Friday, July 29, 2011

Thank you's

You can never say these two words enough. Sometimes events are so overwhelming that these two little words seem minuscule in comparison to the experience lived through. I know I have said it before but I want to thank you again for the messages of support, financial donations and basically the outpouring of belief that I have been on the receiving end of since choosing this amazing, heartbreaking, heart warming, depressing, uplifting, upsetting, enriching,frustrating, mind blowing path.

THANK YOU, Thank YOU, THANK you for helping me to help!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pet products

I am a sucker for those info-mercials. I know......... any modicum of respect you previously haboured for me is now out the window! I don't instantly pick up the phone and dial. I just ponder, mull and ruminate about how flat my abs could be and how under my bed would be the perfect place to stow the latest, muscle enhancing, must-have, cheap, plastic contraption from the sweat shops of Asia. I scour the local sports shops,locate the object of my desire and then start the pondering, mulling and ruminating process all over again. The argument rages for days inside my head, I need it, I'll don a bikini this summer if I get it,
It is a waste of money, It'll just gather dust right alongside all the other unused fitness equipment.
No, no, this time it will be different I'll really use it,
gadget graveyard!!
skinny thigh magic thighs!
clothes horse!
flat abdominator abs!
buns of steel.... and so it continues. Sometimes reason wins, sometimes my perceived needs get the better of me.Reason is always right of course, if it doesn't win round one, the purchase, it always wins round two, the inevitable elevation to dust collector status.

So how does this have anything to do with pets? well you know the pet industry has boomed in the last 2 or 3 decades, right? And by boom I mean you can pretty much purchase the pet version of anything human. From Chaise longues beds to brand name poop bags there is something for even the most discerning pet.(or owner) Going to buy a new bowl or leash is not a choice between two colours it is a choice between two aisles of the same product. Some of the stuff is definitely really brilliant, inventive and actually useful. But boy oh boy is there a lot of crap out there.Like the TV ads, I get all psyched up about the latest craze in pet toys and weirdly devised treat dispensers. I spent a fortune on all types of canine "add-ons" when I adopted the first pooch after the second I discovered cats had a completely different set of needs so off to the shops with me again!!

One of my own dogs Snuffy has the bejaysus scared out of him every time we have violent weather. There is no consoling him. Once the skies light up he paws and paws and paws any part of your body he can see.I have spent ages on line trying to find something, anything, that will allay his fears and save my sleeping head from abrupt arousal. As with the bowls there are many solutions to the one problem. Fear of thunder remedies are a lot more costly though. Add to the retail price shipping fees to Japan and you are already through the roof.

One product stood out, the Thundershirt. Its premise was simple, a swaddled dog. I imitated it and the concept seemed to work somewhat. Then I started volunteering up north. One of the awesome volunteers from the States, Lexie, had contacted a few pet related businesses before leaving and let them know what she was doing. One of the many generous donations she received was a package of Thundershirts.

Eight with his Mum.

The third time I went up, I saw some still left and was thrilled because I knew the dogs we were going to meet the next day and I knew at least two of them NEEDED stress relief. I would take a few more of the smaller ones just in case. If these coats could help anyone then the little Shizu Eight, that Jackie and I met the last time would be a prime candidate. We met him again and his owner was thrilled that we had remembered her and her little boy, Eight, who was nine years old. He was quite used to being dressed up and took to the coat immediately.We distributed 5 coats that day and the turnaround that was the most precious to see happened to Puru.

Puru is short for Puru puru, it means tremble in Japanese. The owner had adopted this dog from the pound only a few months before the tsunami. He had seen him there sitting in the middle of the room not making eye contact with any of the workers, not budging from his spot, just shaking. What possessed this man to save this dog instead of the others was pity. He said he looked lonely. So he took him home to meet his other Shiba,Leon. They didn't get along..... at all .....for the first month. I don't know how many people who read this are involved in animal re-homing but the average family who decides it isn't working out for whatever reason, never gives it a month. Miraculously somehow the dogs reached a truce and they then resorted to tolerating each other with the odd spat here and there.Puru was still shy and a bit skittish and never seemed to relax like he was in his own home.

