Arthur Jeon, Global Animal
JAPAN – According to representatives of animal rescue organizations on the ground, thousands of abandoned animals are starving and dying in Fukushima’s 20km radiation exclusion zones. And a small band of animal rescue groups are bending the rules to try to save them.
“It’s like Katrina with radiation – a ghost town with only animals. All we hear are barking dogs,” said Brenda Shoss, the executive director of Kinship Circle, an animal organization working in the exclusion zone to rescue animals at the direct request of their guardians. “It’s a crisis for domesticated animals. It’s not like we’re in a disaster aftermath. The disaster is still happening.”
Even though they risk radiation poisoning and being arrested, Kinship Circle and other rescue groups now sneak into the ‘dead zone’ to save any life they can. Heart, passion and a love of animals is what drives these animal rescuers; they can’t sit by and not help. Said one volunteer, “I’m going to die someday, I’d rather die saving a dog.”
The situation in Japan is complex and has a lot of moving pieces. All the animals need to be decontaminated, quarantined, and cared for after they are rescued. It could be months before they find new homes, so longterm care will be necessary.
“Part of the problem now is the rescue groups need a place, a decontamination center to take the animals to and decontaminate them,” said Shoss. “They are healthy and can live a long life, but right now the problem is getting them out before they starve.”
These dedicated volunteers are in it for the animals and are willing to break some rules to save as many as they can. They release any animal they find chained or confined, giving them a chance to forage for food and water and avoid an agonizing death by starvation. The rescues also do ‘shelter in place,’ leaving the animal with food and water to survive until their owners can come back and check on them.
“It’s a heart-wrenching situation,” said Brenda Shoss. “Most of the animals we find are solely abandoned companion animals, left behind by owners who thought the evacuation was temporary. They call us in a panic to get their animals out.”
As the radiation crisis in Japan worsens, yesterday rising to the highest level of seven (the same as Chernobyl), the situation grows desperate for the abandoned animals. Dogs chained to posts are dying of thirst or wandering the countryside in packs, horses locked in barns are collapsing without food or water, and cats left alone in houses are cannibalizing themselves are some of the harrowing scenes the rescuers are encountering.
The exclusion zone around Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union – the scene of the worst nuclear disaster in history – remains a derelict wasteland 25 years later. Given the eerie snapshots of a town deserted in a hurry, it’s difficult to believe this decimated area around Fukushima will not be left similarly abandoned.
Contrary to some news reports and the disturbing images we see, there are animal rescue groups on the ground in the ‘dead zone.’ But their numbers are few compared to the enormous task of evacuating thousands of dogs, cats, horses, cows and other farm animals. They are racing against time and risk, valiantly trying to save these animals before the land goes the way of Chernobyl.
[UPDATE: April 14, 2011, 12:30 PST – Global Animal Foundation has donated $1,000 to Kinship Circle for the purchase of a geiger counter to measure radiation levels. A big thanks goes to Global Animal readers who so generously support the animal rescue efforts in Japan.]