Monday, May 30, 2011


Miyuki san
Ok, need to get back on track after yesterday's little debacle! I have someone else I'd like to introduce to you. Her name is Miyuki, We met by chance while visiting evacuations centers. Oops! already I feel the need to go off on a tangent. All evacuation centers were not created equal. The one we met Miyuki at was a beautiful one, if those two words are permitted to be used in the same sentence. It was a Temple with hardwood floors, shoji sliding screens, carefully tended rock gardens, blooming Cherry blossoms and old moss covered stone lanterns. If a set researcher were looking for an old style traditional Japanese setting this place checked all the boxes. She was just stopping by and we were getting set to leave. I don't recall who engaged who but after 15 minutes we had a plan of action for the rest of the day.

Now best friends
Miyuki had grown up in this area and she knew lots of people, as small town Japan tends to stay small. She had two old Shiba inus and gratefully accepted the bags of food we gave her. She then spent an impromptu afternoon driving us around the local area visiting families with pets. She was an amazing person to be with as sometimes the locals were a bit wary of package laden grinning foreigners approaching. Miyuki broke the ice and was visibly able to relax people further when they realised she was a local and not another well intentioned outsider. We met Puru and Leon, another two Shibas (popular dog in these parts) who didn't not like each other at all before the tsunami but were now best buds and inseparable since the dreadful day. Belle who I told you about earlier. A small Shih tzu called 8 who had become despondent and wouldn't let his owner out of his sight.Goku, who hadn't barked much before but had a real issue with people in his garden now. The list went on, we met all types and heard many amazing stories from both ends of the emotional spectrum.
       We were driving from place to place and our stocks were running low. We would have to drive three hours back to get stocked up again. Miyuki said there was a shop that sold pet food up the way and if we wanted we could shop and stay over in her house and start up again the next day. We were low on funds and didn't want to impose. By staying over she may feel the need to feed us, and I wasn't having that after all her kindness. So we said our goodbyes and promised to meet again the next morning with a car stuffed to bursting with donations.Just one thing before we leave,

K:Ehm but well, sorry to bother you but could I make a quick toilet stop before heading out?
M:Sure but we have no running water, nowhere does. Luckily ours is Japanese style so it is deep.
K:Japanese style? You mean a squat toilet? Yes, I know them.
M:Ehhh.. well ours is old. Much older than new squat toilets.

Not a fence, they are the train tracks.
Miyuki drove us to her house, where we would have been staying had we accepted her kind offer. She lived two rows of houses and a train line back from a river bank.The debris got denser and higher.Until we came to the station. That was cleared because a station always plays a focal point in a Japanese town. When people meet they meet "at the station" however small or insignificant. It was starkly the only area clear because people had been using it for corpses.

We met her two dogs as you saw above and then inside because I wasn't sure if I could hold on any more. My attention quickly moved from my bladder to my vision as they opened the front door. The front door perfectly in tact was a complete and total facade. It was the shell of normality that faced the outside world.Once opened there was just a corridor to walk on, the entire front room had no floor boards and you could see into the bowels of the house. It was covered in white powder to prevent mold and rot settle in. They were all living on the second floor as so many  families in the area were. I'm glad we had said we wouldn't stay before seeing her family home because it would have seemed we were saying no because of it rather than genuine will to get back to our four-walled, with floor abode. I used the toilet, it was old Japanese style.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where it all started

I lived in mainland Japan for 11 years. In that time I rarely if ever saw stray dogs and if I did they usually had their chains still attached. I could probably count on one hand the number of loose dogs seen in those 11 years. The most common way people keep their pets here is on a short chain tied up outside their house. Some have shop bought kennels others have DIY enthusiasts as owners. Cats? Always harder to say with cats. People tend to leave them go walk about even though there are quite a few deadly viruses out there for them to come in contact with. I won't bore you with the details, but personally speaking if an animal is in my care then I'm not going to risk its life by letting it be exposed to prevalent diseases, cars, inclement weather, other people and in Okinawa's case, snakes.

Now I call Okinawa, (down south near Taiwan) home. I love Okinawa for its subtropical beauty, crystal clear seas and for the most part nice weather, although last night we had a doozie of a typhoon.

Okinawa is a far far cry from mainland when it comes to animals. I was here 2 months and I had already seen plenty of strays but what started this ball rolling were the four puppies frolicking around the convenience store parking lot at night.Convenience stores are open 24/7 and this one was on a particularly busy thoroughfare. The Mum dog was tethered in the back and she was barking frantically at her babies to come back. But they were pups and they were having a wild time in each other's company.What kid is going to listen to Mum when a game of tag with your siblings is so much more fun? I watched several near misses with cars pulling in. It was something I didn't want to watch but couldn't pull away from. I asked the staff, they wanted nothing to do with it and said talk to the owner of the adjacent dump.I had to leave and come back the next day.

