We, the “Private Network of Volunteer Groups for Animals in Japan” have been gathering information regarding the rescue of animals from the exclusion zones.
On June 13, we received information that there may be a possibility of being able to enter the exclusion zone and therefore decided immediately to pay a visit to Minami-Soma City.
We were not certain, even on the day of our departure, if we will actually be able to enter the zone, but we loaded our protective clothing and gear and headed for Minami-Soma City.
We first gathered at Minami-Soma City to meet up with the local volunteers and
reconfirmed the details of our activity plans.
Unfortunately, we were not able to receive the entry permission, but there were a variety of activities which needed to be done.
We split the group of 8 into 3 teams as follows:
** A Team à Capturing chicken, delivery of relief supplies
** B Team à Visit to the emergency refuge centers and animal shelters
(within Minami-Soma City )
** C Team à Visit to the emergency refuge centers and animal shelters
(within Soma City)
The City Hall was filled with many people.
We believe that there were many who needed to file applications and paperwork in order to rebuild their lives. The city employees seemed extremely busy as well.
Near the entrance was the corner for the animal-related posters and notices ---
people searching for their pets, people searching for the owners of the pets whom they are temporarily caring for. There were many who were seriously gazing at these notices.
It made us wonder what kind of support we can give in order for these pets to be able to return home –-- wishing for as many animals as possible to be able to return to their original lifestyles.
In front of the Minami-Soma City Hall, we ran into the famous “Neko Oba-san,”
Although for only a short period of time, we joined Y-san and stood in front of the
City Hall. During that short period, we were approached by many people and were
asked for advices to various issues.
There are those who are seeking for help, and there are those like us who wish to offer help ----simply, that’s all there’s to it.
Veterinarians as well as private volunteers like us – we are all prepared and ready at any time to start the rescue activity within the exclusion zones.
So -- why can we not be given permission to do so ?
After gathering information from the City Hall visit, we were invited by Y-san to visit the emergency refuge center. We thought we knew what the refuge center was like from the various news programs we see daily.
However, when we actually stepped inside the refuge center and were able to feel the atmosphere for ourselves, we came to realization that the life there was far more severe and cruel than we had ever imagined.
Y-san’s living space was that of one single laid-out futon mattress.
Since there were no tatami flooring or such on the floor, the futon was laid directly on top of the hard floor of the gymnasium. There were no cardboard boxes around Y-san’s space to seal-off the area. Everything was laid out in the open.
Naturally, there is absolutely no privacy. They have been living in this environment for 3 months now.
“I can go crazy staying here all day.”
“There is TV, but I don’t watch it – too many scary news programs. And, watching it won’t help me any.”
“I’m not expecting anything from the country or the prefecture.”
Not knowing when she can return to her own home, not knowing whether she can really ever return home, not knowing how longer she will be living like this, not knowing what to expect in the future ------- there must be nothing more painful and difficult than these feelings of uncertainty.
But -- despite her own suffering state, Y-san continues to fight to rescue the dogs and cats left behind in the exclusion zones. Because she had publicized her telephone number, she receives various calls for advice as well as rescue requests. She takes each call politely, carefully notes the requests in her notebook, and is organizing a map from the information gathered for the dogs/cats who should still be waiting for help within the zones.
She was kind enough to show us her organized material.
We asked about the condition of the pets at her emergency refuge center.
We were told that this particular refuge center approved living with pets.
There is a space reserved to live with the caged pets.
We wished to see the area, but were not given permission to do so.
Apparently, there had been an incident where one of the residents fed the dog some leftover food without the owner’s permission, and due to some problems which occurred within the residents, it was decided that no one other than the pet owner was to be allowed near the pet cage.
We realized that there were many problems and issues to deal with even within the animal-allowed refuge centers.
At this refuge center, we were told that there were many residents whose condition looked bleak with no idea of how to rebuild their lives. Among these residents, even if there were such who had lost touch with their pets, we felt that there could possibly be some who were in no condition to even consider searching for their lost pets.
If there are people who cannot even re-establish their own daily lives, furthermore if they cannot even be hopeful of what their future will be like --- to these people who are enduring their own hardship to live one day at a time – for us to approach them to say “Please search for your pets. Please try to bring them back into your lives,”
our plea could only be pressuring them. It could backfire and have them make a haste decision to let go of their pets.
