US Search Dog Teams Arrive in Japan – And How You Can Help Rescue Efforts

The devastation is hard to process. The photos and video footage from the quake-and-tsunami-ravaged northeast coast of Japan seem too horrific to be real. Some...

Maria Goodavage  |  Mar 14th 2011


The devastation is hard to process. The photos and video footage from the quake-and-tsunami-ravaged northeast coast of Japan seem too horrific to be real. Some 10,000 people may have lost their lives as a result of the disasters.

And some may still be alive beneath the rubble. But how to find them before it’s too late? Man’s best friend to the rescue…

Yesterday six canine disaster search teams trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation arrived in Japan on another lifesaving mission. These heroic teams have been deployed to disasters around the world, helping find life in the midst of devastation and death.

These teams are extraordinary. The rescue dogs were all rescues themselves. They know how to scope out signs of life and hope better than any human, thanks at least in part to their incredible senses and the tremendous training provided by the foundation. There are currently 74 SDF-trained teams around the US.

The six teams that arrived in Japan yesterday were making their way to Ofunato City at last update. Once there, the dogs will get to work with their handlers.

“All rescue personnel will be awaiting a ‘Bark Alert’ from the dogs, letting them know there is someone in need of rescue. Everything the teams have learned during their intensive training will be put to use in saving lives,” says Janet Reineck, of the Search Dog Foundation. You can click here to see photos of the six teams.

We hope they can steer clear of any possible radiation leaks, and that soon there will be a whole lot of barking going on.

If you’d like to keep up with their efforts there foundation has a web page dedicated to updates. Or follow them on Twitter. You can also make a donation to this excellent organization on the same page. Or check them out on Facebook.

If you’d like other ways to help Japan’s human or animal victims, here are some suggestions:

The Japanese Red Cross Society is trying to get aid to the scene as quickly as possible. Yes, this is for the human victims, but if humans are alive, their pets will have someone to come home to. (The Google Crisis Response page that hosts this donation effort also features message boards, warning and alarm announcements, shelter information, and much more. Looking at it gives you kind of an inside idea of what’s going on there. There’s even a button to click if you are looking for someone, or have information on someone.)

An excellent article by the Best Friends Animal Society lists places to donate to help rescue animals in Japan. The article provides information on some of the organizations, so read it first if you want some background.

  • For HEART-Tokushima and the Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, click here.When you donateon this site, your donations will go to the coalition Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, and will be divided equally among all the rescue groups participating.
  • If you prefer to give to Japan Cat Network or Animal Garden Niigata all belong to the same coalition please click here or here.
  • If you encounter a PayPal form in Japanese instead of English, and you cannot read it, try going to the HEART-Tokushima site above, where the form is in English. Indicate for earthquake relief on the form.
  • To view the Facebook page of Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, click here. You may also donate on this page.
  • To view Susan Robert’s blog on the Best Friends Network, click here.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. If you have other suggestions for legitimate organizations, please leave the information in a comment below.

Update 3-16-11: Some Dogsters have expressed concern for the safety of their dogs if Tokyo Electrics Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic reactor No. 1 has a meltdown and the fallout reaches the US West Coast. Some bloggers are saying the possibility of a “death cloud” is getting stronger. But this morning, Cham Dallas, CBS nuclear safety consultant, and professor at the University of Georgia, told the CBS Early Show that “Right now, and in the immediate future, I cannot possibly see any scenario that would result in any hazardous levels of radioactivity getting to California. Unless this thing really deteriorates a lot more than — than is even conceivable right now.

“The people in California can rest easy. The amount of radiation that you’re getting now, or are liable to get in the near future from Japan, would be less than you would get in a TSA screening. It’s just not a hazard right now. I can’t see how that’s going to change in the immediate future,” he said in the segment.

But when I was in our local store yesterday, nuclear fallout was the talk of the store. Several customers asked for potassium iodide, or any form of iodine, but all iodine products had sold out over the weekend — even the bulk powdered kelp, which is high in iodine. A friend called around to see if she could get any kelp or iodine products at numerous natural-foods stores and pharmacies, but the cupboards were bare. (And she is usually not a panicky kind of person.) The thing is, in a worst-case scenario, potassium iodide, or I suppose other iodine products, will only offer protection to the thyroid from a certain kind of radiation. There’s all kinds of junk in fallout that can affect all kind of other body parts, unfortunately.

In her blog today, Dogster columnist Julia Szabo addresses concerns and offers ideas for keeping dogs and humans as safe as possible if a meltdown happens and fallout heads our way. If you have any concerns, head over to Julia’s helpful post and take a look. And if things do heat up, I’ll put together a full post here on the dog blog. (But since we live two blocks from the Pacific Ocean, I certainly hope not to have to do anything of the sort.)