Japan's dog lovers brave radiation zone to save abandoned pets
A group of devoted dog lovers has braved radiation fallout in a deserted town wrecked by the Japanese tsunami in order to save 20 animals.
Their mission began when Etsumi Ogino saw a photo of a pack of shelties wandering through an abandoned town near Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear plant.
The dog fan said it made her think of her own 13-year-old pet Kein and she jumped into action.
“My heart trembled,” said Ms Ogino, a 56-year-old volunteer at an animal shelter in Chiba prefecture. “They looked just like my dog. I started searching for them right away.”
She and others around Japan called Asahi.com, the website of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which had run the photo. An Associated Press photographer had taken that picture and others of the dogs in an empty street in Minami Soma city, an area evacuated because of radiation fears.
On Saturday the AP's Tokyo bureau emailed Ms Ogino's contact information to the reporter who accompanied the photographer, and he immediately called her to give her the details of where the dogs were spotted.
Ms Ogino relayed the information to a team of animal rescuers called Sheltie Rescue. By then, the group had been getting emails from dog lovers around the country about the abandoned pack.
Through emails and internet research it was established that the owner of the dogs was a breeder in Minami Soma. The group contacted the Fukushima city branch of the Japan Collie Club, tracked the owner down by phone at a shelter and got her go-ahead to rescue the dogs.
In the early 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 which 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 railway station, 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 were not 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.
The owner, worn down by the disaster and worrying about her dogs, was “extremely happy”, Ms Nakamura said. She said the owner did not want to be identified.
Ms Nakamura only regrets that some of the dogs ran away and countless others are still stranded in the evacuation zone.
“There are some left behind,” she said. “I'm concerned about them and want to pull them out.”