If it should be the case where more and more pet owners make the decision to let go of their pets by saying “I can’t possibly consider caring for a pet in my current condition.
Please help me look for a good home for my pet.” --- this will mean that we will have more and more families who are abandoning their pets “because we cannot care for them any longer” – instead of families who can keep their original promise “ to be responsible for their pet as a family member and to take care of them for life.”
If more families are forced to make this sad decision, there is a possibility that they will be considered the same as those who abandon their pets or who bring in to submit their pets to the shelters.
We felt that perhaps, at this time, it might be a necessity for us to “wait” and to give those people more time – until they themselves come to a state where they can say
“I’d like to look for my pet. I’d like to live with them once again.”
And – when the time and condition comes together, we can move immediately.
In order for this to happen, the most important condition is to have their lives rebuilt.
But unfortunately, this is an area we as animal rescue volunteers cannot assist.
We will have no choice but to rely on our Government for help.
Next – we visited the emergency refuge centers in Soma City.
Since we did not make any appointments, we were worried if anyone would be willing to talk to us. However, the people at the reception were pleasantly cooperative and we were able to speak with the residents who were living with their pets.
Our first thought was on how different the atmosphere was from the first refuge center.
It was a fine building with controlled air conditioning.
And the residents were all very cheerful.
We were wondering why the atmosphere seemed so different between the two,
but we then realized the reason for it.
This refuge center was to be closed on the 17th. In other words, the residents here were mostly moving on to the Government’s
Temporary Housing and were heading off to a new start.
One young lady whom we spoke to happily said “I’m moving into a Housing where pets are allowed. I evacuated with my cat but since the refuge center did not allow pets, I had to leave my cat with my relative. But now, I can finally live my cat !”
This young lady who had hopes for her new life, looking forward to be joined with her loving cat again -- had such a bright smile on her face as she told us many positive stories and spoke of her life with her cat, and that she was thinking of getting her cat spay/neutered soon.
This incident strongly gave us realization that such hope for a new life can bring back a smile to a person, giving them a positive outlook in life.
There was one other story we heard from an another woman which was very memorable.
She had a pet dog, but when she decided that she could not take the dog with her when she evacuated, she unchained him and let the dog loose.
“During the evacuation period, I had completely forgotten about the dog.
But – as I started seeing possibilities of a new life, I was able to start feeling
positive about my life again. Around the same time, my child told me that he saw
a poster at the refuge center and that it showed our dog. I then remembered about my dog and knowing how my child loved the dog, I finally was able to get myself to wish to search for our dog.”
Forgetting about her dog ….in other words, that’s how tough her life must have
been, just barely enough thinking of her own family’s lives.
We cannot condemn her even if she had forgotten about her dog, even if she could not go and search for her dog. For her, 3 months was the time necessary to come to terms to start searching for her dog.
If we had approached her before when she was still suffering, uncertain of her own
future and life –-- if we had said “Please search for your pet. Please consider living and caring for your pet again” –-- would she have searched for her pet ?
There is a possibility that she would have replied “I’m unsure of how I’m going to be living myself – I can’t possibly consider caring for my pet at this state. Please search for a new family to care for my pet.”
It is important for us to consider and comprehend the current condition of the evacuated residents, and we must give them the support which is close to their heart.
Otherwise, we could be unwillingly pressuring them, resulting in their haste decision to abandon their loving pets.
In order for us to return the pets to their own families, we felt that it was important for us to comprehend the condition which the residents are currently facing, to listen to the resident’s voices, and to understand what kind of support the residents are actually seeking -- thus being able to offer the support which is most suitable for that person’s particular needs.
Then -- what should we do about it ?
What kind of support is needed from us ?
There are many issues for us to consider and for us to tackle.
At any case, what we should never forget is that we must offer support which is close to people’s heart.
If our only purpose becomes the rescue of animals and if we act by ignoring people’s feeling and thoughts, it would not be considered “support” in actual sense of the word.
Because we are a “Network,” there should be many issues we can achieve together.