One video in particular has become a symbol of the animal suffering following Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (The video is posted here: Japan: Loyal Dog Won’t Leave Injured Friend.)
News agencies including CNN, The Telegraph, NPR, and ABC News have reported that the dogs were rescued and are being cared for by a veterinarian. The reports are based solely on Facebook posts by Kenn Sakurai, the owner of a dog food supply company in Japan, though none of these major news media outlets has dug into the story to confirm or refute Mr. Sakurai’s Facebook claims, which have been varied at best. Worldwide attention on the fate of the two “loyal tsunami dogs” has landed Mr. Sakurai in his own accusatory word tsunami.
To get beyond the rumors, Global Animal interviewed Mr. Kenn Sakurai at length today. He said that he himself did not rescue the dogs, but rather, friends of his who are off-road bikers did. He stated there were only two dogs, not three as rumored, and the white dog, which Mr. Sakurai doesn’t know the gender of, was in bad condition from near drowning. According to Mr. Sakurai, the bikers wrapped the two dogs in separate blankets fastened with a metal ring on the corner (which the bikers had on hand ) and took the dogs to an undisclosed veterinarian where they are being treated.
The reason Mr. Sakurai, who lives near Tokyo, has refused to provide post-rescue photos of the dogs is not because of a lack of tsunami-related access to the area, as many have been led to assume. Mr. Sakurai says he promised the bikers that he wouldn’t reveal the location of the veterinarian because Sakurai believes other animal rescue organizations might take the dogs for their own fundraising purposes. This is why no pictures of the dogs are being made available, claims Mr. Sakurai.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sakurai has set up a PayPal account to accept donations through his Facebook page. He says he’s collecting money for his individual efforts to help animals. The money is not being used for these two particular dogs, who were discovered by a film crew in Ibaraki Prefecture, some 70 miles from Tokyo in northeast Japan. He did say that the dogs were brought to a vet in an area that is not impacted by the earthquake and tsunami. Global Animal then asked Mr. Sakurai if he would get pictures of the two dogs from the veterinarian without disclosing the veterinarian’s location. Mr. Sakuria protested that it would be difficult, citing a pact he made with the bikers, but said he’d try.
We are not hopeful that credible evidence will materialize, which is why Mr. Sakurai’s story is here in an editorial and not being reported as news elsewhere in Global Animal. Our best guess is that some difficult truth may be hidden here, and that either one or both dogs have died, possibly on the trip or shortly after. Or, that this is a story that got out of hand, perhaps being used to raise money by Mr. Sakurai himself, though he is not associated with any animal rescue organization that’s mobilized in the devastated areas. We hope not, but Global Animal will keep its readers apprised in the news section of our paper.
The level of vitriol has become quite high between Mr. Sakurai’s doubters and his believers. Mr. Sakurai has deleted all of the skeptical and confrontational posts on his Facebook wall, while keeping the adulatory ones. We don’t know what the money Mr. Sakurai has collected will be used for – he offered after our interview today on his Facebook page to return it. For those of you wanting to safely donate, here is a list of long-standing animal rescue organizations in Japan. (Global Animal readers have raised $18,000 dollars for Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue & Support (JEARS) – thank you GA readers for your generosity! (Documentation of $18,000 donation here).
Symbols are important. Yet they’re easily manipulated to make us feel better, either about ourselves or a difficult situation. Soldiers like Pat Tillman, whose death by friendly fire was initially manipulated by the Pentagon into untrue heroics until the family insisted on the truth, is one such symbol. These two lost dogs are another. It’s human nature to yearn for a happy ending, to be able to move these dogs’ misery off our mental list of anguish and to find heroes in a horrible reality. It also makes for good copy by mainstream news organizations who hit it for its feel-good elements, then move on. However, the web and Facebook are not good places to collect facts for substantiated reporting; these reputable news organizations know better. (Many have also claimed that pets were being gassed after 72 hours in animal pounds, which is also untrue – read the official policy here).
Ultimately, the two dogs, one protecting and calling attention to the other, deserve the truth. As do we. If Mr. Sakurai responds with verifiable truth that the dogs are alive and well, nobody will be happier than the hardcore animal lovers and readers of Global Animal.
If that is not the case, then we will all grieve and continue to move forward on behalf of the animals that we can all still help.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR ANIMAL RESCUE ORGANIZATIONS IN JAPAN: