SENDAI – According to a survey released Tuesday, only 20 out of 42 municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures have adopted guidelines on allowing evacuees staying at shelters to keep pets with them.
The survey asked 42 municipalities in prefectures where the government evacuated residents following the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and nuclear disaster in Fukushima whether they allow pets at shelters and, if so, under what circumstances.
Twenty municipalities said pets will be allowed “in principle.” But they lacked detailed conditions, showing that even disaster-hit areas that grappled with evacuees’ desires to keep their pets subsequently failed to map out measures under which they could keep the pets with them in shelters.
One municipality responded that it would not accept pets at shelters “in principle.”
Following the 2011 disaster, many evacuees abandoned their cats, dogs and other pets, or the animals became strays.
In some cases, evacuees who took their pets with them clashed with other evacuees at shelters, prompting the Environment Ministry to map out a guideline in June 2013 on evacuees and pets.
The guideline urged municipalities to compile measures to allow evacuees to keep their pets at shelters while calling on owners to train their pets to behave and look after their health.
Many of the municipalities that have yet to compile measures said they had concerns over other evacuees who may have allergies, as well as hygiene issues.
Even if pets were allowed, some municipalities said the animals were basically required to remain outdoors.
The city of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, said it left the matter up to the operator of the shelter.
“For some people, pets, like children, are precious, but not for others … it’s a headache,” said an official at Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.
An official in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, said: “It’s about capacity. If there is not enough space for people, then it will probably be difficult to allow pets inside.”
Experts say local governments need to map out a policy before disaster strikes.
“After the disaster, some people suffered from economy-class syndrome or caught colds after they had to sleep in their cars with their pets because pets weren’t allowed at shelters,” said Koji Chiba, an official at the animal protection nonprofit organization A-cube.
Kunio Sasaki, 54, who heads a nonprofit organization that took care of stray dogs in Fukushima, remembers a pet owner who was exhausted after sleeping in a car with his dog next to a shelter.
“Because the dog usually didn’t live indoors, I can’t stay inside. But I had to stay nearby to obtain support goods (such as pet food),” he had told Sasaki.
Sasaki said some owners had to entrust their pets to his care because the animals weren’t allowed at the shelters.
He recommended that municipalities register beforehand with organizations that can offer such support in times of disaster.
“If local governments have too much on their plate, they should seek support from private organizations,” said Sasaki.
Another man, who belongs to an organization that offers support for pets, said municipalities should first and foremost adopt a policy on the issue.
“There is a limit to what individual organizations can do after disasters if they have to ask each shelter about their policies on pets,” he said.
Some municipalities are taking the matter seriously.
Starting this year, Iwate Prefecture included in its annual disaster drill a scenario in which pets would be evacuated with their owners.
“We can’t decide on a policy (on pets) that covers all shelters, but if we decide beforehand what each evacuation shelter will do, things will go smoother,” said an Iwate official in charge.
A Miyagi veterinarian group official said disaster drills that include pets would help deepen the understanding of evacuees who don’t have them.
In Arakawa Ward, Tokyo, a brochure urges pet owners to create a network at shelters so they can help each other care for their animals.
“What is important is for pet owners to exchange information regularly, discuss what to do in times of emergency and not rely on the government,” said Junko Hirai, who heads the nonprofit organization ANICE, or Animal Navigation in Case of Emergency.