The Dogs of Fukushima

One year after the earthquake and tsunami, family pets still waiting to go home
By Elizabeth Kennedy, March 2012, Updated June 2021

When a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan on March 11, 2012, it set off what is widely considered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, with still-acute consequences. In Tohoku alone, nearly 350,000 people remain displaced from their homes. Meanwhile, the beloved family pets of many of these families wait to be reunited with their families and return to the life they left behind.

Some estimates put the number of companion dogs displaced at nearly 6,000. Today, thousands are without homes, with some still roaming the wreckage.

The Japanese government has suggested that the effects of radiation may not be removed for another 30 years. Still, families continue to hope for a return home, visiting their pets in various shelters. Currently, two shelters are operating in Fukushima. Both are in dire need of funding, with animals living in crates or cramped rooms.

American Humane Association CEO and president Dr. Robin Ganzert recently reported these conditions in “The Animals of Fukushima: One Year Later,” based on a recent humanitarian mission to the region.


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The 300 dogs and cats housed in the Tokyo Prefecture temporary animal shelter have a much better situation, each with her own room and her own volunteer—owners who visit are even permitted to bring special blankets or other familiar items for their pets.

Medical examinations of animals in Tokyo shelters show that these family pets do not appear to be suffering from high levels of radiation, but they were the animals who escaped. Though a national study is planned to study the impact of radiation on these animals, no samples have been collected to date.

In its one-year report, the American Humane Society, which contributed to the relief effort in Japan, makes two recommendations for families looking to prepare themselves for such disasters:

  1. Establish an airtight recall so that your dog knows how to come when called by name.
  2. Crate-train your dog so that she’s comfortable in the event of an evacuation or shelter stay.

Visit the American Humane Association for more information on how to help the dogs of Fukushima.