1 Year Later, Abandoned Pets Still Struggling to Survive in Fukushima 

Lonely dogs and cats have survived high radiation, dwindling food and, lately, sub-freezing temperatures. Yet, there are good stories too.

By Dave Baker 

March 8, 2012


The 9.0 earthquake and accompanying tsunami that hit Japan one year ago, on March 11, 2011,

also precipitated the worst nuclear crisis in a quarter-century. In the wake of these triple disasters, nearly 16,000 people were killed, 3,300 are missing and roughly 80,000 were evacuated.

Pets were victims too:

Thousands wandered around the 12-mile exclusion zone surrounding Fukushima, hungry and alone. There are at least three reasons that these pets were abandoned:

  1. When residents were forced to evacuate, they thought they’d be gone for only a few days. They left everything behind, including their cars. Many of these people don’t have the means to get back. Some residents still come back, repeatedly, to the area to try to find their lost pets, who are nowhere to be found.
  2. Owners who were somehow able to evacuate with their pets often wound up in shelters that didn’t accept pets.
  3. Of course, some people didn’t survive the tsunami, leaving their pets homeless.

For many of Japan’s abandoned pets, it was too late. They died while tied up to trees or inside homes from starvation. However, thousands were rescued by a network of various nonprofit rescue groups that sprang up after the disaster.


1 Year Later

Even today, a year later, there are abandoned pets in Fukushima. The remaining dogs and cats have survived high radiation, a dearth of food and, lately, sub-freezing winter temperatures. Sadly, some of the animals are reproducing — it’s only natural, after all — making the problem of strays even worse as food sources dwindle to nothing in abandoned towns.

Government officials have allowed people to go into the exclusion zone only occasionally, so animal rescuers work covertly, dodging security checkpoints, wearing protective gear and carrying Geiger counters.

I haven’t seen any reports of animals being brought back with radiation poisoning. The most common ailments in rescued dogs and cats in Japan are dehydration, starvation and heartworm.

What Rescuers Are Saying

The passage of time hasn’t made things easier for the rescuers. They say it’s sometimes harder to catch the animals. “As time goes by, they become more and more distrustful of us,” says Yasunori Hoso, owner of United Kennel Club (UKC) Japan, which has rescued about 800 pets and still has 350 in its shelter. “At first they came up in a sort of ‘Where did everyone go?’ attitude, but now…they stay a certain distance away and then run.”

Late last year, rescuer Nekosama Okoku described seeing “cats and cats and cats” when he went to Fukushima. “They all meow so loudly as if to tell me they are there,” he said. Before the tsunami struck, “they used to curl up on the couch when the weather got cold and slept by their owners’ pillow or feet at night.” He added: “It depresses me.”

There Is Good News

Amid the sadness, there are heartwarming stories coming from Japan. Stories of lonely dogs so excited to see people again, tails wagging to and fro. Cats reunited with owners after months apart.

Most famously, the story of the loyal dogs of the tsunami, broadcast worldwide on TV (we called it “ultimate loyalty, #3 on this list), has a happy ending. The brown and white dog shown in a video guarding over another dog, who appeared weak, has been located and is now living with her owner. The dog’s name is Me’i.

How Can You Help? Consider donating to UKC Japan, which has done so much for animal welfare after the tsunami. Realize that it costs several hundred dollars per day just to feed the pets in this group’s shelter.