Government set to stress that owners are responsible for pets’ safety in disasters

JIJI

The Environment Ministry is considering making it clear that pet owners are responsible for protecting the safety and health of their pets when natural disasters strike.

The “self-help” principle would be added to the ministry’s guidelines for local governments on pets’ evacuation in natural disasters, which will be revised soon, ministry officials said Tuesday.

The revised guidelines would also stipulate that local governments have the role of assisting pet owners by improving the environment for accepting pets at evacuation centers, they said.

The ministry compiled the guidelines in 2015 after many pets were separated from their owners in the wake of March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region. The guidelines assume that pet owners will take the animals with them when taking shelter.

When a series of powerful earthquakes hit Kumamoto Prefecture and surrounding areas last April, many owners were evacuated with their pets, leading to some problems at shelters.

The experience prompted the ministry to clarify the respective roles of owners and local governments in times of disaster, the officials said.

A draft of the revised guidelines says that self-help is the basic principle of disaster management for not only people but also pets. The draft states that the primary task for local governments is rescuing and evacuating people, not pets. Owners are responsible for keeping pets from causing trouble to others, it says, urging them to always keep a stock of food and water for their pets.

Local authorities should make preparations to have pets accepted temporarily at shelters, improve the environment for taking care of pets and take measures to prevent an outbreak of infectious diseases at evacuation centers, the draft says.

It is important for local governments to decide how they will react in the event of disasters, in cooperation with veterinarians’ associations, so they can set up animal rescue headquarters quickly and smoothly support citizens’ evacuation with their pets, the draft stresses.

The draft also calls for regular drills to be carried out to ensure that outside assistance will be smoothly received if local governments and veterinarians’ groups in disaster areas suffer damage and are therefore unable to provide necessary support.