Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kasetsu Jyutaku

From the moment we got off the train in Izumi-chuo to the second before the taxi to take us back there arrived, we were wet, very wet. Okinawa's rainy season finished earlier than usual and we were smug with ourselves for having got off lightly. The week in Tohoku most definitely balanced my rain rations out. In fact I may even be over my rain quota for the year after the last few days. It sure knows how to do weather up there! Still, I had my trusty JEARS emblazoned jacket and was ready to face the elements:-)

We visited kasetsu jyutaku, the accommodations people move out of general evacuation centers to. Rows and rows and then more rows of prefabs. They are small with a mini-miniature-kitchens, a living room, a stand up bathroom and sometimes one more room off the living room. Most are connected to a distribution center. These are not all equally equipped so while the residences are exact replicas of each other the received items are very different. One of the locations we visited was not getting regular supplies of pet food and once the word was out that there were pet volunteers in the vicinity, heads kept popping around corners.

Earlier on in the allocation process people were randomly assigned their new abode. This has given rise to pet owners living next to non-animal friendly types and in a later tale I'll fill you in on one owner's dilemma. The venue we stopped off at today had already got their ducks in a row in this regard and many of the fur parents were off to the back of the facility. This was where we met Kelly. An almost one year old German Shepherd. There was some serious adoration going on for this young boy.His family had decided the flooding gravel pathway was not suitable for their pooch and they laid down teracotta tiles for him. They were living in the last row of the prefabs so they were able to stretch them across to the fence. The fence, now there is a good idea,they attached his name plate so passersby could call to him and a tarp was run from the roof to the fence to protect Mr.Sociable from the sun and the rain. Under which they placed his kennel/carrier.

He was and is ADORED. The husband came out of the house when they heard us and positioned himself at Kelly's side and proceeded to show us all the tricks the young fella had been practicing. For his reward he got a raw hide stick which every so often he would drop so anyone could pick up and he could gently take. He was a very sweet boy.The family told us of their other dog who didn't make it, a collie who was Kelly's best friend and mentor.

The family evacuated when the sirens went off and left their dogs behind. They weren't allowed back to their home until the next day when the waters had subsided. They found Kelly a good bit away from their home trapped up to his shoulders in a pile of debris, they took hours to dig him out but they managed. He had a badly gashed back leg and even though the fur has grown back over it, it has grown back discoloured.His people said his overall behaviour hasn't changed since the tsunami and that he is still a puppy in an adult's body.They went back everyday they could to search for his buddy but to no avail.Kelly is now getting double the love as his people are getting over their heart-breaking decision. Kelly is going to be just fine.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sweet & Sour

Remember me?

Hmmmmmmmm today was .....great....kind of. I'm on the fence. It was truly wonderful to conduct follow ups with animals and their people and to see progress and change. However we also came across resignation which by rights we should have seen more of and most likely would have had this happened in a different country.Japan's 'pleasant' veneer of tatemae (public face ) and honmae (true/ private face) has its pluses and its minuses. Belle's owners dropped their public face and succumbed to their honmae in public. They can't continue to take care of her.They don't want to take her to temporary housing because everyone lives in everyone else's pockets. Belle has taken to barking quite alot recently and they don't want to be the cause of aggravation to the neighbours who reside in the same pocket they do. Her people have asked their 'before the tsunami' neighbours to watch her. Two families take it in turns to feed and walk Belle each day. I told them what JEARS can offer but they insisted they could manage. My heart went out to Belle. I didn't want the neighbours to simply "manage to" take care of her like an extra chore. I want them to give her the love and attention any dog deserves especially in their twilight years. Just in case you didn't read the earlier post Madame Belle is 11 years old and an up to the neck in water tsunami survivor. I wish the absolute best for any fourleggeder that crosses my path, but the ones getting on in years have a special place reserved for them. We left the JEARS contact information should the neighbours decide that their Belle chore is too much for them. Had her coat not had loose tufts attached to it or her bed not been muddy and damp from the rain I'd have left a happier camper but who am I to swan in and demand my ideals be upheld when I'm not there to pull my weight in the whole equation? I did all that I could there and then. I've been in touch with a different neighbour san between my trips up north, I'll be the fly on Belle's kennel wall for JEARS.