I met him and told him what I had seen the night before and told him it was kind of scary.Was there any way he could maybe block their "escape" route. He kicked me in the stomach with his reply. "Sure if they get run over, then I don't have to find homes for them".While I was choking with incredulity, he said "do you want one?" I said I want them all.So that is how I ended up with tears in my eyes, lump in my throat and four of the cutest, flea ridden, little monsters in the back of my car.

They say the 1000 mile journey has to start with one step, I've done more than 1000 miles on this road but there is no end in sight because this is the prevalent attitude on Okinawa, drastically different from pet lovers on mainland.There is a neighbour down the road who keeps a female mix breed on a chain out side the front of the house.She never has water, she has no shelter from the elements and she is walking around in her own excrement as the chain is the length of her body. The family doesn't get them spayed. The dog gets pregnant, has the pups then once they are weaned the cutest female pup stays and the Mum and her babies get sent to the pound. As it is owner relinquishment Mum will get gassed within a few days. The puppies will get longer as potential adopters go for "Cute" rather than good nature.

Purebreds cost a fortune, yet even though people have paid an arm and a leg for a puppy-mill pet shop dog they will still have it tied up outside the house. A friend has very wealthy neighbours, as evidenced by their decision to be ostentatious with their material assets.Several high end Italian cars, a TV screen my friend can watch perfectly well from inside her own house.Statues in the front yard, not the garden gnome variety, I'm talking full size Davids here.But their miniature dachshund is tied with its lead to a kennel that has a door in but only one wall. This creature gets pummeled in storms.

I said earlier we had a pretty rough typhoon last night. There is usually a spike in requests to animal rescue groups in the aftermath of one of these storms. Animals, scared out of their wits, decide running from "it" is a better option. Today, coming back from the shops I saw a very underfed, rib visible, skinny dog. I had an opened bag of dog food in the back of my car and thought I could catch this fella and see him right. I prepped a bowl for the food, made contact with him, he continued on his way for a bit. Instead of following on foot, I decided to drive ahead so he would be coming my direction. I pulled over about 20 meters ahead of him, got out and waited. He was coming towards me, I opened the back of the car to fill the dish. He passed a house where the owner was sweeping garden debris from his drive. There was a stray cat in the drive, that caught the dog's attention. The cat darted, the dog followed as did the home owner. I turned and ran with the bowl of food in time to see the owner corner the dog and beat him several times with the broom. My shouts at the man were barely audible over the dog's yelps of pain. But he heard me and turned, giving the poor creature an escape hatch, which he thankfully took. When I get angry, I get tongue-tied, maybe this is my inbuilt self-preservation mechanism but the only Japanese that would come to my head was 'BAKA' (stupid).Very frustrating for a language major to be left speechless.

The pet owners I met in Tohoku restored my faith in Japan as a nation of animal lovers at street level. Yet my neighbour this morning blew that all out of the water.Down here he is not alone, there are unfortunately many more cut from the same cloth They are the reason I took this path and why I can't just sit back and watch.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Comedian san. We joked and then he would joke even more. Whether it was with a quick word or an oscar winning mime. This guy had all the volunteers in stitches. He had good English too and was proficient enough to joke in it for our benefit. He came from Tago town the next station down the track. He arrived on a mama-charry, one of the standard bicycles everyone had before racers and mountain bikes came on the scene. He was really too hip a person to be seen on one of these. But there he was.Closing in on his mid forties while on the bike, instantly 10 years younger when off. He had his baseball cap on backwards, yellow tinted work glasses and would smoke when every one else did.

We arrived in with pet food and asked if any was needed here before we went out on our rounds. Everyone pointed at him. If we had some to spare that would be nice but if not, not to worry.We gave him a bag each for his two older Shibas and cat. I was a little hesitant because I thought, given that he was volunteering at this place then he, like me, didn't have needs. I thought because he said "only if we had some to spare" that he, like me, didn't have needs. I thought because he was in such an upbeat mood that he like me didn't have needs.

I was wrong. The tsunami came. He held his wheelchair bound grandmother's hand until the water got high enough for him to swim out of the back window of their house, all the while supporting her. They both survived, their house did not. Same fate for his place of work, his car and all his worldly goods. The mamma charry he arrived in on was donated. That was now his sole means of transport.Yet here this young guy was, spending two back breaking days cleaning debris for friend's family. I only discovered his story at the end of the day when we had no food left. We brought extra the next day but he wasn't there.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Our taskmasters!

Promise it will never happen again boss!

Study carefully! This is how you win treats.

We had to come home and answer to the boss almost every evening. This time I had overstepped the line and was not taking my  play duties seriously. A stern word from Mikei put me on the straight and narrow I was simply going to have to be a whole lot cuter in all my endeavours. I needed to learn from the Master of Cute. Her wise words set me right. However she was always looking over my shoulder to see that her good advice was not falling on deaf ears. While I was assigned Mikei, Jackie was being scrutinised by Yuki. It is always hard to concentrate when the boss is looking over your shoulder but Jackie survived unscathed and did a stellar job while at it. The pressure was immense, Yuki needed regular status updates and would stare her down until she got them. One of the perks, KITTENS:-)

"I want to know all about you... ON THE HOUR!"

