Volunteers care for Usu evacuees’ pets

by Setsuko Kamiya

DATE, Hokkaido — While residents of Date, Sobetsu and Abuta have been evacuated from their homes at the foot of Mount Usu in preparation for the worst, volunteers have been lending a hand to take care of their pets.

Since Monday, the Hokkaido Veterinarian Association has been caring for evacuees’ dogs and cats in a special shelter for animals, and residents are increasingly bringing their “family members” there.

According to Toru Takahashi, a Sapporo veterinarian who took the initiative to set up the shelter, between 500 and 600 dogs are owned by residents of the three municipalities. As of Thursday, 90 pets — including dogs, cats, birds and even turtles — had been brought in by their owners. About 60 of the total are dogs, which require substantial care, Takahashi said.

Eight vets take turns checking the conditions of the animals at the shelter, while 20 volunteers, who are mostly students from veterinary colleges in Hokkaido, walk and feed the dogs. The shelter is also open for owners to visit their animals.

“Knowing that their pets are safe is a relief to the evacuees, but being able to visit them also helps ease the owners’ stress,” Takahashi said.

A woman from Muroran had arrived with her 4-year-old daughter to visit her parents’ 12-year-old Maltese dog, which had only been admitted to the shelter Wednesday.

“My parents were really worried about what was happening to him, so we’re very glad that he’s safe now,” said the woman, who declined to be named.

Her parents, from the town of Abuta, have been sheltering at Higashi Elementary School since March 29 and were forced to leave their dog alone in the house with water and some food. Because they were so worried about the pet, she ignored police lines to return and fetch him, she said.

Abuta is one of the areas where access is tightly restricted by police and many pets have been left behind, Takahashi said.

Officials from the Hokkaido Prefectural Government have begun entering areas to care for the animals and Takahashi is encouraging them to bring the pets to the safety zone.

“We do understand that people come first, but if they are entering the area to feed the dogs, it’ll make things easier for everyone if they bring them to town,” he said.

The Hokkaido Veterinarian Association today will establish a new shelter for pets that have been left behind by their owners so that evacuees can see if their animals have been found.

As the number of evacuated pets continues to increase, the shelter is calling for more volunteers to help take care of the dogs, as the students must return to school next week.

On Wednesday, Kazuko Morii, 64, from Sapporo, offered to help. “I used to have two dogs, so I’ve been concerned about (the situation). I would be very glad if I could be useful to someone,” said Morii, who plans to stay for a week on her first volunteering experience.