Belle receiving Tony's donation

Sunday, June 26, 2011

No, no technological miracle will be happening in this space anytime soon! So until this body gets to a real internet facility photos in the blog will be wishful thinking. This is my third time up here and each time I have remembered one more thing that I longed for the last trip up. I was brimming with confidence about having all my bases well and truly covered, counted and included. The only spanner in the works is the lack of an internet connection.iPhones have the capacity to be great and when they work I can do stuff like this, posts to blogs.Fingers crossed it stays in a good mood.

We traveled North to Miyako city Iwate prefecture.It was a long trip. We had a rendez-vous with an elderly lady who had for some reason evaded the city hall rule that all owner relinquishments get gassed. She had managed to persuade the folks there that she was a life worth saving and had been in residence for two months. That is rare in city pounds, very rare indeed! The bright side was that she'd circumnavigated the rules, the darker side was that she hadn't been well taken care of during her time "inside". She had a pretty goopy eye infection and a rather matted tail end.I won't get graphic but I'll give you three guesses what her TAIL end was matted with.... Oh, and the first two guesses don't count:-(

Pitan a 12 year old Cardigan Corgi had been surrendered by her elderly owners because her 'Dad' had been hospitalized in a bigger hospital in another city. Okaasan (his wife) was having trouble with the long commute and couldn't care for their short furry family member. So she turned her over to city hall. Pitan must have lived the life of Reilly at home. She was one of the lucky ones and didn't spend her days tied up outside the front of her house. She was an indoor dog, rare in the countryside, and quite possibly a well-table scrapped dog.

In polite company you do not mention a lady's weight, well she is out of earshot now so between you and me, this girl was FAT! She was 14.6kg and anytime their was a lull in activity she plonked herself down, splaying her back legs out at unnatural 45 degree angles either side.She'd look up sweetly and say "Are we done yet? Did I do well? Treat please" Apparently she was down a kilo since entering the pound but her distinct waddle told us she needed to lose more - a lot more! City hall had me fill out all the paperwork and within the hour Pitan was ours. The staff were kind enough to let us know her vet's name and upon leaving the pound we made a beeline for their offices.
Pitan getting vet checked before heading to the JEARS Fukushima base
Another great vet. I haven't had much dealings with vets at home in Ireland so I can't comment on standards there but here it can be a very 'luck of the draw' affair. Pitan had drawn the lucky straw with this country clinic. Albeit, a bit all over the place, her vet was great, to the point and was clearly excited for her when he learned what her future held.These kind of vets are a great source of motivation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Handsome strangers

What a long day! it started at 04.20am in Tokyo and will end in about 10 minutes at 22.00. Since Skymark (Japanese Ryanair equivalent)were their usual reliable selves yesterday we managed to miss all subsequent Tokyo reservations and had to spend the night there, (unfinanced by skymark I might add).We caught the first bullet train up this morning and reached the JEARS house by midday after picking up our rent-a-car..... PAUSE[][]... HOLY MOLEY You guys are amazing!!! You utterly floored me with your EXTREMELY generous donations!! I can't check the amounts on my phone but when I opened the page on this public computer in this public place let me just say that everyone here thought I was a lunatic!:-)

After we had de-bagged ourselves in Sendai we went on a blind date. Two dogs had been tweeted in the last time I was up here and when the other team went to see them at that time they found two very underweight, unstable unhealthy dogs. They brought them to the vet for the family who had recently evacuated from the coast.They were given medicine, advice and fluids to set them right. I hadn't been with the first team but I saw the photos and heard the story firsthand. Today we found them again. Aside from the usual marks life leaves on 10 year old and 14 year old dog these two were well on the road to good health, no ribs showing, bright eyes and wagging tails.Hopefully by some electronic and digital miracle I will be able to add the before and after photos here. Watch this space:-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where does the time go?

You promise yourself you'll post every day then that gets reduced to 4,3,2 times a week. That becomes an easy once a week, I mean anyone can keep up with that right? Two weeks have passed and there has been an empty inbox in this corner of cyber space. Gomen ne? as they say here, a friendly way of saying I apologise and hope you'll find within to forgive my errant ways:-)

I should justify my absence by remarking that no laurels have been rested upon here. I am closing in on the one tonne mark of pet items packed, wrestled with, got stuck to and eventually shipped from Okinawa to mainland.My furbs are wondering if they'll ever get that shady corner of the living room back again, especially since the Okinawan sun has been putting in full work days in the last few weeks.