Then the tsunami came and their lives were re-prioritised. Like a lot of other souls who survived, they took stock of what they had left and decided it was much more important to them than they had given it credit for before. Puru and Leon became inseparable. Puru was still the more reticent of the two but at least Leon was there to catch his back. You met them in an earlier post but this time we came bearing a gift of a different nature, one of the Thundershirts. I was excited as I had seen instant calm on Eight's demeanour when we strapped him in. I was completely and utterly unprepared for what Puru did once we had him all kitted out.He fell asleep. He fell asleep standing up! Yes, upright on four paws this dog closed his eyes, relaxed his mouth and fell asleep in front of all present! My photos only look like I caught him at a bad moment with his eyes closed but there wasn't a bad moment he was just so chilled out he took forty winks.His owner nudged him, he opened his eyes, the owner had nothing else to say to him, so realising he wasn't really needed, Puru slipped back into his oblivion.The owner nudged again. Puru opened his eyes again, moved towards his person got petted and was about to return to the land of nod when his "dad" decided that this was too freaky. He took the coat off, and Puru resumed position a little further back from the goings on.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taro's teeth. (part 3)

By the time we stopped at a convenience store 2 hours later the smell was gone. Not gone gone, we had just become accustomed to it and had probably absorbed a lot of it! Like garlic it was probably going to be coming out our pores for a few days afterwards. A quick leg stretch and inside with us to join the other volunteers from other groups from other prefectures in the line for the toilets. This convenience store was the last stop shop before the expressway and business had never been better. We parked outside for 30 minutes to walk the dogs, eat our food and confuse our sat. nav. lady.

When we had pulled into the parking area there was an older man with his two dogs just hanging out. After we had dealt with nature's wishes we approached them with Pitan. Yup, she wasn't a dog's dog she simply said "oh" and turned and walked away. Taro was curious, slightly assertive but passed the encounter with flying colours. It turned out this man was the father of one of the ladies working in the shop. We swopped dog stories and then nature's call resounded in the dogs' ears so we humans wished each other luck whilst the fourleggeder at the end of my leash set his sights on the far end of the lot. When the staff of the store weren't too busy, the daughter came out, took her break and shared a bag of chicken nuggets with her Dad and the dogs. Dad passed along our story and she came over to talk and say hi. There were no customers in the shop so the other staff member came out too. A staffless convenience store...

We talked for a little bit, they petted the dogs and then Taro, mid petting session, did what he had done before except this time I didn't have the benefit of daylight and I missed the signals. The lady was thankfully fast enough and it turned the conversation into "whoaaaaaaaaa that was lucky!! did you see that? wow! No, no I'm fine, all ok, promise" We Gomen nasai-ed (apologised) as much as was humanly possible before they made their retreat back to the safe zone behind the cash register. Obviously the universe's cue to hit the road!! We were packing everyone back up and making sure they were all watered, wee-ed and secure in the back when one of the shop ladies approached with two cups of piping hot coffee as a "help" for our drive back to Sendai. So she had nearly lost a right arm to one of our charges and yet here she was gifting us coffee? These folks can certainly teach you a thing or two about humanity!!

Ok Taro that is a score of almost two, you sort of need to give us a bigger window when you are planning that.A fairly uneventful long drive back to Sendai saw us pull in after midnight. Everyone was tired it had been a long day. We unloaded the car and set everyone up inside the house. This is when Pitan decided to start up her bark-a-thon.We tried all the tricks in the book and just when we thought we had cracked it she would start up again. From pee time, to more walks to draping the cage with a towel to being in the same room with her all worked well for the initial 10 seconds. We broke down and gave her more treats and if she is getting one Taro needs to get one too. Treat went in, both dogs were calm, next to fill up their water bowls and bed. Tiffany put the water bowl in Taro's cage and bammm Taro left his signature on her arm.

