Adrien Zap with Shane. Her Picasa page features many more pictures of Shane, as well as of Dr. Sasaki, shelters, veterinary facilities, successfully and unsuccessfully rescued animals, devastated areas, and much more.
Zap was also on the Haiti campaign that we helped fund through Sodopreca, and is a Darwin Animal Doctors volunteer.
She’s kind of busy these days, so this interview is an edited combination of questions she answered specifically for us and some more general material she prepared.
How large is your team? How many other teams are there?
Adrien Zap: Our team consisted of three volunteers – myself and two volunteers from Animal Friends Niigata, one of the three Japanese NGOs that comprise JEARS. Isabella Gallaon-Aoki is the founder and director of Animal Friends Niigata, and was the coordinator and translator of our trip to Sendai.
World Vets now has a Japanese-born veterinarian, Dr. Koji, who will be in Japan long-term to coordinate ongoing efforts with JEARS and Japanese animal welfare groups, and will provide direct veterinary care to animals in need. We are also collaborating with Dr. Kazumasu Sasaki, a Japanese veterinarian in Sendai, who is providing veterinary and rescue support to his community.
What types of injuries/conditions are most common amongst the rescued animals?
The most common injuries we saw were wounds associated with tsunami/earthquake debris. The animals were well-cared for prior to the disaster, were in good body condition and well fed. Dog breeds such as Shiba Inus and Akitas are also very common in Japan, and their thick warm coats helped them survive outside in the cold temperatures prior to being rescued.
The animals we worked with were either in a shelter or reunited with their families in an evacuation center.
Some of the dogs and cats at the shelter in Sendai were nervous or anxious, but it is difficult to say if that is directly related to the disaster, or due to being separated from their families and living in a shelter. Dr. Sasaki reported that he is seeing numerous animals with signs of “post-traumatic stress” in his work around the city. Human rescuers have encountered dogs and cats in the disaster area that were aggressive and difficult to approach, which again, may be due to separation from their families.
If the animals are not immediately reunited with their families, they are being cared for at the Sendai city shelter, where Dr. Sasaki can provide medical treatment if necessary. At this time, the Sendai shelter is able to accommodate all animals. However, they anticipate future need for space, food, and supplies. JEARS has arranged to help the Sendai shelter by providing food, supplies and temporary housing in the Niigata shelter if necessary. World Vets will provide items such as food, cages, and medical supplies to JEARS and Dr. Sasaki so they can care for the animals in affected areas.
Tell us about Shane
We met a man, Kamata-san, at an evacuation center in Sendai who told us a very touching story about his dog. When he heard the tsunami warning, Kamata-san rushed to warn his neighbors. He tried to get back to his house to get his dog, Shane, but the tsunami was rapidly approaching and he was forced to seek higher ground. Kamata-san told us he had given up hope of ever seeing Shane again. About 6 hours after the tsunami, Kamata-san was at the evacuation center when a man told him there was a dog outside. He went outside to look, and it was Shane!
Shane had never been to the site of the evacuation center before, but his instincts lead him there. He swam through chest-high water to reach the shelter and reunite with Kamata-san. Shane must have hung onto debris in the water, as he had wounds on both his elbows.
Dr. Sasaki showed Kamata-san how to clean the wounds and gave him antibiotics to prevent infection. We were able to leave fuel with Dr. Sasaki, so he will return to check on Shane and ensure his wounds heal.
Japan is widely hailed for its infrastructural preparedness for natural disasters. Have you seen examples of this helping animals to avoid injury or be more easily rescued? Or were animals overlooked in Japan’s disaster preparation? What could be done to better prepare for future events?
Based on my experience in Haiti after the 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake, I feel the majority of the damage in Japan was due to the tsunami. Buildings and roads in the mainland area of Sendai (about 80 miles from the off-shore epicenter) were unaffected, but the coastal area was completely destroyed. I believe the engineering and infrastructure throughout Japan contributed to the safety of the people and animals, and significantly reduced the human and animal mortality numbers. A simplified explanation would be that the Haitian earthquake caused everything to fall or break; the Japanese earthquake and tsunami washed everything away.
Regarding disaster preparation, families can consider permanent identification (such as microchips or tattoos) for their pets, which will facilitate reuniting displaced animals and owners after a disaster. Families can also include leashes, crates or carriers in their family disaster preparedness kit, to facilitate evacuation with their animals.
Have you experienced any bad reactions from people who think it’s not important to save animals?
In Japan (as well as Haiti), I encountered nothing but gratitude and positive support for our work. People consider their pets an extension of their family, and are grateful for rescue and veterinary services in this time of need.
We’ve been discussing domestic companion animals, but are you encountering wildlife at all? What about farm animals?
There was a recent report about a baby dolphin that was found in a rice paddy and returned to the ocean, but we did not encounter any wildlife in Sendai. The veterinarian in Sendai, Dr. Sasaki, was concerned about the well-being of a local equestrian center, so we traveled to the beach area to see if there were any injured or lost horses. Unfortunately, the entire area was destroyed, including the barns, and we did not see any signs of the horses. Hopefully they were able to flee the area before the tsunami hit.
Are dogs (or any other animals) assisting the rescue effort?
There is now a very famous YouTube video of 2 dogs involved in a mutual rescue effort, but we did not witness any animal-facilitated rescues. However, I feel the animals are providing essential emotional healing and support to the people displaced by the disaster. People living in evacuation centers may have lost almost everything in their lives and feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Caring for an animal offers an opportunity to feel a sense of responsibility and purpose during this devastating time. Numerous studies have shown the simple act of brushing or petting a cat or dog has therapeutic effects on blood pressure, cardiac function and depression. In that sense, I feel the animals are critical to the rescue and support effort in Japan.
When will the mission be considered complete and accomplished?
There is an initital rush of support (human and animal) following a disaster, however World Vets is currently planning for both short and long term support for the animals and people of Japan. Our generous corporate sponsors and private donors have responded with overwhelming generosity, enabling World Vets to provide support to the people and animals of Japan. Last week, World Vets shipped 13,000 pounds of dog and cat food to the Animal Friends Niigata shelter, and we have sent 2 shipments of veterinary supplies to Dr Sasaki in Sendai. World Vets is also working with Japanese and US military, JEARS and other Japanese animal rescue groups to help families leave Japan with their pets.
Does World Vets need volunteers?
The structural damage to cities like Sendai and radiation risks in areas like Fukushima make it difficult and dangerous to send large volunteer teams to Japan. Even though many people would like to help, the current need for volunteers is low. But funding and supplies are in dire need, and World Vets is collecting donations to send to our colleagues in Japan.
We will continue to support our veterinarian and friend Dr Sasaki in Sendai, and there is potential for long-term support through spay/neuter projects with his clinic. Anyone interested in learning more about World Vets trips can visit the website and become a member.