Missing pets - a lingering legacy of Japan's disasters

Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:29am EDT
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By Atsuko Kitayama

TORONTO (Reuters) - Taeko Nose says she may never forget the image of her two dogs - "her children" as she calls them - tied up on a leash as she was forced to leave her home during Japan's nuclear crisis. Certainly three months afterwards, it's still etched in her mind.

"I was told to get into a bus and leave my children behind," said Taeko Nose, 62, remembering the mandatory evacuation during the nuclear crisis that followed the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan, killing 15,000 people.

"I had no choice but to leave them on a leash in a garage. Their faces still traumatize me today," she said in a telephone interview, referring to her dogs Maron and Seri.

Nose wasn't the only one. Tens of thousands of residents within 20 km (12 miles) of the stricken nuclear plants were ordered to abandon their homes with little warning. Residents had to leave their pets behind, believing they would be able to go home in a few days.

More than three months later, thousands of dogs and cats are still homeless, while some 90,000 people are forced to live in evacuation centers. Many of them are still separated from their pets.

While such a situation would undoubtedly be wounding in many countries, it has been particularly painful in Japan, where animals hold a special place at the center of many households and pet ownership is widespread.

To save the lives of as many animals as possible, rescue groups have been working around the clock, and like in similar crises, social media has played an important role in the effort.

Even after April 22, when the government imposed a strict ban on unauthorized personnel entering the exclusion zone, volunteers have been staging clandestine trips, slipping into the zone "guerrilla style," as one of the organizers describes it.   Continued...

<p>A dog rescued from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is seen in Ishinomaki, northern Japan April 7, 2011.REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>