These little ladies and their mother were handed over to us from the Ofunato city hall.All three came with respiratory infections and Momma kitty was not the best patient. Her babies were just fuzzy goof ball bundles of cuteness who when they sneezed would topple over with surprise at what had just happened. All needed several vet visits and it was touch and go for the babies on one of the nights. Happy to say everyone pulled through and they have relocated to Shiga Ken. Home of the wonderful Japan Cat Network Shelter. Four boxes of Okinawan donations headed here and there'll be another 2 tomorrow.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dogs can smile too

Today's post is a demonstration of team work and coordination by several animal rescue groups. Every one is there under a different organisation sporting different colours and sometimes using different techniques but the underlying goal is the same, to remove as many animals out of harm's way as possible. Today Last Chance for Animals caught, Kinship Circle transported and JEARS sheltered. Those tasks rotate depending on the calls received, that was the way the cookie crumbled today.

It was to be a 5.30am start but we slept late, so it turned out to be a 6am start instead. From just north of Sendai to Iwaki city via the expressway under normal circumstances should take about 3 hours when abiding by the speed limit. However this was Golden Week, a period of 3 consecutive national holidays when the entire populace of Japan gets time off from work and school simultaneously . No one wants to sit at home, so everyone moves and they move in their droves by any form of transport that will take them elsewhere. Public transport is usually choc-a-bloc, with seats being reserved weeks in advance. And roads? well, don't mention the roads! Nightly news broadcasts the record breaking traffic jams from around the country. Over the years the best approach I have learned to getting out and about in Golden Week is to leave early, crack of dawn early, hence our scheduled departure time.I added an extra hour to the journey length calculations and figured we'd hit the 10am kitty rendez-vous in front of Iwaki station on the nose.....despite it being Golden Week.

The plan was over-cautious to say the least. Speed limits were 'kind of' adhered to in some places and carefully considered in others ;-) My "Leave Early" motto worked like a charm, the roads were empty as empty can be.And that is what had us sitting in front of Iwaki station an hour before our meeting time. Chance to get some Java and find an ATM that works for overseas credit cards. Four banks later we were cashless but caffeinated.

7 cats 2 to go.
The reason we had driven to this location was to pick up 3 cats and a dog Throughout the journey there numbers had increased into 5 cats and a dog. When we met our contact  they had 9 cats and a dog. Sure was going to be a squeeze but we could make it work..... somehow.The kitties we picked up that day were primarily found wandering. They were in various states of health and with it, in various moods. They had all been picked up around the border of the exclusion zone and brought to us here down in Iwaki so were going to need their radiation levels checked upon arrival. While traveling up to Niigata they launched into several rounds of kitty choruses. This usually pre-empted a feline organic deposit.We would find a service area on the express way and stop off in the disabled toilets. Giving the kitties cage by cage 'stretch time' and us 'eliminate source of foul odour time'. With everything wiped down and the cuddlies all tickled up we would set off again.Reaching Animal Friends all the furbies passed the radiation level checks. They did not have to proceed to segregated quarantine.A good wash to make them feel better, a vet assessment and as much food as they could dream of in the "incoming" quarters. Then when they were sporting their new do's a photo to post on the "Found" website so hopefully their people will recognise them and they can be re-united.

Re-united. There are so many wonderful wonderful stories of reunions. Everyone loves a happy ending they are so emotionally contagious. Happy endings in the animal rescue world are the highs that keep the volunteers coming back to help out again and again. We landed in on an unexpected high that morning in Iwaki.
Chappy when we met.
Everyone's focus was on how the 5 cats had morphed into 9 and how the cages were going to be arranged in the car. Off to the side was Chappy, a 15 year old Shiba who was clearly unimpressed with all the goings on. In fact she was positively withdrawn. She didn't wag her tail when we got down to her level to say hi. She didn't recoil, she didn't look away, look down, look scared she just looked blue. She sat passively by as the cat shenanigans were happening all around her.She seemed to enjoy getting her chin rubbed as she would proffer it up just a little as you were scratching it. When you stopped she just resumed her depressed posture.

She had escaped the tsunami but her family's house had not. It lay in rubble. Her owner had been evacuated to a no pets evacuation center.When he and Chappy found each other again rather than cause hassle at the center he brought her 'home'. He visited her and fed her every day. But then he and his wife were moved to Government housing in Chiba. Government housing the length and breadth of the country does not allow pets in any shape or form. He asked family members to care for Chappy but she escaped and went back to the pile of rubble she had called home. For a few days the son and daughter-in-law tried to catch her. Chappy wasn't having any of it and she wasn't going anywhere with anyone who weren't her 'direct family'. Home is where the heart is right? The family members got in touch with Animal Friends (JEARS) and through a group AF were working with, Last Chance for Animals, Chappy was finally caught. And now here she was sitting in front of Iwaki station with 9 cats and a whole group of people she didn't know. No wonder things weren't thrilling.

