National

Hokkaido cat owners search for pets that fled during quake

JIJI

Many cat owners in Hokkaido are desperately looking for their missing pets, fearing they have gotten lost after fleeing their homes in the turmoil created by the level 7 earthquake on Sept. 6.

The animal management center in Sapporo, the capital, has been contacted about 15 missing cat cases, which is more than usual, and animal welfare organizations are reaching out to help.

A 26-year-old woman in Kushiro, 240 km (150 miles) east of Sapporo on the island’s southeast coast, has not been able to find her 9-year-old cat Elizabeth, which vanished after she briefly stepped out of her apartment on the day the quake cut off her electricity.

She said she was flustered at the time and did not notice the cat was missing.

“She may have sensed the tense atmosphere,” she said with a worn look on her face.

After putting up posters of the missing feline around her neighborhood and posting notices on social media, she received over 10 possible sightings, though none proved to be her beloved pet.

“Words of encouragement and information have become my moral support,” she said.

In many cases, cats escape if their owners leave home without locking the door, according to the Hokkaido Veterinary Medical Association and other experts. They also have a habit of bolting when alarmed, forcing many municipalities to deal with surges in stray cats following earthquakes, they said. After the quake on Sept. 6, some owners decided not to take their cats to evacuation shelters, fearing they might become a nuisance to others.

In 2016, after several quakes struck Kumamoto Prefecture, the Kumamoto animal welfare center had to deal with about 424 missing-cat cases — 10 times the usual level. An official at the center said some cats were unable to find their way home or were hiding in fear due to aftershocks. In other cases, the cats were found six months later.

The official said it is important for owners to use pet tags.

Offering to help, Sapporo-based Nyantomo Network Hokkaido, a nonprofit organization that rescues strays and finds homes for them, has put up posters at evacuation shelters in the hardest-hit town of Atsuma, southeast of Chitose, and other municipalities. It has rescued six cats so far.

Group head Tamami Katsuta, 52, said owners are leading tough daily lives.

“We’d like to tackle this swiftly as the lives of beloved family members are on the line,” Katsuta added.

Yukiko Uesugi, who heads Hokkaido Shippo no Kai, a nonprofit based in Naganuma, about 25 km southeast of Sapporo, said, “Although cats panic during earthquakes, they will not go far away because they are skittish.”

She called on those who need help to contact the organization.