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Originally published Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Dogs in Japan's nuclear zone turning wild

The Fukushima prefectural government and Japan's Environment Ministry are trying to capture hundreds of pet dogs believed to be living feral in the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but their efforts are being frustrated by the animals themselves.

quotes This article that you have printed does not help the plight of the animals in Fukushima... Read more
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FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The Fukushima prefectural government and Japan's Environment Ministry are trying to capture hundreds of pet dogs believed to be living feral in the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but their efforts are being frustrated by the animals themselves.

Before the disaster, there were about 5,800 registered dogs in the area that became the no-entry zone, which stretches over a 12.4-mile radius from the plant.

From May 10 to the end of August, the prefectural government captured a total of 323 pets, mainly dogs, that were left leashed at empty houses. The government began trying to capture loose dogs on Sept. 5 and has managed to capture three, but none have been caught in its traps baited with food.

Even after accounting for dogs that were captured by volunteers and those that died in the tsunami or from starvation, hundreds of dogs are believed to still be living within the zone.

"No dogs in the traps today either," a prefectural government official said after checking several traps within the no-entry zone.

Six months have passed since the March 11 disaster at the nuclear power plant, and young dogs born after their parents' owners evacuated are running loose in the zone.

"If these puppies become parents, their offspring will be wild dogs with no experience with people," the official said. "We want to catch these puppies before they grow up."

Kawasaki veterinarian Kunitoshi Baba, 63, found a dead kitten in the zone in mid-August. Baba has been capturing feral dogs with the central and prefectural governments' permission. The kitten appeared to have been attacked by a dog, as part of its flesh was torn away.

Baba saw two dogs about 6.2 miles from where he found the kitten, but they ran away from him toward a mountain.

"The dogs have gone wild. If infected dogs go outside the zone and attack people, disease could spread," Baba said.

A warehouse in Fukushima that is now home to about 150 captured dogs resounded with barking recently. Among them was a puppy brought in Sept. 6, its white hair brown with dirt and a red sore on its face.

"The puppy is infested with fleas," a staffer said. "It must be suffering from a skin disease."

Veterinarian Tadashi Toyoda, 60, injected the dog with a vaccine and returned it to a cage.

Most of the dogs' owners now live in makeshift accommodation units or apartments, so there are no prospects of them collecting the dogs.

The prefectural government said it plans to establish another shelter for dogs, but its budget is tight. Maintenance of the facility is being covered by donations of about $444,000, of which about $116,000 was left at the end of August.

It is difficult to secure money for pets, as people take precedence, an official at the facility said.

"Pets provide people with mental support, so we'd like to return them to their owners as soon as possible, but there's no end to this problem in sight," the official said.

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