What Chappy didn't know was that her people were in transit to see her, ALL her people. We got the call that they had arrived. She spotted them coming from across the taxi rank.She stood up, she squinted and if she could have spoken she'd probably have said "What the......?!AAAHAHAHAHAHHAHHHH"
The grandchild arrived first with his mother, then a Dad. With each new arrival Chappy's elation reached new levels. I thought if a dog could burst then this was where it was going to happen. We watched as this previous bundle of sadness turned into an overjoyed firecracker of excitedness. Circling, jumping, tail wagging licking and dog laughing*,. When she calmed a bit she only had eyes for her family. She wouldn't move away from them for anything, she gave velcro a run for its money.Then joy would well up in her again and she'd have to do her happy jumpy circle dance.
 But I hadn't seen anything yet Chappy's Dad was yet to come.About 15 minutes later an older man and his wife traversed the taxi lot.The son holding Chappy let her leash go. All the volunteers gasped, one made a lunge for the leash. Chappy was only going one place. She beelined for Dad. He dropped his bag got down on his knees and wrestled with her while trying to get the treats he had brought her out of his backpack. Chappy only wanted him and his pettings. Ok then, when she saw the treats she wanted those too but just to take and put to the side for later.Right now it was all about contact, contact and more contact. She was oblivious to the world around her. She greeted and played with the man's wife but she was a true blue Daddy's girl and she had no qualms about showing it.Whoever coined the phrase jumping for joy did so because they were at a dog reunion. This 15 year old was hitting the high spots and she was over the moon.

Things quieted down as Yoshiko explained what was going to happen from here on. Chappy was coming with us and not going with her people. Her people weren't back on their feet yet and had no place for Chappy and where they were staying had a steadfast nationwide no animal policy. Where they were staying 235km, 3 and a half hours away. Today they had traveled that distance to say hi to Chappy for 20 minutes and their next train back was soon, too soon. The older man teared up and gave the bag of treats to the nearest volunteer. He got close to her face and talked softly to her. She listened attentively. He gave her the final ear scratch and picked up his bag. They all walked away, turning every so often to wave. Chappy's eyes followed them in bewilderment. When they were out of view we gave her some more of the treats her person had brought.Comfort food.She was the last passenger to load into the car and the quietest the whole way to Niigata. We had a crate for her but she needed some extra care and love on the way back so she nestled on the volunteer's lap wondering if what had just happened had been real or just a dream.

*Dog laughing:

Chappy getting some love after her emotional roller coaster

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I just couldn't resist..... How the furbies get their way!!

The copy and paste didn't work correctly these "House Rules" are taken from here: furbs in the pics are my housemates:-)

House Rules...
 Dogs are never permitted in the house.  The dog
stays outside in a specially built wooden compartment
named, for very good reason, the dog house.
2.  Okay, the dog can enter the house, but only for
short visits or if his own house is under renovation.
3.  Okay, the dog can stay in the house on a permanent
basis, provided his dog house can be sold in a yard
sale to a rookie dog owner.
4.  Inside the house, the dog is not allowed to run
free and is confined to a comfortable but secure metal
5.  Okay, the cage becomes part of a two-for-one deal
along with the dog house in the yard sale, and the dog
can go wherever the hell he pleases.
6.  The dog is never allowed on the furniture.
7.  Okay, the dog can get on the old furniture but
not the new furniture.
8.  Okay, the dog can get up on the new furniture until
it looks like the old furniture and then we'll sell
the whole damn works and buy new furniture...upon
which the dog will most definitely not be allowed.
9. The dog never sleeps on the bed.  Period.
10.  Okay, the dog can sleep at the foot of the bed.
11.  Okay, the dog can sleep alongside you, but he's
not allowed under the covers.
12.  Okay, the dog can sleep under the covers but not
with his head on the pillow.
13.  Okay, the dog can sleep alongside you under the
covers with his head on the pillow, but if he snores
he's got to leave the room.
14.  Okay, the dog can sleep and snore and have
nightmares in bed, but he's not to come in and sleep
on the couch in the TV room, where I'm now sleeping.
That's just not fair.
The ladies
15.  The dog never gets listed on the census
questionnaire as "primary resident," even if it's

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Like chalk and cheese

Before starting into this entry I just want to let you know that there were some problems with posting and for some reason my Waterlines post and the Retracing Steps post have landed on the page in the wrong order. So if you didn't read the latter, scroll down a little and you'll meet Dr. Takahashi of Maruko fame.