So I'm boarding a plane again, then a bus, then another train and most likely a taxi. Door to accommodation door: 12 hours.Quick rest and on the road again. I've mapped out two hokenjyo visits and a third is pending. What happens in between is anyone's guess.

I had two very special phone calls this week. The first was from a lady you met earlier, Miyuki san. Her dogs are doing well and the big news is that they got their electricity back. Think about your longest blackout and then multiply it by three months.Oh, and throw no running water into that mix too.She is busying herself with collecting yukatas for the young ladies and jinbei for the men in her village so they can celebrate their annual summer festival in the proper traditional attire. A Yukata is made of light cotton with vivid summer motifs printed on it. Nearly all village summer festivals throughout Japan see the womenfolk don these pieces of art. I'm going to stop off at the mall on the way home to-day to see if I can find any with Okinawan motifs on them.

My second, I picked up the phone and heard a voice bubbling with good news. GENERAL rule of thumb for relaying important information in Japanese conversations: Preface your point with a few token banal utterances. Weather is a good neutral starting point. As is the rhetorical "are you well?" to which a nod or an affirmation is made and the courtesy inquiry is then reciprocated. Conversing parties agree, all is well or weather is (insert adjective) and now you can smoothly progress to topic at hand. The voice said "I'm getting my cats back today......... Kate, is that you?" ...... in that order. Fu, Mi, and Shou are going home, in fact as I write this they are with their human mum again. I'm hoping my volunteer trip this week will take me by their new temporary living quarters so I maybe pop in and say hi.
don't you just love happy endings?:-)

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I added two new 'gadgets' to the blog this week both collecting donations. The first one is called Greenies after the famous pet treats and the other Kate's northern efforts PART III........ . Greenies is for JEARS the volunteer group I connect with while up in Tohoku and the "Efforts" one , an awesome friend put together on my behalf.

As you know I have been collecting donations here and sending them north. Well, unfortunately for me they don't travel for free so things have been 'budgetarily' rearranged (:-))(sorry Mr.Agnew!!)so one button will go to offset my shipping costs and animal needs on the ground and the other will go to the charity I volunteer with. Either way it all goes to the animals affected by the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I got an eye! she has eyes!! after about 20 blurry photos of this young lady, there it was as clear as day, an eye! and oh what a beautiful eye! I know she had two but I was quite content to have caught one on "film". We almost missed her because we had been heading for the Akita dog's residence with the last of our supplies. Just treats and toys, not the essentials but definitely the welcome bonuses in a furbie's day.We met the owner at the Japanese military water station. She had come with a wheelbarrow and 4, 5 gallon plastic tanks for water since this area still had no running water 2 months after the day.
I try and avoid using "furball" when referring to pets, as to my mind that is what cats drop all their airs and graces for the production of.HOWEVER, bodily emissions aside, it was the only word that could describe 7 month old Sayuri.
She was an Old English Sheepdog (OES), or for anyone who grew up in Ireland, the Dulux dog:-).She was close to full grown and still had the boundless energy of an excited puppy. She wouldn't sit still for a second, "yeah new friends!"better run up and down the fence for that one!, "ooooooh treats!" whhooo hooo need to run around the garden to celebrate that!!" and she'd be off.A hazy ball of white and grey tearing around the area in front of her house.While she was on her mission we spoke to her family. Sayuri was their second OES and they had her registered at the Japanese equivalent of a Kennel club. After the earthquake, members who were connected to the OES group bandied together and got lists of all the OES owners in the affected areas. They had sent regular care packages to families who had old English Sheepdogs.I don't know if this is happening for other breeds but I was pretty impressed with that generosity. So Sayuri was getting quality food and now she had treats and toys too, that could only mean one thing..... another 5 laps of the garden:-)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


This is Riku, He is 15 and he is being driven demented by the dust raised from around the reconstruction areas. He has lived a relatively quiet life on a little island in Matsushima bay. There were about 10 houses in his little hamlet off the beaten track. Actually, I'm not sure there was much of a track to call a track. But he lived there with his elderly owners. We met his human mum first. She and all of her 70 something years were hauling water tanks up to her house. The Japanese military had a water station here and residents were coming with receptacles of all shapes and sizes to stock up on freshwater. Can I just point out that this was already 2 months AFTER the earthquake and tsunami? The remote places had still not been reached for basic utilities. Gas and electricity....luxuries.We offered to carry her water tanks the few meters she had left but she assured us she was fine and used to it.

