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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 (6)

May 3, 2013



PROMETHEUS TRAP/ The disaster and animals (6): Dogs in the shelter are suffering from mental illness



By MISUZU TSUKUE/ Staff Writer

Editor's note: This is the sixth 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.

* * *

Residents were allowed to start returning to their homes for brief visits in the no-entry zones around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on May 10, 2011, two months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear accident.

Takeshi Ono, 45, a veterinarian and a Fukushima prefectural government official in charge of animal protection, thought that pets that had been left behind by evacuees should be removed by their owners.

Even if he and other prefectural government officials had found dogs in the no-entry zones, the animals would not approach them. Cats had also not even come close to them. Ono thought that if their owners went there, however, they would be able to easily catch them and remove them.

But his idea was rejected by officials of the central government’s local headquarters to deal with the nuclear disaster. They said that each resident would be allowed to bring only one plastic bag of goods and would be prohibited from taking their pets with them.

After gathering opinions, it was decided that owners should tie their pets in front of their houses, then, prefectural government officials would collect the animals later and decontaminate them if necessary. The prefectural government would also place them in protective custody in its shelter and owners could pick them up later.

As soon as the residents began to temporarily return to their homes, many dogs and cats were caught by their owners as had been expected. They were brought to the shelter in the Iinomachi district of Fukushima city by Ono and other prefectural government officials.

Kenji Shishido, who was taking care of the dogs and cats in the shelter, became panicked as the numbers of dogs and cats there sharply increased. The figure reached 146 dogs and 47 cats in early June, three times more than before residents were allowed to return home for brief visits.

Though the number of caretakers increased to two, including Shishido, the shelter was still extremely understaffed. Because of that, the two would put the same amount of food in the cages of the dogs, irregardless of whether they were small or large dogs.

Proper hygiene was inadequate, too. Due to being weakened physically from their long-term ordeal of trying to stay alive, cats as a group caught colds. Dogs in bunches were also infected with deadly parvoviruses. As a result, five dogs died in May alone.

On the other hand, puppies were born one after another, but it was impossible to take care of them. There were several instances in which they “disappeared” one by one. When the caretakers looked around, they found only their legs, as mother dogs would apparently even eat their own puppies.

Shishido heard the barking of dogs even in his dreams. Thinking that the situation of the shelter has reached its limit, he asked the prefectural government to do something about it. However, prefectural government officials did not listen to his opinions, apparently because they were busy with their own jobs.

Jun Kawamata, a veterinarian of Fukushima city, also heard a rumor about the serious situation at the shelter. At that time, he was a member of the Fukushima prefectural government’s headquarters for animal protection.

Through the Fukushima Veterinary Medical Association, Kawamata asked the prefectural government to allow him to inspect the shelter. However, officials of the prefectural government refused to even reveal its location.

In early June, Kawamata drove around in an area where he believed the shelter was located and finally found it.

When he entered the facility, he was shocked into silence. It was dark inside and full of a strange odor. Dogs were barking pitifully. The barks sounded like those of wild animals.

“These dogs are suffering from mental illness,” Kawamata thought. Unable to leave the situation as is, he hurriedly drove to the prefectural government.



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