I teach. I use chalk. I don't like chalk. I prefer whiteboards. My national university only extended its whiteboard budget to a few classrooms on each floor and for some reason each semester, I always seem to land the rooms with the chalkboards. Cheese on the other hand, is a different matter altogether.I love cheese of all shapes, sizes and smells. In fact the more pungent  the better the cheese.Like chalk and cheese, a saying used to demonstrate vast differences; .

 In Retracing Steps I revisited Rikuzentakata. We got a call while there that Ofunato city hall had a dog. Oh Ofunato! city hall of city halls, the grief you put us through last time for poor Maruko. Just the mention of your downtrodden name was enough to make my hair stand on end. Your absolute conviction that rules were never meant to be flexible and the battle you staged to adhere to that principle was still a healing wound in my mind. What kind of mood were you in this time? I steeled myself, I didn't have the valiant Dr. Takahashi this visit. I was apprehensive about having to do Japanese officialdom on behalf of a poor dog when I regularly stumbled over Japanese officialdom for myself. At least I live through the quagmire of my errors, if I slipped up this time a life was lost.With my heart in my mouth I parked our car in front of the city hall.

We met a local lady who was a friend of the Maruko supporting couple. She had several animal people connections, from vets to groomers to folks who just wanted to help out. She led the way, as I was mentally psyching myself up for Battle Royale part II. We had just crossed the threshold when a grey haired man in the city hall's working uniform got out of the elevator. He gasped, beamed and bowed deeply. I remained stone-faced I had a showdown to attend to and I was fired up. I had settled on what I thought was the perfect combination of polite yet firm, Japanese words  for the occasion and by golly I was going to use them. Our leading lady stopped, turned our direction and started the introduction formalities. Wait! What? Ohhhhhhhh! the penny dropped! Officialdom in Japan changes the 1st of April every year. My previous paper pushing nemesis had been transferred and in his place this smiling affable middle aged vet. Someone in my heart started a very loud chorus of Hallelujah, my head told it to be quiet because we weren't finished yet.

We were asked to drive the car around the back to meet our charge, a larger side of medium, rusty, Shiba cross. He was in the cage Maruko had been scared out of her wits in. He on the other hand was quite chilled and seemed to be enjoying the change of scenery. He had been found strolling around the river, no-one around knew him. His posters were posted but to no avail. He was a friendly fellow and took to his leash without any problems. He took us on a short exploratory walk where he conducted his business and then was quite prepared to leave.Except while he was on his walk the vet asked if we had room for a Momma cat and her two still nursing babies.A quick phone call to the shelter where they would possibly go and approval was received. Yes, we had room at the inn for this little family. Some rearranging of vehicle contents was called for and the two cats we already had with us lucked out and got shotgun on the co-pilot's lap for the long journey home.What a huge difference from a few short weeks before. They took our contact information, thanked us profoundly and said they would be in touch when the next case came up.There were 4 officials bowing deeply to the back of our car as we pulled out of the pound.

One more stop before we could hit the "fast" roads. A rendez vous with Romeo and Juliette. Two miniature dachshunds.Their young owner had had their recently built house razed to the ground and her vet was housing her pups in his own house. 8 animals and three humans made the journey to the halfway point of Sendai that day. 4 of the animals for temporary shelter the other 4 looking for forever families.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Water lines

I'm standing up.The waterline is visible above shelves just below ceiling on the inside of this house. It stayed like that for an hour when the waters rose.
Front garden. Water line across the windows.
Water lines.They are everywhere. In the majority of photos I took of people with backdrops, there they are, lurking discretely on walls, fences, trees,windows and even trucks that some how managed to become immovable.A silent yet glaring reminder that there was water here. Here, where there shouldn't have been.
     Belle is an 11 year old arthritic German Shepherd. When we met, she was basking in the sun, but with one eye vigilantly observing the red cross volunteers set up station across from her. We approached cautiously hoping to catch her owners at home to see if they were alright for pet supplies. Belle, the ever watchful guard dog, brought the other eye out of resting and observed our approach with all the aplomb of a queen regarding her subjects. "Yessssssssss! what can I do for you?"  her weary eyes relayed. We edged slowly closer. Belle's regal demeanour was shattered as she awkwardly found her feet to do the guard dog thing she had spent so many years perfecting.  We proffered hands for her to sniff and let her know we had love to share. We passed the smell test and she plonked herself back down on the futon in front of her hand made kennel. A kennel that remarkably had withstood the torrents of water the tsunami had brought inland.

As with many dogs in Japan, Belle's owners had her tethered. A very unfamiliar sight to me when I first came 16 years ago. One I am still not 100% comfortable with seeing today. My furbies have the run of the house (see earlier recliner mention!) and would only be tied to something if under anaesthesia at the vet clinic!  If an animal is to be tied out then a longer chain/rope would appease my sensibilities more.But that is just me. I am not a one to preach or change a country's habit. Some topics you can raise in conversation but need to be aware that things won't change over night.Obviously I believe my way is right or I wouldn't mention it but equally the tether-ers believe their way is correct too. Especially when it appears in advice sheets from city hall that citizens whose dogs are tied out should keep the chain/rope short so as not to bother passers-by.

