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Monday, March 28, 2011

Pets also suffering from disaster

FUKUSHIMA (AP) Their fur caked with mud, pet dogs trot forlornly in rubble-filled streets along the devastated coastline, foraging for scraps and searching for owners.

News photo
A dog's life: Luna, a beagle, is tied to a tree near her makeshift house at an evacuee center in Fukushima on Thursday. AP PHOTO

Luna, a 6-year-old beagle mix, is tied to a tree, barking for attention or sleeping in a cardboard box on a dirty cushion, two bowls of frozen water before her.

Still, she is one of the lucky ones. She has food. Passersby pet and comfort her. She gets walked twice a day. And her 55-year-old owner is alive — he just cannot take her into the shelter he is staying at because of a no-pets rule.

Many other dogs and cats have been forced to fend for themselves since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which obliterated homes and killed more than 10,000 people.

"This is a big calamity for pets, along with people," said Sugano Hoso of the Japan branch of the U.S.-based United Kennel Club. "Many are on their own, and many more are trapped in evacuated areas where people have left."

The biggest concerns are reuniting them with their owners and getting them food, medical treatment and shelter, she said. Her group is distributing food and other supplies where it can.

Also, thousands of pets have been left behind in the evacuation zones around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was wrecked by the quake and tsunami and remains a radioactive hazard. These abandoned animals are likely to face health issues.

Faced with life-or-death predicaments, many pet owners did not have the presence of mind, the ability or perhaps the desire to see to the safety of their pets.

"We have requested that the government allow us into those zones to rescue dogs, but the government isn't listening to us," Hoso said.

Luna came from an evacuated area, but her family had time to pack their things and hers before escaping.

"When we were told to evacuate, one of the first things we did was make sure we had Luna and enough food to keep her going for a few days," said Masami Endo, a 55-year-old grocer.

Endo lives in the town of Minamisoma, only 25 km from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Residents have been ordered either to voluntarily evacuate or remain indoors because of the radiation risk.

Endo decided to come to the main shelter in the city of Fukushima — a gymnasium where about 1,400 people have taken refuge — about a week ago.

Tamae Morino brought her Persian-mix cat, Lady, to the shelter, although the pet stays outside.

The earthquake and tsunami, along with the sudden change of environment, have left Lady scared and agitated.

"She got sick, and is still very nervous," Morino said. "She is an important part of our family. But they don't allow pets into the shelter, so she has to sleep alone in the car. She seems very lonely. We are happy to have her with us, though. So many cats just vanished."

Ryo Taira's pet shop and animal shelter in Arahama, near Sendai, is caring for 80 dogs and cats whose owners are unable to take them into tsunami shelters.

"Evacuees are under a stressful situation, working on reconstruction and searching for missing family members," Taira said. "I think they cannot really have much energy to pay attention to their pets. So we want to do what we can to help reduce their stress."

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