UPDATE: These dogs have been rescued! This photo helped Japanese volunteers led by Etsumi Ogino, who has a shelty herself, rescue this pack of shelties left behind in the town of Minamisoma. They were inside the deserted evacuation zone established for the 20 kilometer radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in northeastern Japan. The phono was taken Thursday, April 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

Arthur Jeon, Global Animal

Update: June 2, 2011: Animal rescues in Fukushima exclusion zones

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.]




Fighting for life: The bodies of dead horses lie rotting under the hay as one who survived turns its head towards the camera.
Out of time: Licking thirstily next to an empty bowl of water, two abandoned dogs sit in the sun of the exclusion zone and wait.
Left to their fate: A cat has survived the earthquake and tsunami only to face slow starvation and death, abandoned by its owners as they fled the threat of Fukushima radiation.
This little Shiba was found limping along the side of a Minamisoma road in Fukushima. Scared and with a hurt paw, it took a nice dinner to smooth out any concerns. (PHOTO: JEARS)
A hungry pig wanders the streets of Minamisoma.
Namie, Japan- -- A male Shiba Inu eats food provided by Kinship Circle-JEARS volunteers. His home had a note on the door indicating the residents had evacuated to a safe place but were returning to take care of their animals. Kinship CIrcle volunteers will follow up. (PHOTO: Kinship Circle)

Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, is entirely evacuated due to its proximity to the quake-shattered nuclear power plant. Everyone is gone — except for confused dogs, cats, cows, horses and other domesticated animals. Kinship Circle and other rescues leave behind water and food. (PHOTO: Kinship Circle)
One of the lucky ones: this little rust-colored terrier mix survives 11 days trapped in the rubble north of Sendai. Her guardians no longer want her. A passerby finally frees her and the dog is impounded at a government Aigo center (animal control or “Hokenj”) in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. A Kinship Circle-JEARS team goes to this city hall complex and saves the dog from euthanasia.

(To donate to the non-profit rescue groups saving animals in the exclusion zones, click here.)




  1. A Japanese news blog-Rocket News 24-is a doing a series of articles on the evacuation areas including about abandoned and starving animals . In an article (in English) on April 13 they report on following a Japanese rescue group– “formed by several animal protection groups working in the town of Namie, Fukushima who had been requested by residents to save pets left behind by their masters.”–as they enter this heavily damaged area that is in the evacuation zone. Here is a link to the article:at http://en.rocketnews24.com/2011/04/13/fukushima-we-follow-special-team-dispatched-to-rescue-abandoned-pets/

    There is also an article dated 4-16 about a resident of the evacuation area who is staying behind to take care of the abandoned pets in his/her area – http://en.rocketnews24.com/2011/04/16/fukushima-internet-forum-user-refuses-evacuation-to-take-care-of-animals-im-going-to-give-my-life-to-these-guys/

    And sadly an article dated 4-11 about a ranch they visited where many cattle are, or already have, died of thirst and starvation. There is also a video of this but it is quite gruesome so I won’t post the link here.

    There is a also a video that shows some of the animal rescue they did and it is on youtube so it would be nice,Arthur, if it could be shown on this site. The youtube link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B_lj-XgTGc&feature=player_embedded .

  2. Hi Arthure, you’re doing a great job. I am living in Switzerland and I would like to be volonteer to rescue this animals. I talked by phone with Susan and Isabella and sent them e-mails in order to have the details how I can reach them. I am also calling animal food industries asking them products. Do you know exactly where the volonteers go and meet? This will help me. Susan told me they are very busy and not looking theirs e-mails I supposed.

    Thank you.