 Belle was used to her tethered life and luckily for her her people had the foresight to disobey city hall guidelines. She had an ample supply of rope and had she been a spring chicken she probably would have been able to bound across the street to greet the treat laden volunteers.But in her silver years her body had taken on a stooped stance and she shuffled when she moved. She had no external injuries just a few healed over old dog bumps and hairless patches on her elbows from the hard ground. Normal wear and tear for a dog of her years.The aches and pains of ageing clearly laid heavily on her joints when she moved which is why her tsunami story caught us off guard.

Chez Belle
She had, as always, been tied to her kennel when the first waves came in. Her kennel floor doesn't touch the ground so she would have been able to get inside for a while to dry her feet. But when the larger waves started to flow there was no keeping dry. There was also no escape. The leash buckle held fast to her collar. When the waters got deeper and she couldn't touch the ground any more she'd have been swimming against the onslaught of seawater. If you have seen any tsunami videos you'll know what a fierce current this flow of water created.Yet there was arthritic 11 year old Belle swimming for her life against it. When the flow abated the water stayed high for over an hour according to the neighbours who "evacuated" to the second floor of their homes. Belle also found refuge on the 'second floor of her home'. Except.... her second floor was well below the water line and well, as you know she was still attached at the neck. So for one hour, this old dame clung to life as death had a near vice grip on her collar.With odds stacked against her, she survived.

I didn't meet her before the events of March 11th and I wouldn't have met her if it weren't for March 11th.Yet her story of resilience and the innate desire to stay on this side of the pearly gates will stick with me.Her shelter still stands and she has two futons to sleep on, one on the sunny side, one in the shade. She is still tethered, I still don't like the idea. But had she not been she most definitely would not have survived.Cheers Belle! May you have many more years in front of you and may all of them be tsunami free!

Retracing steps

Dr.Takahashi is on my left. look just over his shoulder, you can see the water lines.
As you know by now this trip north was my second. I hoped to pop in and say hi to a few of the four-leggeders I met on my first trip and to touch base with the "two-leggeders" who were STILL on the front lines! On my second day we did an animal pick up run and our final destination was Animal Friends Niigata. This has been the primary stop for animals not only from the nuclear exclusion zone but also from the entire length of the devastated coast. Two American NGO's/NPO's (Kinship Circle and Last Chance for Animals) have been working with three Japanese based no-kill animal rescue groups.( Heart Tokushima, Japan Cat Network, Shiga and Animal Friends Niigata) and all groups have until the last week been bringing their rescues directly to Niigata. Last week saw the first transport of dogs to one of the outer lying shelters to make room for all the incoming pets. I missed their departure by 10 hours and with it I missed Maruko. She now resides in Shikoku. I am hoping to get a picture or two to pass on to Dr. Takahashi. That may take a brief detour onto the pages of this blog:-)
            Speaking of Dr. Takahashi, He and his staff are back to business as almost usual.There is still evidence of water lines around his office. They managed to evacuate all but one of their four legged residents at the time of the tsunami.They just didn't have enough hands. The good news is that the staff had the foresight to put the furbie on the second floor and tales of survival were shared on everyone's return. It gave me great great pleasure to be able to show him the Maruko's story video I created.Just in case you didn't see it the first time, I will shamelessly post it here again        .m(-.-)m    

At Animal Friends I was able to meet up with Fu, Mi and Shuu.The three kitties we took in from a large Rikuzentakata evacuation center. Mi was her usual cute kitten self, Shuu a little unsure of this "new" human and Fu as adorable and loving as ever. I took a lot of photos and some video because I knew the next day I'd be heading out to where their family were.

After a very delayed start, we finally made it to Rikuzentakata, a town frequently featured on the national news here because of the extent of the damage caused.We stuck our heads in the main office and introduced ourselves. I explained I had been here three weeks previously with an animal rescue group and that we were back to see if any one had animal needs.We were told we could set up in the morning, like the last time, but if we liked we could give the supplies in now. Before doing that I had one quick phone call to make. "Moshi Moshi! Konbanwa, Kate desu!", "Where am I? Ehmm, downstairs by the entrance" Waaaaaaaaaaahhhh click! Five seconds later a tracksuit clad lady was tearing down the school hallway in my direction, excitedly repeating my name. She unexpectedly bear hugged me and we got down to cat talk. I showed her all the pictures and videos I had taken the day before and she teared up.Each new photo would see her put her hand over her mouth and whisper her kitty's name. She tickled each kitty photo under the chin or pat them on the head telling them she wouldn't be too long more. She asked them if they were being good and eating well. I told her to take the phone and show the photos and videos to her human family here. She came back 10 minutes later red eyed and puffy faced. We hugged good night and I said I would see her tomorrow.