Riku was momentarily unsure of us and then he went into fully fledged meeter and greeter mode. He was fine with the two new faces coming towards him and was quite happy to get his ears scratched. Quick look inside...... ahhhhh that is why he is happy to get his ears scratched. Still on the ok side of an infection. Right, so how do you tell the owner politely the world inside the dogs ears is being irritated by the dust,scratching and should at the very least be cleaned out with tepid water? Dust she has no control over and sure didn't I just see her lugging the only water this house is going to see for a few days, up the hill? Raiding the donations in the back of the car found us with pet wipes for ears, a low dosage hydrocortisone cream, and cotton swabs. It was the next best thing and hopefully this will tide Riku over until owner-san can make the trip to a vet.

Thank you for donating. It is only because people gave those kind of things that we were able to help Riku out.

Hokenjo's and Aigo centers

"Protection facilities" and "Tender care centers" are two misnomers of the highest degree.The names would suggest that they take positive nurturing action on behalf of their four legged charges. The hokenjyos attempt it for five days if you are a dog and three days if you are a cat. After that your spirit will find itself in front of the pearly gates with a fierce headache and a sore throat.You'll have been asphyxiated by a lethal gas along with other lost, relinquished or "stray since birth" animals. This happens the length and breadth of the country. Gas has cheaper overheads than individual injections, it also means the staff at these places do not have to have direct contact with the animals being euphemistically "put to sleep".

Before any high horse is "got up upon" this situation does not only happen in Japan. Be advised to check your whereabouts before throwing any stones.Methods may be different, time frames for reprieve may be longer (or shorter) but it is happening on everyone's doorstep. It just depends on how big an area of your personal rug you'll allocate to sweep it under.

It is from one of these centers the Maruko story came about and then the Tufty story a few weeks later. I am heading back up again at the end of this month and my main focus will be dealing with these centers  up and down the coast and hopefully getting animals out. JEARS just got 35 animals of all shapes and sizes out of a Miyagi prefecture hokenjyou and sent out a plea for temporary foster homes.

Little bit of background knowledge of animal ownership in Japan. If you have a dog, you are obliged to get an annual rabies shot and register your dog with your city hall.You can get your dog's  rabies shot at your vet or a subsidised vaccine at a  rabies prevention clinic in May. The vet option is a little less stressful for your pooch as the world, his wife and their dogs attend the "Shot in the Park" events.This registration tag attached to the collar is what will get you your dog back if it should decide to go for an unaccompanied stroll. It unfortunately also makes it too easy to dump an animal, as by removing the collar people render their once cute puppy "owner-less". Microchips barely got a look in until the Ban event (Dog survivor, stuck on floating debris found 3 weeks after the tsunami), now they are being considered.

The animals find themselves in the hokenjyous for two main reasons. First, because they have been displaced. No one knows where they came from.Locals call in the stray and the officials go out to trap them and bring them to the facility (Tufty, below). Second, they are relinquished by owners. In Tohoku's case these owners may have no other means of supporting them anymore OR the place that they have evacuated to has a no pets policy and they either have no one or don't want to impose on anyone  the care of their pet. JEARS has been trying their damnedest to get to those people before they sign away their pet's life.An owner turn-in is a death sentence. Speaking to the caretaker we can let them know about the free boarding, open space, two walks and care the animal will have until the people in their lives have got themselves right way up.

The first group of hokenjyou temporary residents are harder. The city has assumed responsibility for them and will only let them see the outside world again if they are to reside IN that city's jurisdiction and at a stretch the prefecture. This is where it gets difficult for out of prefecture volunteers with big hearts, broken Japanese and a passion for animals to accomplish what they came for.(Maruko, waaaay below).

So that is tentatively what I am steeling myself for, for the next trip.I hope there will be many more Tuftys and Marukos on the next trip.