I'm in awe of Tiffany, she didn't even curse! I most certainly would have been a motormouth at the universe in the same situation. We cleaned, washed and disinfected. Tiffany assured me she had had worse and this was a walk in the park. I wasn't so sure and kept proffering more sanitizer, disinfectant, salve, bandages and anything remotely medical.It was close to 1am nowhere would be open. We'd deal with it on the morrow.

She was right, in the light of day things didn't look as angry as they had before. A trip to the drug store and she was sorted out.Taro on the other hand had a little secret that he didn't let us in on. Something he hid away under his matted fur that hadn't seen a brush in a very long time. His coat was a dust laden grey where it should have been snow white, it was dense where it should have been smooth and dull when it should have been sleek and shiny.

Taro's elderly Dad similarly to Pitan's , had been taken to hospital. Taro had always been kind of nippy but Mum knew how to deal with his idiosyncrasies. But Mum needed to attend to Dad and all the turmoil that came with having a natural disaster on her doorstep.She asked her adult children if they could keep Taro for the time being. One agreed. Taro was kept in the garden on a chain and treated gingerly. Then, by the looks of things, not treated much at all. It is easy to get haughty-taughty about this, but this family had also suffered their losses in the destructive tsunami. They were granting their Mum a huge favour. Taro unfortunately didn't win any friends in all his changing, unfamiliar, uncomfortable circumstances and it was finally decided that this 7 year old should be relinquished to the pound. In Japan, owner turn ins, 9 times out of 10, means only one thing. Taro would be meeting his maker.

Enter JEARS, and sure you know what we did. Amn't I after telling you?:-) I didn't tell you his secret though, I didn't know it at the time we picked him up, nobody did.I'll let you google it because it and its images make your skin crawl with the hebegeebees: Blowfly.Taro must have had a cut somewhere and that cut wasn't tended to. It most likely would have been hard to find in his thick tufty coat. It is not known how the original skin break happened but the blowfly took advantage of it. Slowly and steadfastly they made their advances on Taro's body invisible under the cover of his hair.The fact that he still had a twinkle in his eye through what these guys were doing to him was a testimony to the fortitude of animals.Taro had their eggs and maggots everywhere and for emphasis I'll say EVERYWHERE again so you get the picture. He must have been in an unbelievable amount of pain and by rights he should not have been letting anybody within 10ft of him. But he craved the petting and the tickles and it was presumably those brushes with the sore points that triggered his outbursts.

Taro is not the first and definitely won't be the last to come to us with pre-existing conditions. These animals have been through and survived more than most of us at the other end of the newsreel can imagine. My heart goes out to them and it is what keeps me returning.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Taro (part 2)

Japan gets hot in the summer. Not just hot but humid too. The number on the thermometer really doesn't make it unbearable, it is the humidity that takes care of the discomfort department. Despite its northerly coordinates Tohoku was on a par with Okinawa in the temperature stakes.I would wager though that the humidity wouldn't have been noticeable if it weren't for the deluge sandwiched sunshine. Once the heat was turned back on the moisture could be seen visibly rising from puddles.

We had been flitting between rain showers all week and Hokenjyo-day was no exception. We just seemed to time things well. Random stops at random places when showers subsided or in the short lull between downpours, we managed the storms :-). We lucked out at Ofunato; a fairly long dry spell in which to do our picking up. After getting Taro we had intended to see if a groomer, who I had been in touch with on my last trip, would spruce up Pitan given her matted derrière. The boy kitty we picked up, Setsuo, had come in a carrier that was hers so it was a perfect excuse to stop by. We were to follow the pound worker to the groomer's house.