            We  settled down for the night. 10.30pm, earliest night I have had in a very long time. It was bucketing down and the wind was picking up.The safest, driest place was the shelter of our car. Parked beside the Japanese military trucks we blanketed ourselves up and attempted getting comfortable in 'Hotel Honda Odyssey'. The name sounds so much more luxurious than the experience! We woke several times during the night because we were convinced we were experiencing earthquakes. Nope, just the wind we were told.  Like with any 'camping trip' we woke up with the first light of day, i.e. way too early to feel remotely human without copious amounts of caffeine. Our scheduled start was 9am, it was still before 6. We drove our cars around to the front of the school and watched the world surrounding it wake up. Only two dogs were were still there from the last time. One seemed very depressed and wouldn't let us approach him very unlike our previous meeting. He looked fed up, as I can well imagine he was, at week 9 of bike shed life. Some treats were left within reach and we hoped his owner would show up at our session at 9am.

           The other little fellow, was an energetic little black pomeranian .He had smiles and love to share. Everyone was his friend. He excitedly welcomed us and indeed anyone who came within his range. I didn't see anyone with him last time but this time I saw a lady grooming him as we were leaving. I stopped the car and jumped out to tell her about the possibilities of sheltering her dog if she was having trouble. It wasn't her dog and she didn't know whose dog it was. She just stopped by to make sure his water was fresh and to 'groom' him everyday. Groom him with her fingers. I knew we had a brush in the car. I had brought it 2,600 km from Okinawa. Now the question was"where in the car?' We are talking needle in a haystack here. We had crates, dog food, cat food, human food, beds, shampoos, meds, Sleeping bags, extra clothing for the cold....... the only thing we didn't have was the proverbial kitchen sink!! I dug deep and  found the buried treasure, right next to pet shampoo sheets for small dogs. Perfect!! I went back to the lady and she gladly accepted the donations.

      I wished her the best and gave her a flyer in Japanese about the group's activities. She thanked me and then said wait a moment. Out of her pocket she pulled an origami frog and handed it to me.I have often received paper cranes in my time here but never a frog. The cranes are a symbol of long life, my mind raced, frogs? She explained that the Japanese word for frog is Kaeru which sounds identical to Kaeru meaning 'return' the distinction is that the kanji characters are different. She said she was giving me this in the hopes that the happiness I had just shared with her would be returned to me some day..........................................    
A simple but precious treasure

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Winds of change

Having said I would start at the beginning I find myself leaping forward into real time as today marked a momentuous occasion in the lives of pet owners around the beleaguered nuclear plant in Fukushima.While it took a mere seven days for the earthquake and tsunami issues to take a back seat in the international media.The radiation problems would frequently raise their ugly heads again and again when there were protests in Germany, discussions in Britain and sit ins across the States. The main focus of these awareness raising campaigns were the dangers of nuclear power generation and the consequences on society if something went wrong.

 Sunday saw a march through Tokyo calling attention to the plight of the animals left behind in the 20km zone.
Japan has had quite a few quake related nuclear accidents in the last decade. They have been minor belches as compared with the current full-scale manifestation of chronic acid reflux. People have been "re-located" temporarily in those situations but never as long or as strictly enforced as this mandatory evacuation. People were told they would be one or two days away from home. At the 6 week mark it became a mandatory evacuation and people were given a few short hours to get in and out of the area and retrieve anything of importance/ value they felt they would need. One person per household donned the tyvek suit and protective eyewear and sped into the zone to grab everything on the lists compiled by family members waiting in the evacuation centers.

Stop for a minute. You have an hour. Grab everything that is important to you and leave forever. No turning back. 60 minutes for you ALONE to gather a lifetime of mementos.......for EVERY member of your family...... not to mention all things official, but I am assuming you know where those documents are and that would be the easy part. Your dogs are thrilled to see you they wag their tails, yeah!!!! My person is back! You enter the house your cats practically trip you up with every step you take as they wend their way around your moving legs. You stop for a minute to pick out a piece of paper you can feel the purrs vibrating against your leg as little miss kitty brushes the length of her body past your shins..............Now walk away. Leave them there, pour out whatever food is left but leave your pets where they are. They are not allowed to evacuate, people only. No pets permitted.Once you leave today, the "zone" will be sealed and your beloved furbies in there with it.How would you react?

The Japanese have a long standing reputation as law abiding citizens. In these circumstances they were no different, they did as told. With precedents, residents from around the nuclear plants have been allowed back in after a day or two.According to form this should have been no different, except it was. Very different. When the exclusion zone was at advisory level. Animal rescue groups were going in and finding all types of animals running loose, tethered animals who were skin and bones for lack of food and water and the worst sight of all were the dead animals most still tied to their kennels in their own front gardens.

Every so often the government would come across a hold out like the man below. This 83 year old told the police he would rather die than leave without his dog. I know this makes me look fickle, but I am requesting permission for him to be added to my list of heroes that have come to light in the wake of these horrible events. This story was taken from Kazuyoshi Nagashima san's blog. A Kanazawa politician with a big heart for the animals.


