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I was moved to tears when I saw this image on a friend’s Facebook page last week with this tagline, “Dog and owner reunion in Japan.” Today I saw the photo on a Yahoo News site with this caption and a Reuters news agency credit,”A woman shares her food with her dog at an evacuation center for pets and their owners near an area devastated.”

It was the chopsticks that got me. When disaster strikes, no matter where in the world it occurs, I’m always reminded of one thing important to people in nearly every culture and country: Pets.

Some would even say pets are essential for humans to retain their humanity.

Still, the elephant in the living room (the thing no one wants to admit is present) is the fate of pets impacted by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan. I admit, finally — and here in black-and-white, that during or following a disaster, my primary concern is the welfare of animals. I suspect that’s blasphemy of some sort in some circles somewhere. But not here on a blog about animals being everything to us.

I know there are thousands of folks right there with me, who believe we need to help the innocent, silent, four-legged victims of the March 11 quake in Japan just as we do the hurting, homeless people there.

In fact, there are extensive relief efforts underway in Japan to rescue and shelter pets. This Yahoo News article is a good place to learn more about how to help the animal rescue crews doing this beyond-hard-and-beyond-sad work on the ground in Japan.

The story title is, “Japan Animal Rescues Rush to Save Pets Affected by Earthquake, Tsunami.” You’ll find it at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ac/20110319/lf_ac/8095542_japan_animal_rescues_rush_to_save_pets_affected_by_earthquake_tsunami

The grand scale of Japan’s devastation harkened me back to the massive pet rescue operations that followed Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast of America in 2005.  The last account I read estimated that 15,000 pets were rescued, reunited or re-homed in the Katrina aftermath. Approximately 250,000 were not, because they drowned or starved.

Proof that animals are everything to many people: Think about the great many times during the Katrina evacuation that, on TV, we saw or heard people refuse to leave their home and get out of harm’s way unless they could take their beloved dog, cat, bird, fish with them. That, in most cases, was not permitted.

So people stayed, sometimes dying with their pet in their arms.

At least those Katrina pets were not lost for naught. Politicians and lawmakers recognized that saving pets ultimately saves people’s lives. Following the hurricane, the U.S. government passed the Pet Evacuation Transportation Safety (PETS) Act, which states that local governments must include “companion animals” in their disaster planning efforts.

Although this typically applies to dogs and cats, many jurisdictions are making the effort to include a wide variety of animals—including exotics, horses and non-traditional pets—in their disaster plans. However, this varies from locality to locality. (Source http://www.aspca.org)

Schools routinely have drills for staff and students to “walk through” disaster plans. Families are encouraged to practice what to do if disaster strikes their home.

Let’s give our companion animals that level of care: Put a plan in place, practice it WITH your pet and work out the kinks. For example, if your cat won’t go into a cat carrier, train it now, so your feline won’t refuse to do so in an emergency.

You can learn more about animal-related disaster laws and preparations at: Pet Laws for Evacuation | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/list_7488437_pet-laws-evacuation.html#ixzz1HMvkrn1u. For tips on planning ahead in case of  a disaster, visit:  http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/animals.shtm#1.dog

 

After barking at approaching reporters, the dog on the left led them to its hurt canine comrade.

Rescue efforts are not limited to people aiding animals. Sometimes, animals help animals. Watch this short news video and see a remarkable instance of one dog’s devotion to another dog, following the earthquake in Japan.

Here’s how the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, SFGate, described the scene: “In the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, a tired, muddy and disoriented spaniel emerged from a pile of rubble to lead rescuers to his injured four-legged pal. He had remained steadfast beside his canine compatriot since the disaster leveled their home six days ago.

“The hero hound was housed at a local animal shelter while rescuers took his injured companion for treatment at a veterinarian hospital in nearby Mito.” You can see the video at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/pets/detail?entry_id=85210#ixzz1HOkyiM3B.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: “Be part of the solution, not the problem.”

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"Spring's" first-elk sighting, from the deck on a February afternoon. Photo by Adam Sherman.

ELK. We’ve had two elk sightings this week. The first glimpse of elk this time of year is rather like seeing the first Christmas tree lit up in someone’s window in November: Full of promise. If the cows (female elk) are moving back into their traditional calving areas, well, spring can’t be too far off, we tell ourselves.

My son, Adam, spotted the elk in our “backyard” and ran for his camera. He pointed out two very large elk seemingly having a siesta on the edge of the meadow that butts up to a Bureau of Land management (BLM) forest. Powdered in snow, the elk were perfectly camouflaged in the snowed-over grass and trees. They’d placed themselves with their heads and bodies turned due south. We live in grape country, and it’s common knowledge that pinot noir varieties thrive on south facing slopes, because of the warmth that location affords. Elk apparently know that trick, too.

Right before a fresh bank of clouds blotted out the momentary sun, Adam spotted a few smaller, younger-looking elk several paces up the hill: yearlings perhaps; siblings, or as one friend described the elk in Adam’s photo, “young lovebirds.”

The first time I saw elk out here in the “sticks of the sticks,” they were causing a bit of a traffic jam. A  herd of Roosevelt Elk was following a lead cow across the seldom-traveled gravel country road I was driving. The elk were not in single file, but they were in no hurry either. I counted 33. Quite possibly more members of the larger, loose herd (reputed by neighbors to be more than 50) were hidden in the trees.

With any luck, we’ll catch a glimpse of the more elusive bull elk, too. Throughout April and May, the bulls will shed their antlers, which can weigh up to 40 pounds: The blood flow to them stops, and before long, they drop off. Antlers are made up of one of the fastest-growing living tissues. Over the summer, each bull grows a new,  fuller set of antlers – just in time for mating season in the fall. He with the biggest antlers often gets the girl.

Koi, a type of carp, are as colorful as many tropical fish yet able to survive chilling winters. http://www.scenicreflections.com

FISH. Tales of the biggest-fish-ever that got away abound. That wasn’t the kind of story I had in mind when including Fish as a blog category. I was, well, dreaming of something larger than life, along the lines of  Moby Dick or Flipper.  A colorful fish story works, too. Here’s one about a tamer variety of fish, but fish big in their own right.

Very cold weather in recent weeks has in-town (well, as in-town as you can get in a burg that numbers maybe 1,600) folks concerned about the survival of the colorful koi residing in their frozen garden ponds. Mostly orange-red and white, koi resemble shoe-box-size goldfish; however, they are by no means giant goldfish.

Koi, called nishi kigoi by the Japanese, are descended from 200-year-old black carp, or magoi. The flashy varieties we know today can survive beneath frozen water, because they’ve retained the tough constitution of their ancestors – and their smarts.

As the top of their liquid world freezes or turns to ice,  koi sink to the bottom of a pond where it’s warmer, and remain motionless. If I understand the science right, the frozen top layers insulate the water below, giving the koi a place of refuge.

Some koi experts say koi ponds should be at least four-feet deep, a depth that nearly always allows the pond’s “basement” to remain liquid. If the spell of freezing temperatures lasts, koi owners suggest making a sauce-pan-size hole in the ice so the build-up of gases can escape before harming the flashy fish.

Koi can grow two to six inches a year, reach three feet in length and live 25 to 30 years. In the world of koi breeding, competing for top prizes can mean big dollars: A champion might be worth $100,000 or more! And that’s not a fish tale.

Sources: Christian Science Monitor and http://www.pond-doctor.co.uk

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