Monday, April 4, 2011

Tears and their lessons

Thank you to those powers that be that found me in front of a computer to write this. The phone's battery was not coping well with my long-winded stories.Not to mention that one finger typing does get a little brain frazzling:-)

On a euphoric high from our successful trip to the city pound for Maruko, I turned into the grounds of the evacuation center to rendez vous with a lady who was giving us three cats to mind until she got a place of her own.I saw a lady roughly shaking another. The older of the two was shorter and looking up to the lady who was bawling her eyes out, all the while encouraging her to be strong. Crash! I landed back down into reality.I didn't know what this young woman's story was but it was enough to make her weep in public. I put my head down and tried to pass their sadness unnoticed so as to not disturb them. I diverted my eyes and they landed on a car covered in dog stickers.

We are trying to help here on several levels, at the evacuation centers, at the pounds and individual to individual. If while out we heard dogs barking we would stop and see if the owner had enough food for the animal. If we saw indications that people were pet owners (like pet stickers on cars for example)  we would also ask if they needed anything. We visited an old folks home that had been turned into an evacuation center and while setting up a lady had walked by with her dog. We asked her with bags of food in our arms if she had enough food. Her instant well of tears told us no.She had been feeding her dog scraps for the last two weeks and hadn't been able to get any dog food at all.We loaded her up with as much as she could carry all the while tears streaming down her face.

At the same center we were getting ready to leave and a young girl who had been standing off to the side watching us unload our supplies of dog and cat food plucked up the courage to approach us. She fiddled with her hair nervously and asked if we had any rabbit food. I knew we didn't at that moment but that I would check when we got back to the main center we were based out of. She looked deflated and resigned to the idea. Everyone thinks of dogs and cats at these times because they are the most popular companion animals.I felt that we had let her down by our focus on the obvious. When we returned and were reloading the vans from our main vehicle a volunteer found a bag of rabbit food. It was brought back up that same afternoon. While I wasn't there to see it, all accounts were of a very grateful teary eyed teen.

I didn't know what to do with my own tears. They were always there, just out of everyone's view. No one really needed an emotional volunteer who had the luxury of walking away from it all at the end of the day to be a catalyst for more visits into their own grief. Not because I felt the need to be a "strong person" but because it kind of seemed likemy tears were selfish given what these people had been through. They had more rights to tears than I ever had here.I watched events unfold before me where my breath got caught so tightly between my mouth and lungs that the rim of the tear resevoir overflowed just a bit.Only once could I not get those floodgates closed properly.

We ran to the truck to get a few bags of dog food for the sticker covered car people. They had just started the engines and were preparing to leave. I got there and saw it was the older of the 2 ladies I had noticed on my way in.I asked if she needed dog food, she said she had been sorted out and was fine but that the 3 cat lady was waiting for us. We crossed the car park and there was the middle aged lady who had been getting a right shaking from the person we had just offered dog food to. She was calm, straightfaced and totally composed. She introduced us to her three adopted cats. Mi-chan 7 months old, Shu-chan 4 years old and Fu-chan 4 years old and paralysed since birth. They had been living in the back of her tiny box car for almost three weeks. They were amazingly friendly with all the volunteers and were deep in conversation with each other while their owner was telling us about their needs and health conditions.

Fu, Mi (tilted head) and Shu
These three were being temporarily being handed over to the Animal Friends shelter in Niigata. Their owner had no home to call her own anymore. She would sit in her car in the parking lot of the evacuation center and hang out with her cats for a few hours each day making sure they got the maximum doses of loving, cuddles and food she could fit in.They were also her little corner of sanity, her escape from the physical and bureaucratic mayhem that was being lived through outside the 2 doors of her car. Handing them over, even for a short while, seemed unfathomable. I admired her strength, she didn't know that I had seen her before she was introduced to us. I caught a glimpse into what she was feeling yet here she was being calm cool and collected. Time came to say goodbye and she sobbed softly as she told each kitty to be good and that she would be coming for them as soon as she could. Again I found myself hiding my face in the presence of this woman. If she saw my tears what would happen to her heavily dented floodgates? Too late, she looked up to say "Yoroshiku onegai shimasu" (Please take care (of them)) and saw my rivers. She smiled through her tears and said thank you. We hugged silently.

A volunteer takes Mi and Fu to the van for the journey "home"
As it turned out, our departure was delayed by the late return of one of our other vehicles. I met the lady again about an hour later. Both of us composed and talking as if nothing happened. She asked about our volunteering, the group and the volunteers themselves. She told us a bit about her story and my awe of what these people are going through just sky rocketed.When it truly came the time to say farewell she confided that her belief that she was doing the right thing was bolstered when she saw me cry. To her it said we actually truly cared for the animals we were taking in. She and Maruko's rescuer had got to talking and they ushered a young girl back into the center. She came out with boxes of juice and rusks for our journey back. We refused them. How could we take something from people who had nothing else? They insisted, we insisted, they insisted again. 'We have nothing, true, but if we have something to give, let us' this is Japanese tradition. We picked our jaws off the ground for what this lesson in humanity taught us. They don't want to just be recipients they need to feel that they are a part of their own journey to self sufficiency. While handouts do make these early days run a little bit easier, ultimately they see that sitting and waiting for those handouts does not make them proactive in the whole recovery process.


  1. I'm pretty much sitting at my desk trying not to sob. At all of it. For the people and the pets and for your stiff upper lip and for everything you are doing. You make a difference, and I admire you. Stay safe. Cry here and there when you need to. I get having a job to do and needing to be stoic, especially in Japan where that's how it's done. Still, though, I understand the woman being comforted to know how much you cared. I think that would make me feel better, too.

  2. i couldnt of said it better myself

  3. We need to learn from the Japanese people, they are truly amazing. Latest story was on a dog that apparantly survived three weeks on a roof top out in the sea. WAs rescued and actually reunited with owner. Wish there were more like that. We are only hearing about the nuke plants right now and I don't hear pleas for donations from the Admin as there was for Katrina.


    Liz here is the story from start to finish about Ban, the dog that survived for 3 weeks on the roof of her house and the reunion with her owner. It is SO heartwarming.

  5. Oh, I am crying. I cannot stop reading your posts! Bless you and all the animals and all the people of Japan!