Japan’s Animal Victims: Truth & News vs. Rumors & Facebook

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.

— Arthur Jeon, Global Animal co-founder







  1. Regarding the two stranded dogs

    From: 英語ホームペー ジ

    [email protected] To: 英語ホームペー ジ

    Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 10:40 pm

    Fuji Television has received countless inquiries regarding the two dogs our

    camera crew met in the earthquake/tsunami ruins. As we have explained in our

    news program, shortly after, they were both rescued by an animal protection

    group that has professional knowledge regarding animal rescue. The brown dog is

    doing very well. The white dog was weak at first, but was given an IV injection

    and is currently with a vet. Both dogs had ID chips and their respective owners

    have been identified. Many pets are still stranded in the ruins looking for

    their owners. Fuji Television is relieved that our footage captured the

    attention of our viewers and resulted in the rescue of at least those two dogs.

    e is the e-mail response.

  2. If you had bothered to take the time to educate yourself about anything, you would know that the only reason you can call yourself English is because of Americans.Had it not been for Americans you would be German.

  3. I, like many, just want to know what happened to these dogs. I gave money to both the Red Cross and to Global Animal in hopes that what little I could afford will help. We truly do want a happy ending…..

  4. Time has passed by… and already for the past 3 days I believe the 2 dogs got killed! And all you people who don’t even know this Mr. Kenn personely (but all you believe, he has a good heart) WHY?? Because he takes pictures from dogs and with dogs??He can’t even proof that the 2 dogs are still alive. Sure, he swear the 2 bikers? Bikers ……Who really cares about the 2 bikers? Hello, everybody wake up.. Mr. Kenn may have Millions now because all you want to believe him so bad. I don’t believe it, until I can see it with my own eyes and he have not proof anything yet and he can’t proof nothing, because he don’t have nothing to do with those 2 dogs, absolutely NOTHING, but collect your money! He is a criminal until he proofs me wrong, he just can’t because I can feel that something went really wrong with these 2 dogs. I would be very happy if I’m wrong about it. I’m not… RIP and forgive us, truly ME

  5. Having lived in Japan for almost two decades, I find it hard to believe Mr. sakurai has purported fraud on the scale suggested here, particularly as he is a businessman and doing somwould risk his livlihood.
    Yes, there are some irregularities with his story, but whist he speaks pretty good english, he is NOT a native speaker. It is common to leave out some details or change a little if communicating a story is quite complicated linguistically. Plus, I know from experience it is difficult to get the full story/all information out of Japanese from the beginning. It is not about being deceitful, it is just how it is.
    BUT to correct one of Mr. sakurai’s FB followers, Kelly, it is not true that he did not want any disclosure in the media about his role in the rescue (or to reduce chance of attavk by debunkers, I shoukd say “alleged rescue”).
    After the first reports of the rescue surfaced, I wandered over to his FB page as I wanted to volunteer to foster till their owners could be located. I sent a message (no reply), but did not friend him. I did however read some of his posts. One in particular stood out as it said something like he had veen contactedmby CNN and they asked him to be at home at 8pm Friday night. He then said “maybe my voice will be on TV”. I noted this as I wanted to be home to watch, but never made it. That same day though they did the story we all saw.
    So yes, there is conflicting info (I too noted one dog was at a shelter neat the vet the injured dog was taken to), but I still find it hard to beleive this big fraud …I guess maybe I have lived here too long. Sorry for typos of my fat fingers.

    • @Nell – First off, no fair hiding my name in the middle of your post, I’m surprised I found it:P
      Anyway, you are correct in saying that Sakurai-san mentioned that CNN contacted him & set up an interview time. However, in later posts, we found out that he was not able to talk with them due to rolling black-outs. CNN decided to run the piece anyway without his consent. You will notice that aside from the Japanese reporters, the only other human voices were Isabella of JEARS (explaining how they tried to find the dogs) & Ashley of PETA (reading from Sakurai’s Facebook page). If he was so eager to gain personal acclaim, why wouldn’t he have read his own comments?
      On the day the CNN piece aired, with several “friends” telling him that they saw his face on TV (which was just a photo of his Facebook Page on a CNN computer) His response was: ” I Know. And I want to be hidden, and I want to take the whole easy-going situation back before the thing.”
      If you truly have an understanding of Japanese culture, you will know that, in general, they are not comfortable taking praise for good deeds. You can also believe how, in a manner that most Westerners can’t fathom, he actually believed he could call attention to the plight of the animals without calling attention to himself.
      I also have only “known” the man since the story broke, but like you I took some time reading his posts and looking at his photos – since before the earthquake & tsunami. He seemed to be a man of honor and character – already involved with animal rescue and working to get a more effective SPCA organized. With all these accusations flying around, I’ll admit – I’ve had a few moments of doubt. But when I see how he has those photos of his Shiba posted and captioned like she was his baby, I decided this time I’m going to trust. If you want URL’s to the posts I mentioned, I will get them, but it is 3:00am here so I really need to get some sleep. I just wish everyone would quit fighting – including me:(

