Lessons from Fukushima: Disaster preparedness for animals

 Susan Roberts's avatar

Susan Roberts

I'm an educator, traveler, vegan, and animal welfare enthusiast. I'm originally from America, but have been living in Japan for over 20 years.

Now, 7 years after the earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan, the impact goes on. There has been tremendous recovery in many areas. In fact, it was recently reported that foreign visitor numbers to Fukushima have finally recovered to those before the event, which is really good news for many. But, in areas of Fukushima that remain evacuated and/or restricted, the work for animal welfare groups goes on and on. And, on. While Japan Cat Network continues to maintain their animal shelter in Inawashiro, Mirai To Inochi, Friends Fumane, and Toru Akama, are just a few who are continuing regular animal welfare work inside restricted areas.

Those who have had to struggle through the aftermath of a large scale natural disaster, either living in the area or responding to help, often learn about the need for preparedness the hard way. A lack of good infrastructure in place beforehand creates a much more difficult response, often with tragic consequences. Encouraging governments to place an importance on animal welfare issues; providing regular support for animal shelters; and thinking ahead for what your own pets might need, are important aspects that we should all attend to now, rather than later.

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What is your local government’s approach to animal welfare issues? After the March 11 event in Japan, one of the most frustrating aspects was the large scale governmental disregard for creating safe and convenient animal support for evacuees. Government officials did not seem to understand how important this was to people and how impactful it would be to ongoing well-being, following these traumatic events. But, on a daily basis, governments can be strongly influenced by the people they represent. Responding now to any local animal issues that arise in your community, and urging a humane supportive governmental response, lets your representatives know that this is an important aspect for constituents. While some of these issues might not have any direct impact on you or your family, a positive resolution may well make a difference to what approach your government takes overall, when it comes to animal support and services closer to home.

How often do you support animal shelters in your area, and beyond? Private shelters can be the best resource, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, because they tend to have greater numbers of volunteers in place to care for the sudden influx of animals. However, without regular funding, these shelters aren’t able to grow and expand the resources needed for an immediate disaster response. It’s not reasonable to remain uninvolved until you need the support of a shelter, if you really want it to be available to help at any time. Do your research and check out shelters that are currently providing responsible care for animals, then support these efforts now, so that they will be there to help whenever you need them. Even a relatively small monthly donation can make a big difference in keeping good efforts going. Volunteer and social media support, in person or over a distance, can also be very helpful.

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What plan do you have in place for the pets in your family? There’s a lot you can do at home now, to better ensure the safety of your furry family members following a natural disaster. You can prepare an emergency kit specifically for your pet. You can make sure that your pet has clear identification, in case you are somehow separated. A microchip can be much better than a collar or tag, for clearly identifying and bringing your pet home. The San Diego Humane society suggests that guardians evacuate early, when there will likely be better options available, rather than waiting until evacuation is mandatory. They further insist that pets not be left behind to fend for themselves, as there is no guarantee that anyone will be able to get back to provide care. We saw this time and again in northern Japan, and know that many guardians fervently wish that they had done things far differently. We have a chance to learn from their experience.

Perhaps a good memorial this March would be to do something now that will help all animals in the future, including those closest to you at home. Think about what you can do today. We lovingly remember the many people and pets who left us seven years ago, and we value the place they still have in our hearts.

Groups mentioned in the article

Checkout Japan Cat Network's page and support their amazing work