Nobody knows when an earthquake is going to strike. They hit suddenly without warning. When I look back on the animal rescue activities we carried out over 16 months following the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I can identify four particular items that can be considered as the main activities: (1) organizing an Animal Rescue Headquarters, (2) establishing a support system, (3) raising funds to finance the activities, and (4) carrying out animal owner or keeper education.
Regarding item (1), five animal welfare-related organizations, namely, the Veterinary Association of Hyogo Prefecture, the Veterinary Association of Kobe City, and the Hanshin branch of the Japan Animal Welfare Society (JAWS), together with Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City, which joined as observers, established the Kobe Animal Rescue Center and the Sanda Animal Rescue Center.
Regarding item (2), a support system was established to back up those who were engaged in Animal Rescue Center operations and make their work easier. During the busiest period, as many as 70 to 80 ordinary volunteers and veterinarian volunteers, including both stay-over and day-trip visitors cane to the Rescue Centers each day. Given this situation, as the time period of the operations grew longer, management of these volunteers became more difficult. For example, there was a need to organize meals, sleeping places, bathing facilities, handing over of duties, schedule adjustment, coping with injuries, etc. In order to ensure stable management, it is necessary to secure paid volunteers, and local authority support is essential too.
Moving onto item (3), at the end of the day, nothing can be done without adequate funding. And in particular, funding is indispensable to initial activity. I can speak about this based on my experience following the earthquake, a time when our activities were reported by the mass media. Public donations eventually came in but this took a little time. However, in the event of a disaster, money is needed urgently. When a disaster strikes, once it becomes possible to draw on funds managed by the Animal Rescue Headquarters, the situation becomes so much easier. Also, the search for foster owners for animals proceeded favorably, but in the case of cats and dogs with diseases, our only option was to ask veterinarians to take them in. I am deeply grateful for the cooperation given by so many people.
Concerning item (4), still there are many things we can do on an everyday basis, such as addressing the problems of owners keeping large numbers of animals and training problems, carrying out spaying and neutering, rabies vaccinations, attaching of license tags and ID tags, etc.
As I mentioned above, when I look back on the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I see that a great variety of problems came up. These problems can be gradually solved over time, but still, my fondest wish is that a disaster of this magnitude won’t happen again.