We bade our farewells to the vet and were pulling out of the pound gate with windows down and arms waving vigorous goodbyes. [Side note-In Japan, departures have a tendency to be lengthy with those staying behind energetically waving until the departing are out of view]. So we were heading down the street rolling up the windows with the remaining officials still enthusiastically sending us off in the rear-view mirror. And just as the window reached its resting place at the top of the frame IT hit us.
MOTHER OF &^%*@#!!
The smell!!!!!
The smell....... the smell..... the Smmmmmmellllllll! Quick down with the windows. One last wave, and a frantic rush to get those vitreous protectors DOWN for the love of God.....DOWN!!!!! OH Taro, you come with more baggage than bargained for in this packed to the gills vehicle. So Pitan, you are forgiven, if this groomer says yes, Taro my friend, YOU. ARE. UP!! A few twisty windy tiny well ventilated roads later we arrived at the groomer's salon. The flat-packed wire cage we thought we had spare turned out to be missing a door when we de-flat packed it. We ended up not making a carrier drop off but rather asking permission to borrow one. Ok hopefully we'll be more successful in quest two.
-We have seriously pungent dogs in the car, would it be at all possible to use your facilities to wash them or even just one?
-Sorry, I'm heading out.
-Oh.... ok.......:-( Gambarimasu!! (we will endure!)

So our fragrant companion infused his odour so deeply in the car's air system on our way home that for the duration of our subsequent long distance trips we would have wafts of his presence each time we turned on the air conditioner even though he had been safely transported to the Bandai shelter. I apologise profusely to the next lot of customers that car serves, I just hope they smoke!!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

And then there was Taro...(part 1)

You know sometimes I have so much to write I end up writing nothing because I don't know which story I should go with next!! Is there a word for that? I know writer's block is one side of that coin, how do they refer to the other?

Pitan chillin` at the vets!

I had to make sure I had the telephone number correct. Another corgi? I never see corgis here and now there are two in hokenjyos miles apart that need picking up? You met Pitan briefly earlier on. Remember? the sweet, very well-fed, rotund in the nether regions, 12 year old, cardigan corgi.She loved her people and their food scraps, in fact people = food scraps. So much so that whenever we were about to put food into our own mouths we had a backdrop of an urgent Pitan bark "Me too, me too!" "Hey guys! over here" Admittedly we were overly generous with the treats when we had to get her into the travel crate but the buck stopped when the latch was fastened. She was fine with that until any type of food appeared on the scene outside her reach, then she would noisily assert her claim to it.

Sheesh! when did steps get so high? You are going to lift me right?

We got to the Ofunato pound and the familiar friendly faces I had met the last time were there to greet us. The wonderful new, initiative taking vet and his equally positive thinking assistant. Enter Taro, a Pembrooke corgi. He is 7 in dog years which makes him 49 in ours, but like all in their forties and beyond, he was in complete denial. I knew we were going to bond! He strutted his puffed up chest once out of the pound's cage and promptly took the official for a walk, even though the original intention had been the other way around. He was raring to go, glad of his taste of fresh air.

The vet told us he had a bite history that was sketchy.Hmmmmmmm,...."sketchy" ...doh-yu imi? (what does that mean?) Well, A-PAR-ENT-LYYyyyyy he had snapped at a family member and since they weren't Taro's direct owners they decided to lighten their burden and send him to the pound.
-Ok, so "snapping" or actual biting? through play? teasing? out of the blue? food related?
-"Ehhhhhhmm... don't know for sure"
-Do you know if it is with Kids or adults? males or females?
-"Ehhhhhhmm... don't know for sure"
-Ok so the history is "sketchy" right?
"Yeah, yeah that is right, sketchy" :-D
Sometimes you just have to give up when you are ahead. Knowing that there was potential for teethiness was our "ahead" in this instance. Our taking him or not taking him did not depend on how many oral/dental infractions Taro had tallied up beside his name but rather on what we could avoid doing to make him feel the urge. It wasn't other dogs. He met Pitan in the carpark, they checked out each others calling cards and then pretty much ignored each other. Ok one common cause off the checklist.

We had taken ages to get to Ofunato, much longer than expected. I have a deep distrust of the digital navigation systems that come with rental cars. To compound matters, up in Tohoku, there wasn't always a road where these machines said there should be one. My Google maps was great but it was on the iphone which of course meant mood swings between full signal and "no service" while pulled over and stationary trying to get back on track. 2 Electronic mapping devices, one paper kanji map, and a tsunami razed coastline were all the ingredients needed to get me utterly lost on the way down. We practically "handbrake turned" into the parking lot of the pound, to meet at our appointed time.

