Rescued canines trained to give disaster-zone therapy

Kyodo

The Tokyo-based International Therapy Dog Association plans to open a training center this summer that will turn dogs abandoned amid the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis into therapy dogs.

The group plans to take custody of about 100 dogs abandoned in Fukushima Prefecture and put them through a two-year training program that will help them provide mental therapy for victims of the disasters, officials of the group said.

The group has so far trained about 100 of the abandoned dogs, which face euthanasia, and sent them on to help at nursing homes and hospitals.

Toru Oki, a blues singer who represents the association, visited the disaster zone as a volunteer and took custody of 10 dogs left behind or born in areas that were evacuated due to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Feeling for the dogs, Oki took steps to set up the center to save them.

With government support, the center is expected to open in Tokyo by around September, with a full-time staff of about 10 to train the dogs for a “homecoming” assignment to Fukushima. Once the dogs fulfill their duties, they will be looked after at the center for the remainder of their lives.

“The mental health care of disaster victims will enter a crucial period from now,” Oki said. “By spending time with therapy dogs, which are capable of sensing people’s pain, we hope to relax the minds of victims as much as we can,” he said.

The association is currently asking for donations to support its activities. For inquiries, call (03) 5537-2815.