lifestyle

Don't forget your pets when disaster strikes

35 Comments
By Ashley Fruno

After PETA Asia-Pacific learned about the devastation left in the wake of last week's earthquake and tsunami, I caught the first flight into Tokyo after the airport reopened the next day and traveled by train to Niigata, where I met up with a team from a local animal shelter there and then traveled by car to Sendai.

As many people have seen in images on TV, the tsunami ripped through the region with such force that cars were smashed into houses, debris was swept for miles through rice fields, and entire families drowned in their homes. Travel was extremely difficult because of miles-long lines at gas stations and the rationing of gas. There were few signs of life in the hardest-hit areas, but we encountered some citizens who refused to leave their badly damaged homes because many evacuation centers are not allowing companion animals inside.

One woman we met was carrying her dog, a young sheltie who was terrified by the earthquake and aftershocks and the chaos that ensued. Tears came to the woman's eyes as she told us that she had risked her life for three days while staying in her still-shaking house because the evacuation center would not allow her to take her dog with her. She was finally able to take her dog to a family member's home in an area of the city that had not been hit by the tsunami.

At one evacuation center that was housing some animals along with people, one of the center coordinators told me a touching story about his Akita, Shane. When the man heard the tsunami warning, he rushed to warn his neighbors after letting Shane out into the yard. He tried to get back to his house to get Shane, but the tsunami was rapidly approaching, and he was forced to go to the school on higher ground.

He said he had given up hope of ever seeing Shane alive again. But six hours later, one of the people staying in the center said that they saw a dog outside. The man went to look, and it was Shane. The dog had never been to the school before, but somehow his instincts led him there. Shane had managed to swim through deep water to be reunited with his guardian.

The man took us to see Shane, who was staying at his house, which is now dry. Shane must have clung to debris, as he had cuts on both his elbows. We instructed the man on how to clean Shane's wounds and gave him some ointment. We left fuel with a local veterinarian who volunteered to visit more evacuation centers in Sendai, and he returned to check on Shane and provide him with antibiotics.

It is for Shane and for the countless other animals whose plight so often goes overlooked in the aftermath of disasters that I beg people never to leave animals to face a disaster on their own. Shane's guardian had little choice, but making an emergency plan now can help prevent tragedies from being repeated during the next disaster.

Remember, if conditions are too dangerous for you, they are too dangerous for the dog in the backyard, the cat sleeping on the front steps, and the caged hamster. If at all humanly possible, it is vital to take animals with you when forced to evacuate. In the wake of catastrophic earthquakes and storms, animals aren't safe at home because, even if the home itself isn't damaged, impassable roads may prevent homeowners from returning for weeks, leaving animals stranded without food and water.

While many evacuation shelters do not allow animals, many hotels do, and others will often waive their restrictions on animal guests during disasters. If you can't afford a hotel, and you don't have friends or relatives with whom you and your animals can stay, your animal companions are still better off going with you, even if you have to camp out at a campground or in your car (although you must be careful never to leave animals alone in a car during warm weather).

If you absolutely must leave your animal companions behind, leave them inside the house, with access to upper floors and at least 10 days' supply of dry food and water. Fill multiple sinks, bowls, pans, and plastic storage containers with water.

Before the next storm strikes, invest in a sturdy, roomy carrier for each of your animals that, if worst comes to worst, can serve as their temporary living quarters. Be sure that all your animals are up to date on their rabies vaccinations and are wearing collars with identification tags, and remember to pack leashes, bowls, towels, blankets, litter pans and litter, and at least a week's supply of food and medications.

We may never know how many people put themselves at risk and possibly perished in this disaster because they were afraid to leave their animals behind. Government and nonprofit agencies must learn from this tragedy and include animals in future disaster planning—if not for the animals' sake, then for the sake of the people who would rather die than leave them behind.

Don't wait until the next disaster strikes—make an emergency plan today. Your animal friend might not be as lucky as Shane.

Ashley Fruno is a senior campaigner with PETA Asia-Pacific.

© Japan Today

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35 Comments
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First, I thought PETA was against companion animals and likened it to slavery or somesuch nonsense (okay, I will concede that cat "owners" are slaves, but that's all).

