KORIYAMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Despite having to evacuate their hometown because of the nuclear crisis there, a husband-and-wife veterinarian couple are continuing to provide a vital service to pet owners from near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
Michiko Watanabe, 55, and her husband, Seido, 54, reopened their animal clinic in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, in April 2012, a year after the nuclear crisis began.
“We hope to provide a space where owners can feel relaxed,” Watanabe said.
Their original clinic was located in Tomioka, only 9 km away from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, where reactors went into meltdown following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Residents evacuated the town after high levels of radiation were detected, and sought shelter elsewhere within the prefecture or beyond its borders.
Former Tomioka residents are bringing their pets to the reopened Watanabe Animal Hospital in Koriyama. Some people even drive for over an hour to get to it.
One such owner is Masao Nagasawa, 77, who has 10 dachshunds.
“The doctors are the best and I have no worries,” Nagasawa said. “Since I have had my dogs examined by them for a long time, I never want to take them to another hospital.”
The vets talk to owners not only about their pets, but also about their families and life in temporary housing.
The clinic even became a place where owners reunited following their evacuation.
But Watanabe said many owners fear living in temporary housing for a long time will have an impact on their pets.
Some families have told the couple they fear their pets may disturb neighbors in the small housing units.
A family said they felt stressed because their large dog often barks because of environmental changes. The family said they are thinking of abandoning the dog, according to Watanabe.
Meanwhile, one elderly owner worried that he might have to abandon his cats.
Although they all survived the disaster and he was able to bring them with him to temporary housing, if the new place he moves to does not let him keep his pets, he will have to get rid of them.
Watanabe said, “I believed that we are saving people by curing their pets, but the reality wasn’t apparently that easy.”
But she said she wants to be there for people who wish to bring their pets in.
“We will probably be unable to return (to Tomioka) for a while, but we should not remain ‘victims’ for long,” Watanabe said.
“We decided to hang in here,” she said, looking at a picture of blossoming cherry trees near their former clinic.