly working in the affected areas to help as many cats as they can. Japan Cat Network is particularly active in the area around the Fukushima nuclear reactor. They are the only rescue group that has access to the restricted area, and they continue to negotiate with the Japanese government to maintain this access so they can continue to feed and rescue deserted animals. Back in December, there were an estimated 6000 dogs left behind in the 20 kilometer evacuation zone around the reactor. The number of cats was unknown, since cats are not required to be registered in Japan. Those numbers are most likely somewhat lower after a harsh winter, but with spring approaching and low spay/neuter rates in rural Japan, there are almost certainly going to be new births in the evacuation zone. Farm animals have also been affected. Volunteers have reported seeing large farms were thousands of cattle died pressed up against doors while trying to escape.
I asked Susan whether some of the rescued cats have been returned to their families. Sadly, said Roberts, “only a few of the cats have been reunited with their guardians. Many of the families in rural areas of Japan consider cats to be independent and able to fend for themselves, so they haven’t actually tried to find their cats. There has been a lot more success with reuniting dogs, as people seem to expect dogs to need help. This sad discrepancy is really what got me involved in remaining in the affected areas. I could see that cats were going to be left out in the cold–figuratively, and literally!”
There are exceptions. “We are watching a few cats for people who have asked us to do so while they continue to look for pet friendly housing for their families. Unfortunately this can be very difficult in Japan, so we have no idea when these cats might be able to return to live with their guardians.”
But there are some happy endings. Joey and Chloe, pictured above, are two of the lucky ones. Joey was rescued weighing barely five pounds, far underweight for a cat of his age and size. He was first sheltered, then fostered, and after they were unable to find his original guardian, he was adopted. He was an absolute favorite while at the shelter, and also at the veterinary clinic, where he received ongoing treatment for a large wound in his skin. Roberts thinks that he had either escaped a house through a window, or had tried to enter. Joey had many cuts and broken glass still in some of his wounds. “Joey was thrilled with his new life from day one, and never complained,” says Roberts. “He loved his loft bed in the cage, and loved when volunteers stopped by to give him rubs.”
When they were delivering Chloe to a volunteer’s house for fostering, Joey just happened to be along for the ride. The volunteer took one look at him and fell in love. She decided to foster both cats. The two are very happy together, and it’s hard to believe that Chloe is the same cat shown in this video taken of her rescue from inside the restricted zone:
Fu-chan, pictured below, is a recent local rescue, who came to Japan Cat Network after his Fukushima family’s house burned down. He was the only survivor of 10 cats living there. According to Susan, he’s “a big sweet softie.” He will be added to the group room at the shelter soon after he finishes quarantine.”
One of Japan Cat Network’s latest priorities is to get a spay/neuter clinic set up at their base before spring arrives. They had a successful trial run with a visiting vet last week, but they need more funding to continue the operation.
You can see more photos of rescued kities, and Japan Cat Network’s rescue efforts, on Susan Roberts’ Facebook page.
What you can do to help
1. Donate money. There are many different ways to help, from one time donations to subscriptions. Every little bit helps.
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.” They especially need a vet tech or vet to replace their current vet, who will return to the UK at the end of March.
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.
Volunteers wishing to go to Japan should contact Jennifer at [email protected].
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
Japan Cat Network also maintains an Amazon wishlist for cat food and other needed items. The list is currently in Japanese. If you cannot read Japanese, go to http://amazon.co.jp first and click on “In English” in the upper right corner, then revisit the wishlist.
You can read ongoing updates on rescue efforts on the Japan Cat Network Blog.
As Japan and the world remember the lives lost, and those forever changed, by the devastating quake, I’m grateful for people like Susan Robert and the volunteers of Japan Cat Network, and all the other groups who help those who can’t help themselves: the cats of Japan.
All photos ©Japan Cat Network, used with permission.
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About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.