About 70 dogs and cats are still living in a shelter in Sendai, almost three years after the region was devastated in the March 2011 disasters.

“I would like to continue to look after these animals until all of them can reunite with their owners,” said Takashi Wagatsuma, 43, head of the shelter operator called Dogwood.

Shortly after the March 11 disasters, the 1-hectare shelter took care of as many as 300 dogs and cats that formerly lived in homes in not only Miyagi but also Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.

About 200 of them have been returned to their owners and 30 have died,.

The remaining 70 are those whose owners remain missing or are currently living in temporary housing or apartments where they are not allowed to have pets.

Kayoko Kohata, 41, entrusted her two cats to the shelter after moving out of the Fukushima village of Iitate to temporary housing in the city of Fukushima due to high levels of radiation from the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“For me, the cats are part of my family and their faces always make me feel at ease and cheer me up,” Kohata, who comes to see her felines twice a month, said during a brief visit at the end of December.

There are also people outside the region who have offered a helping hand to animals in Tohoku.

Cat and Dog Rescue Party Minashigo, a nonprofit organization based in Hiroshima, saved the lives of about 500 dogs and cats in the vicinity of the crippled nuclear plant and brought them to a shelter it hastily created on the Nasu Plateau in Tochigi Prefecture.

The organization is currently caring for about 320 pets in the mountainous area in Hiroshima and looking for new owners.

“We don’t want them to feel unhappy and we are particular about the food we give them and how we clean their living areas,” said NPO head Yuri Nakatani, 51.

Nakatani, who works for an animal hospital, visited Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in a minibus within days of the earthquake.

She said she believes “there are lives of animals that can be saved only shortly after” a disaster.

Nakatani said that some local residents criticized her activity, saying, “Why are you rescuing animals when humans are losing their lives?”

But some victims started helping her while she stayed night after night in a bus, putting up photos of pets on boards at evacuation centers and looking for their owners.

Nakatani said she realized “we were right” when she saw victims in tears after reuniting with their pets.

“I think each of us should do whatever we can at the time of a disaster and that’s what we do,” she said.

But with donations for the organization having dwindled over the years, she has struggled to secure money and cope with the monthly cost of more than ¥1 million.

Dogwood, which has been supported by volunteers, also remains in red ink.

“We wish the central and local governments would help create a framework that would support animals in future disasters,” Wagatsuma of Dogwood said.