Non, a Shiba Ino dog, rescued by Kinship Circle from the radiation zone in Fukushima, Japan. (All photos by Kinship Circle.)
“It’s been 10 days since I left him,” the woman sobbed into the phone. Like so many others, she had thought that the evacuation from around the Fukushima nuclear power stations was just going to be for a day or so while officials got things under control again. And since dogs wouldn’t be allowed at the shelter, she’d left her white Shiba Ino dog, Non, at home.
But things had only gotten worse in the evacuation zone, and days looked like they’d be stretching into weeks. “Can you rescue him?” she’d pleaded with Courtney Chandel.
Chandel is one of a team of eight people who’d gone to Japan from Kinship Circle, a small all-volunteer, grassroots group that specializes in disaster rescue. Several of the organization’s teams were still in Brazil rescuing animals from the floods and mudslides there when the earthquake hit Japan in March, and they reluctantly decided the need was more urgent across the pacific.
“The disaster area is unimaginably vast,” said Brenda Shoss, the organization’s executive director. “It’s quite different from anywhere we’ve ever been.” That would include Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Chile, and the Gulf oil disaster, as well as the floods in Brazil.
“Any creature in the direct path of tsunami was just washed away,” Shoss said. So the Kinship Circle teams had been searching further inland where some of the buildings were still standing and where animals might be alive.
But then the radiation zone was expanded, which meant more evacuations and more pets being left behind – including dogs like Non.
Searching for the animals
Working with Isabella Gallaon-Aoki of the Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, Chandel (photo left) had been wading through debris in search of Non.
The work is hard and stressful, and often involves up to eight hours simply driving back and forth over cracked roads to a particular search area.
But on this particular day, as they called out to any animals who might hear them, the two women heard a faint, frantic woof from a nearby house. It was Non. Soon he was in the car and ready for the drive back to the Animal Friends Niigata shelter that Gallaon-Aoki runs on the other side of the island.
“It’s often very cold,” Shoss said. “You find animals chained up or sitting behind a fence staring out into the road like they’re still waiting for their person to come back. We found one woman who’d been sitting in her car in the cold with her three cats. She didn’t want to go to the shelter without them. We offered to take them temporarily so she could go to the shelter and find food and warmth.”
Teams have also been visiting farms where animals have been faring badly after the people fled.
However, on a small dairy farm they visited last week, the owner told them she’d been running the farm for 40 years and would never abandon the animals. Her challenge now is that no one will buy products from farms where animals may have been exposed to radiation. Without income, she can’t care for the animals much longer. So Kinship Circle will stay in touch and provide whatever emergency assistance they can for the animals.
Kinship Circle’s Incident Commander, Ron Presley, rescues a disoriented cocker spaniel found curled into a small ball in tall grass in Minami-Soma.
Professional but still volunteer
Unlike many of the people working for the larger international rescue organizations, Kinship Circle teams are almost entirely unpaid.
“We started as a network of independent volunteers and rescuers,” Shoss said. “And that’s mostly what we still are. We pay air fares when necessary, and we can pay for some of the people we urgently need, but it’s still basically all volunteer.”
That would include professional firefighters and EMTs who take time out to lend their expertise to the rescue efforts and also to help teach local people how to conduct rescue work. “They’re in jobs that are to a certain extent flexible,” Shoss said. “They make themselves available to deploy whenever they can.”
The plan had been for the volunteers to stay in the Japan until the end of April, but Shoss is now hoping to keep the teams there through the end of May.
Kinship Circle has an Animal Disaster Fundthat provides funding for its rescue work in Japan. The money raised provides for:
Daily costs of reaching and rescuing animals in the disaster zones, including Geiger counters to monitor radiation levels, emergency veterinary care and rescue gear.
Supporting the local rescue groups they work with: primarily Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS).
What do you say? With so many other animal needs at home and abroad, are you still able to keep up with the rescue work in Japan? If so, which groups are you supporting? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.