Sakura wonders where all the people went.
A young Shiba Inu dog living in a coastal town in Fukushima Prefecture, Sakura roams from neighborhood to neighborhood, house to house, her nose always searching for any scent of her master in the days and weeks after the ground shook the town and all the humans disappeared.
One day, Sakura thought she saw her master, grade-schooler Hitomi-chan, on a bus and gave chase. But the bus didn't stop. Sakura was once again left alone in her daily fight for survival.
“Sakura" is the story of a dog left behind in the no-entry zone after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The children's book is a work of fiction based on the real-life experiences of animal rescue volunteer Kunitoshi Baba. And it is gaining nationwide acclaim.
Baba, a veterinarian in private practice in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, served as director at an animal rescue facility established in Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture, by the Japan Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident started on March 11, 2011.
Veterinarians from across the country volunteered. The volunteers visited Minami-Soma, Okuma and Hirono, which are close to the nuclear power plant, and rescued dogs and other animals that were left behind and were struggling to find food.
Baba witnessed many dogs die of starvation, cold and weakness.
“Many people feel guilty about leaving their pets behind," Baba said. "But they were hastily forced to evacuate. A lot of people did not have time to think over the situation."
He included such heartbreaking experiences in his book.
Of the roughly 600 pets the veterinarians rescued, about 150 have been adopted by new owners. However, many dogs and cats remain in facilities in the prefecture because they are not allowed in the evacuation centers with their owners.
This was not the first time Baba has been involved in an animal rescue operation. In the 1990s, he helped rescue migratory birds that got caught in oil spills during the Persian Gulf War, and he did the same for birds caught in an oil tanker spill in the Sea of Japan in 1997.
Baba currently takes care of 15 dogs and cats he rescued in Fukushima Prefecture at a facility he runs in Kawasaki.
“The problems of radiation and pets who cannot return to their former owners will continue,” he said. “Interest in such issues should not be cut off.”
Reactions to his book have been overwhelmingly positive since it was published in December 2011, according to publisher Kin-no-Hoshi Sha Co. Many readers have provided donations to animal rescue activities or offered to adopt rescued pets, a Kin-no-Hoshi Sha official said.
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