Thursday, April 14, 2011

Helping our furry friends (Part I)

In the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, many lives were destroyed and many families were torn apart. Just as in many other countries, the Japanese people have pets that are considered as members of the family. Both owners and pets lost each other to the onrushing, unstoppable waters.

Then the nightmare of Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant occurred. Thousands of households suddenly had to evacuate, leaving everything behind in the belief they would return very quickly. Pets were left with a bowl of water and a bowl of food, or they were turned loose. It has been almost a month.

Obviously, this has created a situation where many animals need help. Our friend, Ulara, first made us aware of this when she went north with a group of animal activists a few weeks ago. They rescued the animals they could and provided supplies to overwhelmed animal shelters and vets. A Facebook page was created, and suddenly, a coalition of animal shelters came into existence: JEARS (Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support).

When Ulara's work as a journalist took her out of the country, she asked Joan to take over her duties with JEARS. One of the main organizers of JEARS, Isabella, who runs an animal hotel and shelter in Niigata, was on the phone to Joan almost every night, downloading the information of the day, with Joan frantically scribbling notes.

Like many foreigners in Japan, we desperately want to help. However, with our limited
Japanese, there is little we can do that the thousands of Japanese volunteers can't already do better. Obviously, in the face of these overwhelming problems, most of the rescue, recovery and restoration efforts are going towards helping humans, and not animals.

As Joan wanted to personally interview Isabella and others involved with JEARS and get better photos of the operation and animals, we asked if we could come up to Niigata and volunteer for a few days - maybe we could at least help a little bit in our own way.

An early morning express bus soon got us to Niigata where Isabella picked us up and drove us to
Animal Garden, her hotel/shelter. We quickly realized how serious the situation was as we saw their modest facility overwhelmed with more than 200 hundred animals: cats, dogs, and yes, a chicken. We helped as best we could with walking dogs, petting cats, and other chores.

I cleaned the cages of eight cats that had been left in a house in the Fukushima evacuation area by a "hoarder". I won't go into the details, but after a long time trapped in the house with no food and water, it was about as bad as you could imagine. Apparently it was a very difficult and traumatic experience for the rescue team.

These poor cats, now kept isolated due to fear of radiation, were
desperately unhappy and wanted affection. As I changed the absorbent pet sheets from the bottom of the cages and cleaned up any other mess, they frantically pressed themselves against the wire, meowing and crying. I started to cry. I'm crying now as I type this.

But, to be honest, it is hard to clean up cat pee and poop while crying, so I had to shut down that part of my heart. Similar to when I worked for the ambulance service and fire department, you cannot let the pain and suffering interfere with your work. You have to compartmentalize and do what you have to do. I couldn't stop the cats suffering, but I could damn well make sure they didn't have to crouch in their own urine and feces. It wasn't fun, but it felt good.

We spent the night in a simple, unheated cabin down the road. A good neighbor had donated the use of it for volunteers.

The next day was to be a big one for me as we were driving across the mainland to the earthquake and tsunami affected areas to rescue animals.

I would like to write more in this post, but it has been extremely difficult and somewhat painful, and has tired me out. I'll continue tomorrow.


tatyana_voudrait said...
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tatyana_voudrait said...

i came across your blog quite by accident. occasionally, i will google-image a puzzling feeling for a literal snapshot of my mental status. "i feel desperately unhappy" led me to the somber photo of the caged cat and your relief work in japan. thank you for sharing your kind work, which serves as a reminder to hold close that which is dear. my own rescue kitty coos in my lap as i type. best wishes to you abroad.