March 8, 2012 - When people fled Fukushima and other parts of Japan a year ago, thousands of pets were left behind. While many pets have since been reunited with their owners, a horrific situation still exists in the no-go 12.5-mile radiation zone around the damaged nuclear plants.
There, homeless dogs and cats are still wandering around the area, according to World Vets founder and CEO Cathy King. She told Discovery News that "a lot of these animals have since been rescued out, but some remain."
The problem demonstrates how difficult recovery has been after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011.
The resulting tsunami and nuclear woes devastated the area. Animal support teams from all over the world descended upon the region and are still trying to improve the situation.
As animal rescuers from around the world made preparations the week of March 11 , 2011, local pet groups took immediate action.
United Kennel Club Japan director Yasunori Hoso shared that "we left our headquarters in Kyoto, and built a shelter in Kanagawa prefecture. Since then, we have rescued over 800 pets from the tsunami-stricken areas of Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures in the Tohoku area."
Many regions throughout Japan were affected by the quake, which actually moved Honshu 8 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis anywhere from 4 to 10 inches.
In this photo, World Vets veterinarian Kazumasu Sasaki examines a dog in Sendai.
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"We have rescued over 700 animals, but an estimated 400 are still in our shelter unable to reconcile with their owners." Chako Ki of the United Kennel Club told Discovery News.
The time and energy required for this effort is enormous. Many veterinarians are performing all kinds of care without pay.
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"Thousands of people were living in evacuation shelters where pets were not allowed," King explained. "People would not leave dangerous situations because of their pets."
King said her team and others provided these animals with basic supplies and needs.
"In other areas, we had veterinarians who were helping to decontaminate pets that had come from the areas of high radiation," she said. "There was also the issue of many Americans living in Japan who were making emergency evacuations due to the radiation and were not able to get their pets on outgoing flights."
Photo: Sasaki is shown unloading rescued dogs in Japan, a country where dogs and cats are often highly regarded.
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Many pets lived in cars outside of the evacuation shelters that did not allow animals. That predicament has since improved, as people moved out of the shelters, Hoso said.
Pets were also left behind after their owners evacuated from an evacuation zone within the 12.5-mile radius from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors.
"Three hundred and fifty dogs and cats in our shelter are aging, sick, or untamed, making them difficult to be adopted," Hoso said.
Rescuers had to coordinate quickly, working with all available help.
"Now, almost a year later, there are new animal issues evolving," King said. "Overpopulation of dogs and especially cats has become an issue with the numbers of street animals increasing. In addition, people who were once able to care for their pets are struggling because of hardships caused by the disaster."
She said that there was a free spay/neuter clinic held in one of the hardest hit areas of Iwate Prefecture. Requests for veterinary products to help affected animals are also still pouring in.
Photo: A cat sits on a sofa at a damaged store.
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Pet rescuers, such as this World Vets veterinarian holding a saved dog, are proud of their work, but much is left to be done.
Of the pets still in shelters after the quake and tsunami, Hoso said, "They have a warm home and their stomachs are full in our shelter. However, there are still many pets abandoned."
"Despite this, we are running out of space and need to create another shelter soon in order to save these animals," Hoso said.
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