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The lost pets of Fukushima

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Animal rescue organizations have braved radiation and arrest to save over 700 pets from the Fukushima exclusion zones. Shelters are housing over 300 animals, which require care and long-term placement.

"One is the story of Non, the white Shiba. He lived in Okuma, an area very close to the nuclear power plant. His family left him reluctantly, thinking they would be able to go back to their home in a couple of days. Instead they were evacuated to Kyushu. I got a tearful phone call from the owner, asking me if I went into the zone to try to find him. I got the address and went in secretly at night with a volunteer. It was a rather hair-raising experience, the roads were appalling because of the earthquake damage. And I don't even want to think about the radiation levels at the time. We only had a very ancient Geiger counter with us that proved to be completely unreliable. After more than two weeks without food and water, we thought our chances of finding him safe and sound were slim (he had been left chained up), but miraculously, he was fine. He was rather aggressive towards us at first, but we managed to maneuver him onto a crate and drive out of the area. The funny thing is his character changed as a result of his experience, and he became a pretty friendly dog. We eventually managed to reunite him with his owner." - Isabella Gallaon-Aoki

When people fled Fukushima, their pets were left behind, and few people recognized that their displacement would be indefinite. Volunteers have since rescued hundreds of animals, but shelters are struggling to feed and care for them.

Fortunately, organizations including Animal Friends Niigata and HEART Tokushima have been working in partnership with Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support to save over 700 animals the Great East Japan Earthquake. Another rescue effort is planned for next week.

Volunteers brave arrest and elevated levels of radiation around Fukushima, donning protective gear and carry Geiger counters. They must limit the time spent on rescue missions and dodge security to enter "no-go" exclusion zones.

"There are still many, maybe thousands of animals in need of rescue in the area and it is becoming more urgent to get them out before complete and expanding access is denied. The Fukushima problem is not something we will see disappear overnight, but will continue for years to come. It is imperative that we get the animals out of the area as soon as we can," said HEART founder Susan Mercer.

HEART operates shelters in Tokushima and Niigata - both cities a healthy distance from Fukushima. Rescue efforts are ongoing, but over 300 animals remain in its shelters. HEART's immediate concern is to focus is on stabilizing the lives of the animals through regular medical care, housing, feeding and, "TLC," Mercer said.

The most common health problems encountered in rescued animals are emaciation, dehydration, and heartworm, Mercer noted. "We haven't seen any cases of sickness that could be proven to be due to radiation poisoning and all of our animals have been through protocol."

"Volunteers and resources have decreased as news of the Tohoku crisis has naturally waned but we are dedicated to quality care for our current as well as future rescues," Mercer said.

HEART bears the expense of non-related medical issues such as spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and implanting microchips for identification purposes. It is actively seeking owners whenever possible, but there is no foreseeable date when disaster victims would be able to return to their homes, said HEARTS' Isabella Gallaon-Aoki.

However, there has been some serenity amid the loss and abandonment. A dog named Benji was rescued in April of 2011 in Fukushima, and was reunited with his family via the Internet six months later. Another pet rescued by Japanese pro snowboarder Kazu is still available for adoption.

[Donations can be made to HEART's PayPal account via its website at: www.heart-tokushima.com]

"Charlotte, the pig was found wandering in an area of tsunami damage, and rescued by two volunteers, Charles Harmison and Yoshiko Wada of Last Chance for Animals. While at Animal Friends, she was a real character and could be a terror to those she didn't like. I distinctly remember one occasions where she chased a photographer around our dog run. Miraculously, her owner managed to find that we had her, and he came to pick up her at the beginning of January. They are now living happily in Ehime Prefecture." - Isabella Gallaon-Aoki

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure