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Originally published March 10, 2012 at 6:00 AM | Page modified March 10, 2012 at 1:11 PM

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Hundreds of pets in shelters a year after Japan's tsunami

A year after an earthquake and tsunami caused nearly catastrophic meltdowns at a nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, the people of Fukushima, Japan, are struggling to rebuild their lives and reunite with pets that for now are being held at shelters.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

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FUKUSHIMA, Japan — More than 300 dogs and cats rescued from around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were still being kept at animal shelters and other facilities in Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of February, according to a prefectural government-led group taking care of such animals.

After a huge earthquake and tsunami caused nearly catastrophic meltdowns at a nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, the prefecture rescued 902 animals from around the power plant, including from within the 20-kilometer no-entry zone, that were apparently left at home by owners forced to evacuate.

About 600 dogs and cats have since been collected by their previous owners or placed with new ones, but 305 remain at the facilities. Many are still there because their owners are living in temporary housing units and other evacuation facilities.

The group is struggling with the high cost of caring for the animals and health problems resulting from their long-term stay in the shelters.

One 350-square-meter shelter was created in Fukushima by repairing a former factory and a warehouse. About 110 dogs are kept there.

"Some of the dogs are sick because they've been here so long. Some have stomach pains from stress," said Tadashi Toyoda, a veterinarian in charge of checking the pets' health.

Toyoda was concerned about the dogs being in cages, saying, "It's also best for dogs to be in homes."

After the nuclear crisis began last March, the prefectural government set up animal rescue headquarters in cooperation with the prefectural veterinarians association, a volunteer group for animal protection and the city governments of Koriyama and Iwaki.

The animal shelters were established in Fukushima and Miharu in the prefecture.

The group worked to find homes for them, posting photos of the animals on its website. As a result, about 600 animals have been taken in by new or previous owners.

The owners of 70 percent of the 305 dogs and cats remaining have been found, but they cannot take their pets home for various reasons.

Masayuki Ishimoda, a 37-year-old landscape gardener, left his pet dog Konta at home in Okuma, where the power plant is located.

When Ishimoda made a temporary home visit in July, he found Konta alive and left the dog at one of the group's facilities. Currently, Ishimoda lives in an apartment in Iwaki.

"When I see Konta at the shelter, he approaches me and wags his tail. I can't give him up after seeing that," Ishimoda said.

According to the prefectural government, many owners living in apartments or temporary housing units say they want to reclaim their pets after they return home.

Some temporary housing units allow residents to have pets, or set up special facilities for pets. But many owners seem hesitant, worried the animals might bother other residents.

One dog has been in a shelter since late April.

The prefectural government has spent about 100 million yen so far to maintain two animal shelters for about 230 pets and to pay for medicines at animal hospitals that are caring for pets at the prefecture's request.

These costs were covered by donations, but the prefecture will likely have to spend about 5 million yen a month to continue the animal protection project.

A prefectural official in charge of food and environmental health said, "There's a limit as to how long an administrative body can take care of pets. We'll eventually close these facilities but we don't know when."

"What we can do is continue talking with pets' owners (about their pets' future)," the official added.

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