    • Hmm… I kind of understand where you are coming from and OK even if I do give Kenn the credit for saving those dogs, but it doesn’t mean he can ask people for donations and not clarifying where the money is going to. On his facebook page he has come up with other ideas to raise money (e.g.) by selling T-shirts, yet again the donations are going to a trusty shelter?? Why is it such a secret about which shelter? And if you check on his facebook pages, all the rescue pictures are from other animal support pages like Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support but none from his own work or from the shelters that he refer as trusty.
      I mean charities like Redcross and JEARS etc… they have the responsibility to provide the evidence of what they have been doing with the donations that they have received. So far Kenn has not provided any solid evidence of what work has been done with the money and how much has been raised?

    • First Kenn Sakurai refuses to answer anyone who questions him and deletes their posts on FB.Then he comes up w/the “biker friends”who he promised not to divulge any info about the dogs.Now it’s the vet.who has sworn him to secrecy.He is like a child who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and still lies .
      Right now he is probably scouring the street trying to find look – alikes to even further perpetuate his lies of a rescue.Lets not for get he is now liable for criminal/civil action if found to not be truthful.
      I hope I am proven wrong but only for the dogs sake.

      • What posts did he delete? People are free to delete their own posts. If they had second thoughts about their behavior, they can delete posts. If they changed their minds they can delete. There are still negative posts (i.e., posts representing opinions such as yours) on the site. Proof please? Did you take a screen capture of the posts that were deleted? Did you contact the person who posted them and see if they deleted them themselves before jumping to conclusions. Most importantly, do you really think this is all that important to find out? He is a repected business man in Japan. You and others are smearing him with your posts. Read all the posts. sites, etc., and do your own research including making phone calls. Don’t jump to conclusions. I demand proof from you or you, sir, are a fraud! Now, of course, I don’t believe that…I would be jumping to conclusions: you are just very, very carelessly voicing opinions based on your emotional attachment to animals in general (I suspect) and the pathos of these two dogs in general. You “hope you are wrong, but only for the dogs sake?” Do you care at all about the Japanese people? He is a Japanese person. Who are you? How can I judge you? I need to know everything. [that is sarcasm]

  6. Ok, so 5 Sakuri fans (count them – 5) voted on all the stories they like and everything else has been hidden. GA, you are the one who started the concern on this story, now you are letting 5 people decide what gets printed, and the original people who responded in concern are deleted. I am confused about your intentions here, but I will say now I’m sorry I’ve wasted so much time on this site.

    [ EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have adjusted the comment settings in keeping with GlobalAnimal’s comment etiquette policy. We appreciate your patience while we work to keep Global Animal the vibrant, egalitarian meeting place for animal lovers that it’s meant to be.]

    • Thanks GA, my reaction was extra-emotional when I saw my posts deleted. My apologies. I’ve been totally over-emotional about this every since I saw that video. I also stand ready to apologize to K Sakurai when/if his story pans out, or even if he just says, “hey, I made a mistake…”. I am the one who posted days ago that his FB page was empty the day after the cityville discussion, which it was; but a couple of days later most of it was back. Yes, I made copies of a bunch of posts, but I have really lost my desire to pursue it any further. I’m beginning to believe that the lack of a follow-up story by any news outlet is proof that there is no significant story here. Plus, I just have no desire to see another animal or person hurt by this tragedy. Now is the time for healing. I pray the buddies were rescued and that God will be with all the rescuers to help relieve the suffering of all the animals affected.