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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 (5)

May 1, 2013

PROMETHEUS TRAP/ The disaster and animals (5): Dogs wandering in the no-entry zones



By MISUZU TSUKUE/ Staff Writer

Editor's note: This is the fifth 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. The series will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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The Fukushima prefectural government estimates that before the Great East Japan Earthquake, there were about 10,000 dogs in areas within a radius of 20 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Of these, only about 300 dogs were able to evacuate along with their owners. Estimating that 26 percent of the 10,000 dogs died due to the earthquake and tsunami, about 7,000 dogs are believed to have been left behind in the areas. A similar number of cats are also believed to have remained there.

While reporters of major media companies withdrew from areas within a radius of 30 kilometers of the crippled nuclear plant, independent news service Asia Press Front (APF), based in Tokyo, reported on wandering pets there. That spurred animal protection organizations and volunteers to embark on a campaign to save the dogs and cats.

In early April 2011, it was reported that areas within a radius of 20 kilometers would become no-entry zones. Then, complaints flooded the Fukushima prefectural government’s food and sanitation division, which is also in charge of animal protection.

One person who called the division asked, “Why doesn’t the prefectural government save animals?”

Another said, “It will become impossible for volunteers to enter the areas. What are you doing?”

In those days, the prefectural government was not engaged in saving dogs and cats in areas within a radius of 20 kilometers.

“Though we also want to go to the areas, our safety is not guaranteed there. So we will not be able to do the job (of protecting dogs and cats),” Takeshi Ono, 45, a veterinarian and a Fukushima prefectural government official in charge of animal protection, repeatedly replied on the phone.

One of the callers told Ono, “The lives of dogs and cats are more important than your life.”

Telephones in the division continued to ring until 11 p.m. or later.

In response to the complaints, the prefectural government decided to send its officials to the no-entry zones from April 28 to May 2, 2011, in the name of “research and protection.”

“We finally made the decision,” Ono wrote in his diary.

When Ono entered the no-entry zones for the first time, he felt that the areas were “dead towns.” Washed clothes that had been put out to dry remained hung. Half-eaten meals were left behind as they were prepared. And some of the dogs had died while tied to their doghouses or other facilities. Other dogs were wandering around with their ribs clearly visible. Ono became unable to see the scenes in front of him due to the tears in his eyes.

The prefectural government officials were allowed to stay in the no-entry zones for only two hours a day. They put a total of 27 dogs and two cats in their protective custody, and placed them in a rental warehouse in the Iinomachi district of Fukushima city. Immediately before that, the prefectural government had concluded a rental contract to use it as a shelter for the animals.

In the warehouse, dog trainer Kenji Shishido, 39, was taking care of the dogs and cats by himself. Shishido, who had been working as a volunteer for public health centers, was employed as a caretaker as he was young and strong.

The shelter was facing a shortage of goods and manpower. Though many of the dogs there were medium-size or larger-size animals, the cages were for small-size ones. The dogs in the shelter were continuing to bark, as if complaining about the lack of space.

Food and fresh water were given to the animals only once a day. Shishido was busy changing newspapers on the floor, which were covered with feces and urine, with new ones. He had no time to take the dogs out for walks.

Air conditioners were broken, and water was leaking from the roof.

After the consecutive holidays that lasted from late April to early May, volunteers stopped coming to the warehouse.

Seeing the dogs and cats whose number had increased to 60, Shishido had a growing concern over the shelter's future.

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