Two Years Later – The Anniversary of the Tohoku/Fukushima Disaster and a Q & A With Jennifer Koca, Volunteer for Japan Cat Network
Today is the two year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan that resulted in killing some 19,000 people and triggered a devastating meltdown in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. More than a million homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged by the natural disaster and of the roughly 470,000 people who fled during the initial catastrophe, more than 315,000 people still live in temporary housing. It will be headline news around the world for the day and then the event will fade into nothing but a distant memory to be replaced by the next headline.One such consequence of the disaster that I am trying to keep from fading away is the dire need to spread awareness about the plight of the animals, especially the cats who still need so much help. As it was, prior to the disaster, cat overpopulation was already a problem. The Tohoku/Fukushima area of Japan is very rural and communities were relatively ignorant about the necessity of spay/neuter. After the tsunami/meltdown, it became far worse as the streets were mixed with ferals, strays, and pets, all struggling to survive against the brutal elements, while still being able to procreate for the most part. That is how it all began for me last year when I introduced you to Jennifer Koca, a 1st grade special education teacher from Herndon, VA, who was getting ready to move to Japan on March 20th for a job she had lined up. After hearing about the devastating disaster, rather than let that deter her, she decided to come anyway and gave up her comfortable life with her family and friends so that she could be part of the relief effort for these suffering animals. Jennifer had reached out to me regarding one of the posts I did on the benefits of TNR to managing outdoor cat populations and I invited her to share her firsthand account about what it was like to uproot her life and volunteer with the Japan Cat Network (JCN) that was one of the primary advocacy organizations actively working to help save the cats and educate the community about spay/neuter. I did a series of post with Jennifer about her experience and was curious a year later – had things gotten better? The mainstream headlines are one thing, but I wanted to hear it from her firsthand – how was the recovery going since we last spoke and how were the cats? Jennifer very graciously agreed to a brief Q & A to get us all caught up since last year:
DB – Jennifer, when you first contacted me you told me that one of the biggest obstacles you faced every day was educating people about the importance of spay/neuter to reducing cat overpopulation. Do you feel people have become more accepting of the virtues of spay/neuter or is it still a struggle to get people to embrace the procedure?
JK - It’s definitely still an uphill battle to get people here to embrace that both strays and family pets should get fixed, but thanks to Japanese groups becoming more vocal about the issue since the disaster, it is getting easier. I have also noticed that a lot more people are willing to do it if it is very cheap or free, since it seems some people choose not to do it simply due to the insane costs most vets charge (usually around 40,000Y per pet, which equates to over 400.00$USD). Also, because most of the disaster area is very rural, many people had quite simply never heard of this as an option before.DB - Are there still lots of homeless cats on the streets or has the problem become more manageable?
JK - In the evacuated areas there are still thousands of cats wandering the streets, but it has become a bit more manageable due to the TNR efforts and because many of the cats died because they could not survive the harsh Tohoku climate.DB - Have a lot of cats been reunited with owners that they had become separated from after the tsunami?
JK - Thousands of animals have been reunited since the disaster and JCN has been a part of that, but the saddest part is that many of the owners who do find their pets, still have to relinquish them. This is because they don’t have a home for themselves either and that is quite possibly the most depressing part of the entire disaster. A few areas made international headlines and managed to acquire vast amounts of donations and have almost entirely rebuilt. Meanwhile, there are still over 100,000 people in the Fukushima area alone, living in temporary housing, stuck waiting for the government. There has not yet been a single permanent structure rebuilt in the two years that have passed and now officials are saying it could be 6 to 10 years before all are resettled.DB – What is the best way people can help you help the cats?
JK - Donations and awareness is definitely what we need the most help with. It is really heartbreaking how many people I talk with who do not even remember the Fukushima disaster even happened. To a lot of people overseas, it was just another passing story and once it faded from the headlines, it also faded from their memories. Financial donations are needed now more than ever, because so many people have either run out of resources they can offer, or have simply forgotten about us. There is honestly not a lot to go around now between groups. Food and monetary donations are vital for this to ever become manageable, because a constant TNR program and feeding teams to help capture the tame animals and care for the ferals are the keys to making all of this work.It is also important to remember that a number of the animals located in shelters here do have families still and groups such as Japan Cat Network are here to safely watch them until those families are finally prepared to take back their loved ones – but all of this costs money to maintain.
I thank Jennifer for her honest and heartfelt account of the situation in Japan. She is absolutely correct, headlines come and go, but for the people that live behind the words, they have to go on and they cannot afford to be forgotten. I know so much of us love and care for cats and the wish for their well-being goes far beyond our own communities. For those of us that can donate to JCN, however large or small the amount, it would be greatly appreciated. I also want to thank Jennifer and all the volunteers in Japan who are working so tirelessly to help the cats. Jennifer has recently resigned from her job and in 2 weeks will become a full time volunteer for JCN and will be living at the shelter until her savings money runs thin.
If you were not able to read the series I did last year featuring Jennifer and her insights on the cats in the aftermath of the tsunami and would like to learn more, please see below links: