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Project launched to set up evacuation shelters for pets in Japan during disasters

A staff member with the nonprofit organization "Hito to Dobutsu no Kyosei Center" (Center for human and animal symbiosis) is seen attending to a dog at the group's office in the city of Gifu on Oct. 7, 2020, in this photo provided by the organization's chairman Yoriyuki Oku.

NAGOYA -- A nonprofit organization authorized by the Gifu Municipal Government in central Japan is pushing a project to establish evacuation shelters for pets across Japan, where people can leave their buddies in the event of a disaster.

    "Hito to Dobutsu no Kyosei Center" (Center for human and animal symbiosis) plans to use pet hotels, pet salons and other animal-related business facilities as evacuation shelters. Discussions with such businesses and disaster prevention personnel about the establishment and operation of animal evacuation shelters have already started. It aims to register 100 locations as evacuation shelters for pets by March 2022.

    The group is calling for support via crowdfunding for the procurement of funds needed for setting up a website with a map of the pet evacuation shelters and for other purposes.

    The Ministry of the Environment in 2013 formulated a guideline on relief measures for pets in the event of a disaster, which stipulates that owners basically evacuate along with their pets to a safe place, while requiring owners to be considerate of other evacuees who do not like animals. As of now, the specifics of operating the evacuation centers are left up to local governments and community associations.

    In the past, there have been cases where evacuees with pets had to choose to spend nights in their cars or in their devastated homes, in consideration of other evacuees or because they didn't have access to evacuation centers that accepted pets. After the onset of the coronavirus crisis, evacuees are asked to distance themselves from others, and some evacuation centers are having trouble securing spaces for pets, according to the group.

    The project began with a simple idea that the safety of both pets and humans can be secured by having them evacuate separately. Officials with the organization thought if business facilities that deal with pets regularly could stock pet food and other necessities, they could be used as animal evacuation shelters. Business facilities that would be used as shelters are also expected to provide consultations for local residents in normal times as a hub for promoting disaster prevention for pets.

    The group aims to launch a website providing a map of animal evacuation centers nationwide by the summer rainy season of 2021. Group chairman and veterinarian Yoriyuki Oku, 34, said, "We would like to protect the lives of both pets and humans by having the owners confirm the locations of animal evacuation shelters using the map ahead of a disaster, and leave their pets there before evacuating to a safe place without hesitation."

    Oku plans to use the body's office, located inside a vet he runs, as one of the shelters in the event of a disaster. The office is prepared to accept a maximum of 40 dogs for up to two months, and has been conducting regular training.

    Kensuke Kato, an associate professor of social psychology at the Kyushu University of Health and Welfare who takes part in discussions for the establishment of animal evacuation shelters, explained, "Having engaged in pet support activities after the Kumamoto earthquakes (in 2016) and on other occasions, I came to fully realize that securing places where owners and pets can feel at ease is an issue to be resolved. There are various methods such as improving the environment of evacuation centers, but setting up animal evacuation shelters is one way we can reduce disaster damage for humans and pets."

    The group is raising funds through the city of Gifu's "Furusato Nozei" hometown tax website at https://www.furusato-tax.jp/gcf/1036 (in Japanese) until Nov. 15. It has set a target amount of 4.24 million yen (roughly $40,000), which includes the cost of launching the website and operating costs.

    (Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Center)

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