Cat Survivors of Japan’s Earthquakes and Tsunami


On March 11, when an 8.9-magnitude undersea earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that struck Japan’s eastern coastline, the world watched one astounding video after another, documenting the enormity of the disaster.

The Japanese government urged all evacuees to leave their pets at home. The area already had a significant stray population, so tens of thousands of cats were left behind in the disaster zone. Animal welfare organizations and volunteers, however, continue to work tirelessly to save these cats.

Rescue Efforts Save Pet Lives
Animal Rescue Kansai is one of several organizations that have funneled their resources and expertise to aiding animals affected by the tsunami. “We’ve been taking in animals, both those rescued on the road or those belonging to evacuees,” says Elizabeth Oliver, founder of Animal Rescue Kansai. “After coming in, they are processed by our on-site vet: deworming, vaccination, microchipping and neutering. Some animals are boarded; some are given up for adoption.”

Other local organizations doing similar work include the Japan Animal Welfare Society, the Japan Veterinary Medical Association, the SPCA and Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS). JEARS was formed by a small group of animal welfare activists — including David Wybenga, founder of the Japan Cat Network — as a direct reaction to the tsunami.

“We’ve put out our info, gone to human shelters and put out flyers asking if anyone has left animals behind,” he says. “People call, and we go check on the cats in their house or pick them up.” Wybenga says his group is also supporting people who made the effort to save their pets. “There are people who stayed with their pets, and maybe also gathered up their neighbor’s pets, but don’t have any resources,” he says. “So we’re also looking for people who need our help caring for and feeding their pets.”

Preparing Your Cat for a Disaster
While it’s inherently difficult to prepare for an unpredictable act of nature, there are some steps you can take:

  • Have your cat microchipped or at least make sure its collar contains your name, address and phone number. “Most of the animals we’re finding have not been microchipped, so we have to post pictures and descriptions and hope that someone will see that and claim the pet,” says Wybenga. “If there’s a microchip, you get the name and address of the owner by scanning it.”
  • Make a “go bag.” This should be something portable and filled with nonperishable food, water bottles, a water/food bowl, a can opener and a flashlight (ideally a human-powered one that doesn’t require batteries).
  • Take your cat with you. It’s actually common for local government agencies to tell people to leave pets behind. “Take your pet with you, even if they say you can come back for it later,” says Oliver. “If it’s not safe for you to be there, then it is not safe for your pet either.”
  • Have an exit strategy. This is especially important if your exit may mean leaving the country. Know what the requirements and procedures are for animal travel for the departure airport, the airline and the country you’ll be traveling to.

How You Can Help the Japanese Effort
The most obvious way to help is by donating money, which will still be needed months from now. You can also donate goods, such as cat food or bedding, and have them sent directly to the organization. Finally, you can help urge Japanese legislators to make animal rescue an official priority for future disasters.

“The hurricane Katrina disaster was the largest cat-dog rescue process in the world, and as a result of that, the U.S. — specifically FEMA — has required that projects must have a contingency for pets,” he says. “We’re hoping people will write the Japanese embassy or the American embassy in Japan, and tell them to please do something more for the animals that are in distress.”

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