Global Animal, Bianca M. Caraza

Japanese exclusion zone sign. Photo Credit: Kinship Circle

Since tragedy struck the island nation of Japan on March 11, 2011, few people or animals have been unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami and subsequent radiation crisis. Three months after the disaster, it’s far from over.

As the exclusion zone expands, each new mandatory radiation evacuation causes animals to be left behind, and rescue groups scrambling against the odds. Volunteers of Kinship Circle, a Missouri-based nonprofit animal rescue organization, have been deployed in Japan providing emergency animal rescue since shortly after the disaster struck.

“For the earthquake-tsunami, most search and rescue is over and we are in the appropriate phase of emergency to long-term sheltering,” Kinship Circle founder, Brenda Shoss, told Global Animal.

Even with properly equipped shelters, animal rescue groups face the task of locating the pets’ guardians, finding caretakers for pets whose guardians can no longer care for them, and differentiating between pets and strays. [pullquote]“It’s as if someone has hit the rewind button on “crisis” over and over,” says Kinship Circle founder, Brenda Shoss.[/pullquote]

The radiation component continues to be a heartbreaking and increasingly, apocalyptic situation.

Each time mandatory evacuation empties a district, the area is sealed under nuclear emergency law. Whole neighborhoods are blocked off and droves of animals are left behind with no food or water, resulting in what Shoss calls an “animal death camp with invisible walls.”

Kinship Circle rescues husky from Japanese exclusion zone. Photo Credit: Kinship Circle

While the areas are meant to be sealed off completely, and any intruders subject to arrests, fines, or even jail time, Kinship Circle volunteers have been unable to resist helping the abandoned animals.

Armed with a Geiger counter (a radiation measuring tool), volunteers have been braving the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to feed and rescue starving animals. Though the organization first attempted to enter the exclusion zone legally through government appointed permits, they were dismayed to find that no such permits exist for animal rescue groups.

It’s since been confirmed that no animal rescue teams will be given permission to enter the ever-expanding exclusion zones.  Kinship Circle, which works alongside Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue & Support (JEARS) is asking animal lovers to write letters to the Japanese government to permit animal rescue.

Kinship Circle volunteer team. Photo credit: Kinship Circle

Although government-funded shelters do exist, the facilities are prepared to only receive rescued animals, but not actually save those trapped beyond their reach.

Government-sponsored animal rescue efforts for exclusion zone animals are minimal at best. Japan SPCA, JAWS and two other government-sponsored rescue groups under the banner “Earthquake Animal Rescue Disaster Headquarters” have said that they will not enter the exclusion zone themselves. A staff of three or four people from the Ministry of Environment and another two or three people from Fukushima’s Environmental Food and Health Division comprise the only official animal rescue effort. They leave food for animals, but only in areas this small team can reach in a single day. At this rate, Fukushima’s Environmental Food and Health Division predicts a three-month recovery.

“Many animals, like the cows we found, will not survive this long,” says Shoss.

In spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the Kinship Circle volunteers can be rightfully credited with many amazing rescue stories. The dedicated teams has spent hours chasing down frightened dogs who slipped out of their tethers and locating whimpering pups under wooden floorboards. A multitude of snapshots on the Kinship Circle website show the green-clad volunteers cradling rescued puppies, cuddly calico cats, and abandoned huskies, all of whom would have died had they not returned for them.

Kinship Circle animal rescuer comforts pair of emaciated dogs Photo Credit: Kinship Circle

Then there’s the matter of logistics and the costs nonprofits incur to save animals. Tsunami-quake effected areas run nearly 500 miles along Japan’s northeast coast. Further inland, an expanding radius of exclusion zone cities and villages covers a wide area. Emergency shelters are much further south, in Niigata and Tokushima, for instance. Just the transporting of rescued animals can mean eight-hour drives and Japanese tolls that can be as high as $240.

Despite their whatever-it-takes tactics and noble cause, Brenda Shoss says that Kinship Circle’s deployment might end as soon as this week due to the costly nature of the rescue mission. Under consideration is keeping a smaller group of volunteers from Kinship Circle in Japan to continue working with Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue & Support (JEARS).

To date, Global Animal Foundation has donated $32,000 to animal rescue in Japan on behalf of its generous readers. This includes $27,000 to JEARS and $1,000 to Kinship Circle to purchase a geiger counter. On hearing this week that Kinship Circle might need to halt their work for lack of resources, Global Animal Foundation donated $4,000 to the organization to support continued animal rescue efforts in the exclusion zone. On being notified of the gift from Global Animal donors, Shoss said, “It’s as if a weight is lifted when I know we can at least fund the tasks at hand.”

More power  – and deepest gratitude – to these two-footed heroes who are doing extraordinary work for the benefit of those who are helpless.

If you would like to donate to the rescue effort, please visit the Global Animal Foundation Donation page.

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