Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fukushima dogs

Japanese authorities are being heavily criticized by animal welfare advocates for their actions after the March tsunami hit and crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant. They established an exclusion zone of high radiation contamination within a 12mi (20km) radius of the facility and evacuated some 78,000 people. Those residents left with the understanding that they would be able to return in a few days for their animals, but they were not allowed back in. Dogs died tied up in the backyard, cats starved in their houses, and livestock dropped dead in their pens or went on the run. "It's shameful. We kept asking the government to rescue these animals from the beginning of the disaster. There must have been a way to rescue the people and the animals at the same time following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima," says Yasunori Hoso with United Kennel Club Japan. The number of domesticated farm animals left stranded was estimated at 3,400 cows, 31,500 pigs, and 630,000 chickens, with many of them assumed dead by May and others being euthanized by the government as a safety precaution. The country's environmental agency has taken a prudent position regarding animal rescue because of the risk posed to people, but did allow members of animal rights groups like UKC Japan to enter the exclusion zone for 5 hours at a time in December and rescue any surviving animals.(The animals themselves are safe to handle as long as they are cleaned and quarantined.) Hoso's group rescued 250 dogs and 100 cats that now live in cages at their shelter near Tokyo, maintained by donations. UKC Japan has managed to track down 80% of the animals' owners but many - since they are in temporary housing themselves - are unable to reunite with their pets. The Japanese government has rounded up some of the 100s of dogs that are still alive and roaming free in the exclusion zone (examples above), but these too are being maintained in a warehouse, and the remainder are dying at an estimated rate of 20-30 per day. Animal-lovers have been moved by photos in the media to mount rescues, such as the reclamation of 20 shelties (5th image) that belong to a breeder. But other pet owners allowed into the exclusion zone briefly for their dogs have found them long-dead. "I will bury his body on my next return," vowed Shoichi Akimoto. Most recently, the surviving dogs are at the mercy of the freezing weather, and Hoso continues to hope his group can at least bring food in, if not bring the pets out. "...when it comes to dogs, all of them, without exception, become really ecstatic when they get reunited with their owners. That is what keeps me going, what makes me determined that I have to push ahead until the last one goes back to its owner."

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