The Pets Left Behind Japan's Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Accident...

Elderly Japanese Woman with her pet dogVeterinarians, vet techs and several animal welfare organizations launched relief efforts after the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated northern Japan.

Initial efforts included:

  • Veterinary care for injured animals
  • Donating food and medical supplies
  • Deploying search and rescue dogs

According to Veterinary Practice News:

"Every minute counts as the teams work to find people buried beneath the rubble," said Wilma Melville, founder of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. "After the Haiti deployment, this is a battle-seasoned group. If there are people still alive in the rubble, the dogs will find them."

Another immediate concern is the number of missing animals and those left behind by owners who have fled the area. This situation could quickly overwhelm local animal shelters.

World Vets, a nonprofit organization that provides veterinary services all over the world is hands-on in Japan after being deployed as a first responder assessment team. The group is coordinating large scale shipments of supplies to help out local animal welfare groups. Some of the supplies coming in include cages, fluid replacements, wound treatments, de-worming medicines and vaccines.

Three local groups formed a coalition called the Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support. The coalition hopes to raise both public awareness and donations through its Facebook page. The three groups forming the coalition include:

  • Japan Cat Network
  • Animal Garden Niigata
  • HEART-Tokushima

Other organizations lending a hand with rescue teams, donations and other types of support include the Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

The colossal 9.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11 has been recorded as the fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900. The tsunami that followed within an hour brought waves over 30 feet high.

And as if that wasn't enough, radiation release from a damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima is contaminating the area

The combined devastation in northern Japan has resulted in physical damage estimated at $200 billion.

The human toll is estimated at 6,000 dead, at least 10,000 missing, and a half million homeless. Several hundred thousand people are staying in emergency shelters or with relatives, and thousands more are stranded without any shelter at all.

Millions of Japanese in the northeast are dealing with near-freezing temperatures and snowfall without food, water or electricity.

In certain regions, radiation-related safety concerns are hampering the efforts of both rescue workers and animal groups.

With the scale of human misery so high, it's inevitable that pets, livestock and other animals throughout northern Japan are also in peril. Unfortunately due to the amount of devastation caused by the earthquake, tsunami and fires, as well as the ongoing threat of radiation contamination, it is extremely difficult for animal welfare workers on the ground in Japan to adequately assess what help is needed.

News from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Humane Society International (HSI)

Per IFAW Disaster Manager Dr. Dick Green:

"The humanitarian needs remain overwhelming but given the important role that companion animals play in the Japanese family and the important role that livestock plays in the Japanese economy, it's important that we address the issues immediately. IFAW has reached out to local rescue groups, veterinary associations, and governmental agencies and is determining the best way to assist in the relief process."

The IFAW anticipates helping evacuation centers with care and re-homing of large numbers of animals that had to be left behind by owners forced to flee the area. The group is also gearing up to rescue large numbers of animal survivors left behind in homes and neighborhoods.

HSI's disaster response team will be on the ground in Japan on March 28.

Organizers will establish emergency sheltering operations, coordinate distribution of supplies already shipped into the region, and provide direct care to animals.

World Vets Learns Lesson from Hurricane Katrina

Per World Vets CEO Cathy King:

" ... one of the really big issues is that there are a lot of people – especially foreigners – fleeing the country and leaving their animals behind. Shelters are getting calls from people saying 'I'm on my way to the airport, I'm leaving, I have four dogs left in my apartment and my neighbor has the key.' The urgent thing right now is taking care of those animals."

World Vets helped after the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A problem that developed from the Katrina effort was that pets were rescued by different groups and taken to different locations. Owners were often not able to find their pets, and those animals had to be re-homed.

A priority for CEO King in Japan is to set up a centralized database of rescued animals which includes information about when and where they were found and where they were taken.

King believes that eventually World Vets will be helping with agricultural animals as well as pets in Japan. Said King:

"Really the biggest issue is that these shelters are all going to be totally overwhelmed with animals. The groups have areas for sheltering animals but they're already filling up. They've reached out to us -- they need some kind of warehouse or prefabricated buildings or enclosures where they can start housing animals in individual cages -- so we're trying to help them with finding that."

World Vets Facebook page

Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS)

Three Japanese- based animal groups -- Japan Cat Network, Animal Garden Niigata and HEART-Tokushima -- joined forces to form JEARS, or Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support.

Japan Cat Network is run by David Wybenga, an American living in Japan. According to Wybenga:

"What has emerged is that people in less affected areas are deciding to leave those areas: some embassies have decided to call back their nationals, some international schools have decided to close, some educational programs have said, 'this is enough let's bring you all back.'

"Suddenly they have to leave and depending on the country you have to go to there are procedures for traveling with a cat or dog, and if you're leaving suddenly you're probably not ready -- you don't have the necessary papers.

"We are trying to reach out to those kinds of folks and we will do our best to take their pets and hopefully to reunite them with them when they return, but that's going to be something with a lot of unknowns."

According to Isabella Gallaon-Aoki of Animal Garden Niigata, who is in the devastated coastal city of Sendai:

"The animals are dying by the day. It's cold here, they have no food. Dogs in Japan can be tied up, especially in rural areas, and the dogs who are tied have no chance of foraging for food or anything so I'm sure they're in a pretty desperate condition."

Rescue efforts have been hampered by fuel shortages and badly damaged roads, restricting access to coastal areas. According to Gallaon-Aoki, there are areas that have been completely wiped out, with no signs of life whatsoever.

Their plan is to focus on areas where they think animals have been left behind, with the hope they will find some alive.

For pictures and up-to-date information on the efforts of the JEARS coalition, visit their Facebook page.

Other U.S.-Based Animal Groups Lending a Hand in Japan

If You Would Like to Help...

Visit any of the organization links provided in this article for more information about their efforts in rescuing animals in Japan, how to contact them, and how to donate.

For tips on how to choose a non-profit organization to support, visit GuideStar.