By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 12:29 PM on 14th April 2011
Rescuers have been risking their lives in the nuclear swamp around tsunami-hit Japan’s stricken power plant – to save abandoned dogs.
Thousands of animals have starved to death or been abandoned by their owners after the earthquake and tsunami shattered Japan on March 11.
A 20km exclusion zone was put in place around the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant as deadly radiation spilled into the atmosphere.
Stray: Dog-lovers were so moved by this picture of shelties in an abandoned street in Minami, Soma city, that they braved the nuclear exclusion zone to rescue the pets.
But teams of animal-lovers moved by the sight of a stray dogs struggling to survive have ignored health warnings to scour the deserted wasteland for signs of canine life.
The search began earlier this week when Etsumi Ogino saw a photo of a pack of shelties wandering through an abandoned town and thought of her own 13-year-old pet, Kein.
‘My heart trembled,’ said Ms Ogino, a 56-year-old volunteer at an animal shelter in Chiba prefecture. ‘They looked just like my dog. I started searching for them right away.’
Saved: Volunteers in protective yellow suits unpack rucksacks stuffed with dog food for the pack of shelties after tracking them down.
Relieved: One of the dogs appears tired as it is treated at an animal hospital in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, after being rescued by the group of animal lovers.
She and others contacted the photographer who had taken the picture and others of the dogs in an empty street in Minami Soma city, an area evacuated because of radiation fears.
They were told the address where the dogs were spotted and Ms Ogino relayed the information to a team of animal rescuers called Sheltie Rescue. By then, the group had been getting emails from dog lovers around the country about the abandoned pack.
Through emails and internet research it was established that the owner of the dogs was a breeder in Minami Soma. The group contacted the Fukushima city branch of the Japan Collie Club, tracked the owner down by phone at a shelter and got her go-ahead to rescue the dogs.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, seven volunteers left Tokyo and drove over broken roads and past demolished houses to meet three other volunteers in the ghost town which Minami Soma has become. Some had prepared radiation suits and others wore simple vinyl raincoats.
The first two to arrive found the pack around the Odaka railway station, near the owner’s home, where the dogs had last been seen.
‘They were waiting for their owner,’ said Tamiko Nakamura, a volunteer who went with the group from Tokyo.
The dogs had been left some dry food, and were not starving.
It took a while to entice them with snacks, and six or seven were bundled into each car. The group saved 20 dogs in all.
Most were taken to a veterinary clinic in Kanagawa prefecture just west of Tokyo. Others are being cared for by individuals in other areas.
Abandoned: One of the shelties, still covered in dust and dirt from the earthquake, shivers nervously as a rescuer approaches with help.
Safe at last: A happy sheltie raises a paw after being put into a cage ready to be transported back to its owner.
Recovery: The group saved 20 dogs in all who were taken to rescue centres. The owner of the animals was tracked own and found to be a breeder from the town where they were left.
The owner, worn down by the disaster and worrying about her dogs, was ‘extremely happy’, Ms Nakamura said. She said the owner did not want her identity revealed.
Ms Nakamura only regrets that some of the dogs in the pack ran away and countless others are still stranded in the evacuation zone.
‘There are still some left behind,’ she said. ‘I’m concerned about them and want to pull them out.’
Update: So many people saw this on CNN and other news websites that our Japanese friends have posted the news with an update in English. http://www.help-sheltie.net/