Second, I think animals are very important members of a family. HOWEVER, if it's a choice between sleeping in a car in a very unsafe area and taking Mittens along with me, Mittens is going to have to fend for himself. I'm not going to jeopardize my safety for a cat who can take care of itself in a pinch.

Japan is a bad example because the view people have of animals is a bit behind the times. But I would never fault someone for making the tough decision to leave an animal behind in a disaster. It sucks, but the animal is probably better off and much safer left alone in a house than trucked along in a tiny, cramped little carrier to sleep in a car on a freezing night.

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Your pets can save you and become your faithful companions ...

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Cats may not show emotion much as dogs do, but they are your family and you must take them with you. To leave them behind is cruel. Shane is one lucky doggy.

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im sorry,,,,i love animals as much as the next person, yet your life is more important,,,if people didnt have time to even put on shoes to escape the tsunami, i dont think they would have time to pick up their animal either, allowing the animal an open door to escape from is kindness in that situation of course if it is an earthquake, then yes, provide food, water etc, but still provide a point of escape in case of further quakes be reasonable

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When trapped under rubble, pets can be a valuable source of both company and eventually meat.

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jobseeker ...I totally agree with you

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I get how emotional some people are about their pets. I still have the image on my mind of the woman on TV who waited outside her parents decimated house for them to be rescued, and when her dad finally emerged carrying the dog she broke down in tears, grabbed the dog, kissed it, and turned her back on her father!

But I agree with mrskit - you just may not have the time to think as the house collapses around you or the tsunami comes.

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Collars with identification tags, while useful, can get lost. As an extra precaution, it's a good idea to have your animals microchipped.

If people aren't safe at home, neither are the animals with no one to look after them. Japan needs to rethink its emergency shelter plans to make room for furry/feathery family members. There have been several reports of people who escaped safely, then when the danger appeared to have passed, returned home to feed their animals and have not been seen since, presumably caught in a subsequent quake.

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Some expats I know left the country but left their cats, birds, goldfish in their apartments with some extra food, thinking they would be back in a couple of days...it's already been 10 days since most of them left... horrible, horrible....

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I agree Cleo, some form of identification would be a really good idea for pets, and also they should provide some coverage for animals at the evacuation centers (im always perplexed at translation of hinan jyou as meaning place of refuge, but saying refugee center seems weird,,,,)

oh , penelope, that is horrible, expats leaving pets behind , that is cruel

i understand if you are running for your life from a tsunami, but other than that, you bought the pet, you are responsible for its life

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Emergency shelters are set up for PEOPLE, not animals. Refusing to shelter human beings in times of crisis because someone's pet is already occupying valuable shelter space is wrong. If people chose not to leave their pets behind or outside the shelter, that's their decision but they shouldn't expect other human survivors to suffer.

I've "heard" that the U.S. Coast Guard is now required to rescue pets along with humans??? Helicopters and small craft (boats) can only take a limited numer of passengers per trip. Someone's grandma will have to wait on a rooftop, in raising water, while the neighbors beagles and german shepards are carried to safety. I hope that's not true.

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When trapped under rubble, pets can be a valuable source of both company and eventually meat.

I love animal too, but that was funny!

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Emergency shelters are set up for PEOPLE, not animals.

Emergency shelters are set up to deal with emergencies. Refusing to shelter a family in a time of crisis because one or two members of that family have 4 legs, is also wrong.

What the US Coast Guard is required to do is up to the US to decide of course, but remember it could be 'someone's granny' who can't bring herself to leave the roof without Tiddles. Instead of wasting time persuading her to leave her friend, easier and faster to load them both onto the boat and just get on with the rescue. Good to know that the US Coast Guard is more humanitarian than some posters here.

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My jack Russell is already to go and now knows the procedure well, soon as the house starts making those banging noises he is the first one to head to the door, and looks around at us as if to say come on guys stop muckin round lets get the F outta here.

I really hope it doesnt come down to it but if we need to evacuate he will be coming with us and I'll be sticking fat with him no matter what.

He can share what ever food and water I can get.

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I would die before leaving my dogs behind, and happily camp out in a car or a park if shelters don't take my dogs in. It's not a choice, it's the only way I know.

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I understand that the purpose of the article it is not to mean that you should first take are of your dog in extreme catastrophic situation, but it is intended to give some recommendations when you have a chance and time to follow such tips. I am a dog lover, I always have been, and I can't imagine how to face a disaster and left my dog behind, but certainly such a disaster as occurred in Japan has not led anyone to think more than only drive to a safe place. This can be seen in any video. The number of deaths is over 7 thousand people and uncontable pets are missing and all we can do for the Japanese people and the pets as well it is to pray.

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i understand if you are running for your life from a tsunami, but other than that, you bought the pet, you are responsible for its life

Sadly even at the best of times too many pet owners arent responsible, little or no thought before making the decision

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My car along with stuff for the mrs & I has been packed with cat & dog food & dishes. We were in Tokyo for the big one & took 13hrs to drive back home, my dachs is young & blind so was worried about glass etc, thankfully he & the cats were ok. But Trigger has been in the car with me everytime out since as the stress is huge on the little bugger!

Arrestpaul in case you didnt know people ARE animals, if you ever need shelter in my car I aint kicking any cats or dog out to house yr a$$!

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Thank you GW, agreed. Penelope: Please leak the names of these people to the media.

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I've already planned to take my pets with me in case something horrible happens, no matter the cost.

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Why even discussing this? Little girl sees family swept away, house reduced to matchsticks, then someone wants to wrestle the kitty from her embrace? Piling on trauma enough?

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What the hell are we supposed to do with goldfish in an earthquake? Come on, let's be serious, now.

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my goldfish live outside year round in a pond I made they due great as is

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PenelopePitstop

Have you tried notifying the landlords? They might let you in to feed the pets or take them out just so they don't have to deal with the smell of a dead animal.

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When trapped under rubble, pets can be a valuable source of both company and eventually meat.

that made me lol'd at work!best comment ever!

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@Harry and Sarah, I don't know if they tried to notify their landlords... I know some were expecting their helpers to take care of the animals but apparently many of their helpers ended up leaving for the Philippines...

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What the hell are we supposed to do with goldfish in an earthquake?

my goldfish live outside year round in a pond I made

The Niigata quake a few years ago did untold damage to the Japanese koi industry. The countryside was littered with huge ponds full of dead fish, after the water drained away through cracks in the earth. I don't think the industry has recovered yet.

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I was only able to take my dog and one of my 3 cats when I evacuated my building. The other 2 hid and would not come out. Spent 2 aftershocks trying to get them bagged and finally said screw it and took the two who wanted to be rescued. My Dog was so terrified he couldn't walk so had to lug him, a cat and the other stuff to evac with down 21 flights of stairs. Fortunately was able to go back up in a couple hours with no problem. Wasn't an easy call to make but didn't know how many more aftershocks the building could take. As it sits now, I have animals I am responsible for. Have remained and will continue to remain in this fine city until I see a frigging mushroom cloud. I can sympathize with someone with no real connections wanting to leave, but to leave a house full of pets because you are afraid of a nuclear crisis 150 miles away??? Give your animals away. You don't qualify.

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What about the pets left behind by expats fleeing Tokyo?

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Hi Cleo, good to see all well with you and yours. IIRC, they managed to helivac some of the koi from Yamakoshi, in big bags of water. Obviously the industry there took a big hit, but they did at least manage to salvage some of the fish.

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expats here short term shud simply NOT buy any pets in Japan, but unfortunately some do & get left behind even in good times, buy stuffed animals or put up pics of pets for pete sake

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If you can't find your pet within 30 seconds forget it and run.

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Hi zaichik! I remember at the time doing translation work on reports from the area; as you say some of the more valuable koi were saved, but a lot of smaller breeders apparently lost everything. This was at a time when koi herpes had got into Japan and people were already struggling. It seems they're gradually building things up again, but I doubt it will ever return to the heady days of the bubble era....

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Hi Cleo, glad to see you!I was wondering how you fared in the earthquake. It's good to see you here again.

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Monkeyz: Shame on you.

If you are not willing to make a promise to take care of your pet until the end of it's life, and are not willing to keep that promise, then you should not own pets. There is nothing saying that you HAVE to keep animals around. Like children, they are living beings. Most of them also love their owners with all of their hearts. Looking after them is the least that you can do.

It is one thing if your dog or cat runs off on it's own and refuses to come to you. There is only so much that you can realistically do. But you darn well owe it to them to try, or you never deserved their love in the first place.

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