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Dog Survivors of Japans Earthquake and Tsunami

By Elijah Merrill

Many of us saw the image of a dog found floating at sea amidst a collection of debris three weeks after the recent Japanese tsunami, happily wagging his tail when eventually reunited with his owner. That lucky animal, however, is just one of tens of thousands that were displaced by the massive waves and flooding following the 8.9-magnitude undersea earthquake on March 11.

“There is no way to know how many animals are in need of help,” says Elizabeth Oliver, founder of Animal Rescue Kansai in Japan. “But to give you an idea of the scope, we heard there were 6,000 registered dogs in Fukushima Prefecture alone, which means double or triple that number since most people don’t bother to register. And when we take into account the other seven prefectures hit by the tsunami, the total number is huge.”

Help and Hope for Japan’s Dogs

Animal Rescue Kansai (ARK) is a 20-year-old organization dedicated to animal welfare in Japan. It has funneled resources and expertise to aiding animals affected by the tsunami. “We’ve been taking in animals, both those rescued on the road or those belonging to evacuees,” says Oliver. “After coming in, they are processed by our on-site vet: deworming, vaccination, microchipping and neutering. Some animals are boarded; some are given up for adoption.”

Other local organizations doing similar work include the Japan Animal Welfare Society, the Japan Veterinary Medical Association, the Japan Hearing Dog Association, the SPCA and Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS).

“Our rescuers just drive down the street and see dogs that need rescuers,” says JEARS animal welfare activist David Wybenga. “You don’t need to go looking for dogs -- you simply drive into the affected area and they’re just there.”

Preparing Your Dog for a Disaster

  • Have your dog microchipped or at least make sure its collar contains your name, address and phone number. “Most of the animals we’re finding have not been microchipped, so we have to post pictures and descriptions and hope that someone will see that and claim the pet,” says Wybenga. “If there’s a microchip, you get the name and address of the owner by scanning it.”
  • Make a “go bag.” This should be something portable and filled with nonperishable food, water bottles, a dog bowl and a can opener, and a flashlight (ideally a human-powered one that doesn’t require batteries).
  • Take your dog with you. During evacuation notices for many disasters, local agencies tell people to leave pets behind. This was the case in Japan. “Take your pet with you, even if they say you can come back for it later,” says Oliver. “If it’s not safe for you to be there, then it is not safe for your pet either.”
  • Be up-to-date on shots. If your dog does get abandoned, the stress can make them more prone to diseases, like heartworm, that are easily preventable by up-to-date shots.
  • Have an exit strategy. This is especially important if your exit may mean leaving the country. Know what the requirements and procedures are for animal travel for the departure airport, the airline and the country you’ll be traveling to.

How You Can Help the Japanese Effort
The most obvious way to help is by donating money, which will still be needed months from now. You can also donate goods, such as cat food or bedding, and have them sent directly to the organization.Finally, you can help urge Japanese legislators to make animal rescue an official priority for future disasters.

“The hurricane Katrina disaster was the largest cat-dog rescue process in the world, and as a result of that, the U.S. -- specifically FEMA -- has required that projects must have a contingency for pets,” he says. “We’re hoping people will write the Japanese embassy, or the American embassy in Japan, and tell them to please do something more for the animals that are in distress.”

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