MORIOKA, IWATE PREF. – Life can be bleak for the people still living in temporary accommodations nearly three years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, but pets have been a great help for some.
Prefectural governments were initially wary that allowing pets in temporary compounds could stoke complaints, but quite a few residents appear to have found solace living together with the animals that survived the quake and tsunami with them.
In the coastal city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Etsuko Niisato said that about 10 percent of the roughly 130 households in her temporary complex own pets, and there have been few complaints about noise or odor.
Niisato, 62, who runs a grocery store in the complex, has been living with Kupi, a female Shih Tzu, for about 14 years.
Kupi has kept Niisato’s spirits up and been a comfort to customers coming into the store.
When the earthquake struck on that fateful day of March 11, 2011, Niisato fled her home, where she also had her grocery store, taking nothing except for Kupi to a shrine standing on a hill.
The two survived with Niisato sharing her rations of “onigiri” rice balls and other food with her canine.
Many of Niisato’s neighbors lost their pets to the tsunami.
“I can’t imagine how badly depressed I would have been if I had lost her,” she said of Kupi.
Niisato hopes to rebuild her store in its original location and is currently waiting for the construction work to start.
“I want to settle down as soon as possible together with Kupi,” she said with the dog in her arms.
Farther south down the Iwate coast in Rikuzentakata, Kazuko Kanno, 71, has been caring for a cat that she came across when she was fleeing the tsunami.
“The owner may have been killed by the tsunami,” said Kanno, who lives in a temporary house together with her husband, their dog, Chako, and the cat, which has now become an important family member.
On the afternoon of 3/11, Kanno was at home with her husband and Chako when they felt the incredible shaking caused by the magnitude-9.0 quake.
As they put the dog into their car to flee the impending tsunami, a gray cat jumped in. Kanno recognized the cat as one that had often visited their backyard. It wore a collar, signifying it wasn’t a stray, but they didn’t know who the owner was.
With their house destroyed, the couple moved into temporary housing on higher land — luckily a house designed for a single family owning a pet — in August 2011.
Since they had no idea where the cat’s owner might be, the Kannos decided to name him themselves, calling him Deko because of his chubby appearance.
Deko has become a good friend to Kanno in the house while her husband is at work.
“Who was your owner? Was your home washed away?” Kanno asked the cat.
She said that while she and her husband worry about the future because it is uncertain when they will be able to leave their temporary housing, the cat has helped her relax and feel happy.
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