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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Asahi - The disaster and animals (18)

May 31, 2013



PROMETHEUS TRAP/ The disaster and animals (18): Lessons learned in helping animals after Fukushima disaster




By MISUZU TSUKUE/ Staff Writer

Editor's note: This is the final part of a new series that has run in the past under the title of The Prometheus Trap. This series deals with how pets and livestock fared in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

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The individuals who were involved in various ways with helping pets after the Fukushima nuclear disaster two years ago are trying to take advantage of the various lessons they have learned.

In late February, the animal shelter in Fukushima city's Iinomachi district was integrated into the one in Miharu and closed down.

That freed Kenji Shishido from his responsibilities in caring for the animals, a large step from the beginning when he was the only one at the shelter.

Shishido is not only an animal trainer, but he was also a breeder. In the past, when the only standard for determining value was whether a puppy would sell or not, Shishido felt that those animals with disabilities or illnesses were only useless lives.

However, his experience at the animal shelter made Shishido realize the error of placing a priority on his lifestyle rather than on the life of the animals. He now believes that there is no such thing as a useless life. He wants to reconsider how to deal with dogs in the future.

As a Fukushima prefectural government official, Takeshi Ono entered the no-entry zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant a total of 55 times to take dogs and cats into his protection. He left the Fukushima prefectural government in March 2012 and moved to Aichi Prefecture, where his wife is originally from. A major reason was concern about the health of his twin daughters in light of the radiation fallout.

Although Ono had been in a position to deal with pets during natural disasters, planning what to do was one of the last things he did. Not only was there little cooperation between the Fukushima prefectural veterinarians association, the Environment Ministry and private-sector organizations, but the prefectural government itself had not taken a unified stance in dealing with pets.

While he did feel frustration, Ono decided not to break new ground, in part because he was pessimistic about achieving anything.

Based on his experience, the former Fukushima official said, "The system or organization itself will not do the work. The only way is for people to join hands to move the process forward."

Ono has been able to find work as a local government official in Aichi. If given the opportunity, he would like to tell others of what he learned in Fukushima.

Koji Okura is an official with the Animal Welfare and Management Office in the Environment Ministry. He said the response in Fukushima was insufficient and slow. Based on those lessons, he feels that guidelines for dealing with pets during natural disasters should include two main points: owners should take their pets with them when evacuating; and government agencies should establish a structure for allowing pets at evacuation centers and in temporary housing facilities.

Seido Watanabe had a veterinary practice in Tomioka, but he continues to live in temporary housing in Koriyama. His home was only seven kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant. His innocent pet dog provided him with the will to live.

He believes if the animal was left behind, his family would likely not have remained bonded together psychologically.

Based on his experiences, Watanabe hopes all pet owners will understand that an important way to prepare for natural disasters is to vaccinate their pets and have them neutered. The most important thing, according to Watanabe, is for owners to take their pets with them when evacuating because the animals cannot live without their human masters.

The Fukushima prefectural animal protection headquarters took in about 1,000 dogs and cats under its protection. However, the number of animals that died is believed to be much greater.

While continuing to care for the pets at the animal shelter, Watanabe will also never forget all the lives that he was unable to save.

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