Family & Friends

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Don’t Forget Your Best Friends When Disaster Hits

Posted by at 2:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


ashleyPETA Asia-Pacific senior campaigner Ashley Fruno recently returned from animal rescue work in some of the most devastated regions of Japan, and below, she shares some of her experiences, as well as advice on protecting animals when disaster strikes your own community, with PETA Prime.

After PETA Asia-Pacific learned about the devastation left in the wake of March 11 earthquake and tsunami, I caught the first flight into Tokyo after the airport reopened the next day and traveled by train to Niigata, where I met up with a team from a local animal shelter there and then traveled by car to Sendai.

As many people have seen in images on TV, the tsunami ripped through the region with such force that cars were smashed into houses, debris was swept for miles through rice fields, and entire families drowned in their homes.

Travel was extremely difficult because of miles-long lines at gas stations and the rationing of gas. There were few signs of life in the hardest-hit areas, but we encountered some citizens who refused to leave their badly damaged homes because many evacuation centers are not allowing companion animals inside.

One woman we met was carrying her dog, a young sheltie who was terrified by the earthquake and aftershocks and the chaos that ensued. Tears came to the woman’s eyes as she told us that she had risked her life for three days while staying in her still-shaking house because the evacuation center would not allow her to take her dog with her. She was finally able to take her dog to a family member’s home in an area of the city that had not been hit by the tsunami.

At one evacuation center that was housing some animals along with people, one of the center coordinators told me a touching story about his Akita, Shane. When the man heard the tsunami warning, he rushed to warn his neighbors after letting Shane out into the yard. He tried to get back to his house to get Shane, but the tsunami was rapidly approaching, and he was forced to go to the school on higher ground.

He said he had given up hope of ever seeing Shane alive again. But six hours later, one of the people staying in the center said that they saw a dog outside. The man went to look, and it was Shane! The dog had never been to the school before, but somehow his instincts led him there. Shane had managed to swim through deep water to be reunited with his guardian.

The man took us to see Shane, who was staying at his house, which is now dry. Shane must have clung to debris, as he had cuts on both his elbows. We instructed the man on how to clean Shane’s wounds and gave him some ointment. We left fuel with a local veterinarian who volunteered to visit more evacuation centers in Sendai, and he returned to check on Shane and provide him with antibiotics.

It is for Shane and for the countless other animals whose plight is so often overlooked in the aftermath of disasters that I beg people never to leave animals to face a disaster on their own. Shane’s guardian had little choice, but making an emergency plan now can help prevent tragedies from being repeated during the next disaster.

Remember, if conditions are too dangerous for you, they are too dangerous for the dog in the backyard, the cat sleeping on the front steps, and the caged hamster. If at all humanly possible, it is vital to take animals with you when forced to evacuate.

In the wake of catastrophic earthquakes and storms, animals aren’t safe at home because, even if the home itself isn’t damaged, impassable roads may prevent homeowners from returning for weeks, leaving animals stranded without food and water.

While many evacuation shelters do not allow animals, many hotels do, and others will often waive their restrictions on animal guests during disasters. If you can’t afford a hotel and you don’t have friends or relatives with whom you and your animals can stay, your animal companions are still better off going with you, even if you have to camp out at a campground or in your car (although you must be careful never to leave animals alone in a car during warm weather).

If you absolutely must leave your animal companions behind, leave them inside the house, with access to upper floors and at least 10 days’ supply of dry food and water. Fill multiple sinks, bowls, pans, and plastic storage containers with water.

Before the next storm strikes, invest in a sturdy, roomy carrier for each of your animals that, if worst comes to worst, can serve as their temporary living quarters. Be sure that all your animals are up to date on their rabies vaccinations and are wearing collars with identification tags, and remember to pack leashes, bowls, towels, blankets, litter pans and litter, and at least a week’s supply of food and medications.

We may never know how many people put themselves at risk and possibly perished in this disaster because they were afraid to leave their animals behind. Government and nonprofit agencies must learn from this tragedy and include animals in future disaster planning—if not for the animals’ sake, then for the sake of the people who would rather die than leave them behind.

Don’t wait until the next disaster strikes—make an emergency plan today. Your animal friend might not be as lucky as Shane.

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    Naila says...

    April 1st, 2011, 7:15 pm

    Great article! So true!! Please be prepared and have plans on where you can bring your animals for safety! NEVER LEAVE YOUR ANIMALS BEHIND!! Thank you for reminding everyone to be vigilant!

    Deena says...

    April 2nd, 2011, 4:50 am

    Animals are more often better companions than human beings, more faithful and can understand more than we give them credit for. I grew up with animals for the last 55 odd years. My Dad, aged 93, and very much still alive, got the SPCA to operate clinics at our home as a present to my Mom when I was born. Thank you Papa!

    Michelle says...

    April 6th, 2011, 4:06 am

    I will never never never leave my animals behind during a disaster. They have already become part of my life, giving me life, like children. They are more than just a companion, they has taught me the meaning of life. For Shane, its strong survival skill of ‘NEVER GIVE UP’ has drove him to struggle for his life so to that he could locate his master again. His master is like his ‘god’ who he loves so deeply and depends fully. Shane’s entire world is only his master.

    Well, there must be a reason why dog spells as ‘dog’. If you spell it the other way, is it ‘god’? Our dog is like God who will never give up on us no matter how bad we treat them. They could tolerate anything from us.

    God has created this beautiful animal to be our ‘guardian angel’ as well, watching us all the time. I learn God also do want us to depend on Him fully as He will be our Provider, just like our dearly dogs and let God do all the planning for us. God does not want us to live with daily worries and live in Peace!

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