  3. Arthur-thank you for your prompt response. I am pleased to hear that “Global Animal Foundation is supporting NPOs big and small.” Yes I have seen your ‘How to help Japan’s Pets’ page. Even tho you indicate it has had 80000 views emotion and immediacy tend to enter into contributions–so when you post about the rescue of animals by a specific group, the emotion of seeing that will stimulate many to want to contribute and they are very likely going to contribute to the group that stirred their emotional response. So groups with good Pr machines like Best Friends and JEARs get posted most on Global Animal and consequentially get the most donations from that exposure. No offense to them as they are doing some rescues–just my concern that those smaller groups that do not have professional assistance in getting the word and stories out and especially those with Japanese rather than English websites/blogs/facebook pages get little exposure and thus little opportunity for donations to continue the rescue work they are also doing.
    I am happy you are reaching out to ARK to report on their rescue activities as I believe this will give them an opportunity to get some donations. I hope you have the ability to reach out to those other local groups that are doing rescues of dogs and cats as well as to the horse rescue groups (who were asking for money for feed in an article posted on another site). thanks

  4. Hi Dogge4u,

    Thank you for updating us and letting us know the Shelties have been rescued. Good news!

    We are aware of the good work being done by Animal Rescue Kansai and put ARK on our “How To Help Japan’s Pets” page from the very beginning: http://www.globalanimal.org/2011/03/22/how-to-help-japan-pets/32243/

    This page has received over 80,000 views and has, no doubt, helped ARK as well as the other rescues listed. We are currently reaching out to ARK to report on their rescue efforts.

    Global Animal Foundation is supporting NPOs big and small by bringing awareness to the work they do, raising money and distributing donations to different rescues on the ground. We speak directly with the individuals in the animal rescue organizations, not to PR firms, in the course of our reporting. Like you, we believe that communicating with the people doing the work is the best measure of what’s happening and what can help.

    It’s been gratifying to meet the dedicated people helping animals around the world and selecting the best of them to be recipients of donations from Global Animal Foundation. It’s our mission to provide a safe place for donors to send money, which we distribute to vetted NPOs, helping people avoid the kind of fraud rampant with “NPO’s” after Katrina.

    Thanks also, Dogge4U, for shedding light on the critical situation facing horses and farm animals and the heroes trying to save them. It’s an enormous and heartbreaking situation that deserves much attention, help, and action.


  5. Another local group went in to the evacuation area to rescue the Shelties shown in the photo at top of page. They report rescuing 20 dogs (not sure if all were Shelties) as reported at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110414/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_dog_rescue . This report notes that a local Japanese group called Sheltie Rescue and the Fukushima city branch of the Japan Collie Club assisted in this rescue:” They first located the owner of the Sheltie pack and easily got permission to rescue them (important as some rescuers have taken pets whose owners were still there taking care of them, causing them the same pain if we came home and found pets gone): “In the wee hours of Sunday morning, seven volunteers left Tokyo and drove over broken roads and past demolished houses to meet three other volunteers in the ghost town that Minami Soma has become. Some had prepared radiation suits and others wore simple vinyl raincoats.

    The first two to arrive found the pack around the Odaka train station, near the owner’s home, where the AP team had last seen them.

    “They were waiting for their owner,” said Tamiko Nakamura, a volunteer who went with the group from Tokyo.
    The dogs had been left some dry food, and weren’t starving.
    It took a while to entice them with snacks, and six or seven were bundled into each car. The group saved 20 dogs in all.
    Most were taken to a veterinary clinic in Kanagawa prefecture just west of Tokyo. Others are being cared for by individuals in other areas.”

    These groups deserve credit on this website and donations also (I am not a member of, or associated with, any of these groups) as the important work is getting the animals rescued.

  6. Other groups are doing good work and risking themselves to rescue animals in the exclusion zone including Animal Rescue Kansai. Here is part of their report on their April 7 rescue activities: “Our plans change again, but we are getting used to this. Members of Tokyo ARK are driving to Ibaragi to pick up the 7 dogs which are being sent from Tokyo Haneda to Osaka Itami. The boys plan to drive around the outside of the 20k exclusion zone to see if there are animals to rescue. (needless to say they found a Golden Retriever, wandering in the middle of the road and about to be run over so load it in the van. This dog will come to Osaka 9th)” You can read more, including about horses in terrible shape, at http://www.arkbark.net/?q=en/node/2977 . It would be nice to see these groups that do not have professional PR assistance to tell their story get more attention on GlobalAnimal