One year ago, on March 11, 2011, the world watched in horror as one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded hit off the coast of Japan, causing devastating tsunamis and triggering a meltdown at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

The result of the disaster was catastrophic with more than 15,000 deaths, billions of yen in damage, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. In addition to the human tragedy, uncounted numbers of animals were swept away, killed or lost their homes. Thousands more were abandoned or tied up in backyards — left by owners who thought they would be returning soon.

One year later, much has been done, but thousands of animals are still without homes, and others continue to roam amid the rubble, reports American Humane Association President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert, who recently returned from a humanitarian mission to help animals in the affected areas.

“Following the 3/11 earthquake American Humane Association and our ‘Red Star’ Animal Emergency Services immediately mobilized, sending desperately needed supplies and support to local Japanese relief agencies,” said Dr. Ganzert. “Great strides have been made since to help the victims of the disaster, but far too many are still without homes and without hope, and we must continue to help.”

Dr. Ganzert traveled to Japan last month to conduct site visits, assess the ongoing need, and set up a schedule of major financial support to help the many animals still in need.  She has documented some of her observations in a journal, “The Animals of Fukushima: One Year Later.”

Animals of Fukushima

During her visits to the devastated region it was shockingly clear that the relief work is far from over. Some animals were left at shelters when their owners evacuated, but because of the astounding number of people involved, the shelters were overwhelmed.

Even a year later, most people in the area haven’t been able to return to their homes.

“One year after the devastating earthquake, tsunami, fire, and nuclear disaster, the air of uncertainty lingers, tinged with despair and anger,” Ganzert writes.

“The resiliency of the Japanese people has never been called into question, and their ability to coalesce and persevere is ever-present in the remarkable recovery efforts witnessed to date.  But as the rest of the world moves on to other news and America focuses on political and economic matters, the people and animals of Japan have been forgotten – many families still homeless, many children without their four-legged family members, and all with ongoing questions about their future.”

In addition to the continuing financial and material support provided by American Humane Association, the 135-year-old charity met with key Japanese relief groups to share the organization’s century of experience in disaster relief, offering help and information assembled by its Red Star rescue teams to help Japan’s communities better prepare for and protect children and animals against future disasters.

Since 1916, American Humane Association has operated the internationally renowned Red Star program, which has been involved in major domestic and international relief efforts starting with the rescue of horses during World War I and continuing on to Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, and 9/11.

“When the disasters occurred in Japan, we responded quickly and we continue to help,” said Dr. Ganzert.

“Much good has been accomplished, but a year later there are still thousands of animals in desperate need. The headlines may have faded away, but the crisis has not. There is still much work to be done and we need good-hearted people everywhere to help until all the animals are safe, secure and reunited with those they love.”

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