We cut it so finely. The desk warriors were punching out and leaving. A few young ladies were the last of the trickle as Taro was handed over to us. We'd had the "sketchy" conversation at this stage and now had moved on to his family's story. The ladies were mesmerized by his beautiful eyes and his enthusiasm to be petted. We paused our conversation and watched the three ladies interact with a dog that was clearly loving the attention. Then his movements changed. It was so very minor but there was a pause in his little hind leg happy dance. He remained motionless for a split second. He had stopped the raspy dog laugh and now his mouth was slightly closed over. It takes longer to put into words what actually happened there and would be totally imperceptible to people who haven't seen it a few times. It happens in the blink of an eye.I saw it and pulled him back, just as he had decided 'snack time'. Not far back, just out of reach, back. Normally there is a pre-launch growl or teeth baring moment but Taro gave us a very little window of time to work with. Ok, so note to self, triggers could be crowding, females or that one of them touched a sore spot. Something to work on.

We also picked up Setsuo, the one year kitty who I'll tell you about in another post. And that was us: two corgis one cat and two volunteers hitting the road for the trip back to overnight in Sendai before the next day's trip to Bandai near lake Inawashiro.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is what it is all about

This is a short video made by Kinship Circle, the US group that had some of their brilliant volunteers come over and volunteer with JEARS. KC has firsthand disaster experience having assisted in the Chile earthquake, Brazilian mudslides, and hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts. JEARS' volunteers had the Japan knowledge and extensive sheltering experience in this country. Both groups' strong points complemented each other and they have built up a working relationship since March. I volunteered first with JEARS, then with Kinship Circle then with JEARS again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The full circle

You remember those two dogs? You know the one who wouldn't leave his injured friend? The heart-string tugging video broadcast about a week after the tsunami? Well, for about a month after on all the animal sites and pages I've "like-d" or become a member of since airing day, regardless of original topic, conversations would somehow revert back to "So does anyone know what happened to those two dogs?" It seemed the world could only rest easy knowing that those two sweethearts had been taken care of. While I would roll my eyes and say "again?" I'd fervently scroll down to see if any of the comments held the answer.I heard a happy ending and I was content. That was until I read a completely different happy ending and then another and not hours later another. Not even similar versions of the endings. I, like every other follower of this tragedy was looking for something positive in the rubble left behind.

When I went up the first time, it was only going to be once. Then a second time fell neatly into place when I discovered my university gave its staff "volunteer leave". Attach that to Golden Week and hey presto! a pretty sizable chunk of volunteering time. I couldn't use all those unique leave days on the second trip and since you don't let leave like that fall through the cracks,I managed to wedge the remaining days between a national holiday, a weekend, a lecture free day and magically came up with one more week of volunteering. Coming from Okinawa (2,600km away) I had to try and do longer stints since it takes 12 hours of travel time door to door and longer again if the highly unreliable Skymark airlines is being used. Having the extended stay up there meant I'd repeatedly be driving the same long routes. I have had the great fortune to meet many of the animals and people on these routes more than once. Like I said in the post before this, "follow-ups are the bee's knees":-)

One story that warranted a follow-up on my third visit north, although I was not part of the original contact team, was the skinny dogs story. Twitter had been ablaze with pictures of these two rib visible miserable looking animals. When the initial meager details hit the "tweet set" in the early evening one of the later days during my second trip one of our teams was heading back from Fukushima the other was coming in from the Ishinomaki area. It would have to be added to tomorrow's "To do List". I was going to be doing food drops, with the Canadian vet tech,Jackie and a local lady, Miyuki, so that ruled us out. The other team seized the opportunity to investigate.

They found, as the photos depict, two skinny dogs. A 15 year old Mum and her 12 year old offspring, except her son looked a lot more haggard and emaciated than she did. What unfolded was a sad human story as well as a sad dog story.The volunteers' offer of help was gratefully accepted and the pups were brought to the vet. They were given meds and sent on their way.