I always start these entries and say to myself "Right, this is going to be short". Obviously I still haven't got my head around the definition of short!!  So finally to the news that was released to-day that made me take the leap to current time was that  the government has finally seen the light and will be letting people evacuate their animals.From pets to pigs, a lot of the animals will be catered for. From the bottom of my heart I just hope they survived this far.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hitting the ground running.......................

First of all the principle behind 'hitting the ground running' is that you are unencumbered and good to go literally from the moment you cross the starting line. Having sent all received non-perishable donations via post that left my personal weight allowance free for things that had to get there in more of a hurry. Flea/tick preventatives, food and veterinary supplies which were being sucked up by the vacuum of need were going with me personally to feed the black hole this awful disaster has created. I carted a very manageable 20kilos of donations and thankfully didn't overly upset any sensitive Skymark airlines counter staff at the airport by being excessively weighed down.Sure don't they have enough to deal with?

Any way, 12 hours after locking my university office door I was standing at the door of my Golden week home. A house in the suburbs of Sendai which has become the staging area for volunteer operations. A somewhat central point between the Niigata receiving shelter and the affected areas. I use the word "somewhat" because while the journey from the East coast to Sendai remains constant at 4 hours the affected areas range from 2 hours to 10 hours drive away from the house. The scale of this disaster is unprecedented. The coastal area affected by the tsunami is much longer than the length of my own country, Ireland.

This time my application to volunteer was accepted by an American volunteer group, Kinship Circle, who have international disaster experience. Read Hurricane Katrina, Earthquake in Chile, Landslides in Brazil. They are there for four-legged victims of disasters. I wanted to be there too! their disaster experience and JEARS' Japan experience promised to make an absolutely formidable force for the animals and pet owners affected. I was looking forward to being part of the bigger picture....... so was the youngest cat when I got back home!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Well,Well,Well! Long time no post!

I haven't been the best of a blogster have I? I know a bad workman always blames their tools but I will duly accept half the fault for having tried to convert to the cult of St. Mac while volunteering in a very challenging environment. I am starting to believe that I am genetically wired to be a Windows user  although I feel obliged to admit that the Macs have have won me over with their sleek, smooth, good looks. I never thought myself to a 'cover judger' but this 'book' won me over at first sight!!

I'm in Niigata airport ready to fly home with a head full of stories bursting to be written down. The beginning is always a great place to start so it is there I will share with you first.

Some of my own crew "pre-approving" the donations!
Collecting donations. I put the usual ads in the local classifieds and received a steady trickle of responses. I posted it as my status on Facebook and was 'liked' and commented upon by many. Then an AMAZING lady, Amanda, took my pebble-in-the-pond style requests to the public and made them into an avalanche of donations. She wholeheartedly put her back into it and I was inundated with all manner of pet items and financial donations. Now how to get all of this up to where it was needed. Two days before leaving I took a trip to the airport to check with my airline if, given the circumstances, they would allow a volunteer exceed their weight allowance to bring donated supplies to pet owners and animals in need in the Tohoku disaster area. Emmmm no! Clear cut and straightforward "No". I took the line that these particular rules were made for times and situations when normality was ...well, normal, and that the area I was heading to with these well intentioned donations was far from that status. Again, the words a person on a mission doesn't like to hear were repeated, " No you can't. The rules are the rules." Thanks Sky mark airlines for adding fuel to my fire, I was going to get them there with or without you. Would have been nicer with, but hey where there is a will there is a way, right?

Post office: Turned out to be surprisingly cheap. I was able to get several  15 -20 kg packets out with them. But had a meltdown over the last and heaviest package. The large dog crate I donated myself which I had filled with donated dog food. The one I had weighed so carefully the night before, the one that read under the 30kilo limit at home but seemed to have put on weight in the half mile between the house and the Post Office. Again the same line was used and the same reception of said line was received in return. (I really am going to have to work on my lines!!) I was so utterly disappointed about the bureaucratic inflexibilities I encountered. There was absolutely no budging the staff over the set boundaries created for 'normal circumstances'.

I wished I had my camera so I could show them their fellow country men receiving these donations the last time. To explain the story of the middle-aged woman who broke down in tears when we asked her did she have enough food for her dog. To share pictures of Ryu-chan's life in a cardboard box outside a freezing evacuation center in Iwate until our donations gave him a crate and blankets. Or if they were cat people maybe they would have been moved just a little by Fu, Mi and Shou who had lived in their owner's car for three weeks.Having these stories in my head made me more determined. That package was heading North.

Since I didn't have the time before flying as I had morning classes to teach on departure day, my wonderful better half found a courier service that was ready to oblige with the task of dispatching the crate and food. All donations were divided up between the three JEARS shelters The tangibles went to Tokushima and Shiga prefectures and the monetary donations went to offset vet bills in the Niigata shelter.