Last week, a month after the initial contact, we dropped in unannounced. We found slender uber-friendly dogs with bright eyes and wagging tails. We called the owner and asked if we could see them close up. She brought us around the back and the dogs were ecstatic for the human company. They were in much better condition than the previous pictures I had seen and did not look sorry for themselves at all.

Now if the dogs are happy, I'm happy. I may not like that they stay outside BUT it is what they are used to and that is one thing that has been brought home to me time and time again on these trips. No dog I am caring for is ever ever EVER going to be tied to a stake and left outside to entertain themselves, well........ unless they've rolled in something! but even then it is only until the bath water is ready.

All over Japan you see dogs tethered on short ropes or chains to their dog house out in front of their people's residence. I always felt pity for those animals because they aren't in the company of their humans. Twice now, I have been on teams that have picked up animals, dogs in particular, who have just not been comfortable when we brought them back to the Sendai house and kept them overnight inside. Sure how can they do their job of protection if they are lounging around on the inside? Two dogs Tuftie and Taro who didn't meet but both displayed a similar easing of tension when we put them outside in the shade. In fact Tuftie made himself right at home in a box that donations came in!

Anyway, now I'm doing what I do best, getting off track! These two dogs in Sendai were looking much healthier had a lot of food and sufficient supplies. I asked the owner if there was anything else she needed and she said no all was good. I asked about the flea routine and she said there was none. OH!! well things aren't so "good" then. One thing that I have learned here, is that you can't come over all opinionated and bulldoze anyone who you think is doing the wrong thing by their animals.Japanese folks respect authority but are skeptical of random foreigners descending upon them preaching about the right way to do things. Reverse the situation, I'm sure you would be too.There are options and alternatives but flea meds, being a fundamental part of pet care especially outdoor pets, make me preachy. Gomen ne?! She figured because there was no grass and they were living in the suburbs that fleas wouldn't be a problem. I told her some of the not so happy flea related stories I had encountered in animal rescue and appended them with the offer of medication.I said I didn't have any at the moment but would send her some if she wished, that way I built in an escape route for her should she think that me sending it to her was too much hassle. She accepted.

Before leaving Okinawa a great friend, (hey Deanna!!:-)) set up an appeal for funds for car rental. It amassed to $600: enough to send 160kilos of donations north and rent a car for the week we were there.There was enough left over to buy one box of frontline plus. I didn't want the other dog getting jealous because of preferential treatment so When I returned to Okinawa I went ahead and bought her a 3 month supply too.At least these pups will have a flea free summer and my fellow happy ending addicts can rest easy.:-)

Photos: Lexie (In Joy photography), Tiffany and Kate

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Revisiting a tale or three

Follow ups are the bee's knees:-) We were able to stop off in Rikuzentakata, kasestsu Jyutaku and we got to visit Fu Mi and Shou's new abode. Just in case you didn't read their story the first time around here is the start:

Here is my trip two follow up: (a little ways down the post)

And here is the ending........ for the time being:

I mentioned that I got a very effervescent phone call before trip three. Fu, Mi and Shou's human Mum had finally received her Kasestu room, and she was heading straight to Animal Friends Niigata to pick them up. She was nervous about whether or not they would recognise her. By all accounts they did. She was thrilled when we stopped by on our way back to Sendai. She and her three teenage to adult children with one spouse and one baby and the three cats squished over and made us some room at the low coffee table in the cramped living room. I had brought her some butter salt cookies from Okinawa as a house warming gift. One that will be consumed quickly symbolic for a short stay in the new lodgings. Mi was in great form and quickly had a go on every seated lap just to try it out for size.

A very astute little kitty, it wasn't long before the cat presents from Okinawa were discovered, broken into and consumed. Having the way paved for them Shou and Fu soon joined in.
Shou was clearly much more relaxed than when I met him before and Fu was as adorable as ever, finding his new diaper to be a great aid to his sliding power.
The family will stay in these living arrangements for a year or more. Obviously they hope to get out sooner but there are many things to be sorted out first. They have their privacy, their family and their cherished four-leggeders and that is a huge first step.