Animal Friends Niigata Animal Rescue

Japan Interviews: Isabella Aoki Galleon, Animal Friends Niigata

Rescued Animals Two Years after the Great East Japan Earthquake

Greg Goodmacher

In addition to the human misery caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power plant debacle, millions of pets, farm animals, and wild animals also suffered and continue to suffer.

Animal rescue organizations in Japan, for example, Animal Friends Niigata, responded immediately after the disasters to help the desperate animals that had been left unattended inside and outside of damaged homes, in the middle of barns, tied to leashes, wondering when their families or caretakers would return.

What has happened to those injured, lonely, and confused animals since the start of the catastrophe until today?  To discover some answers to this question, I visited Animal Friends Niigata (AFN) and interviewed the founder, Isabella Aoki Galleon.

Animal Friends Niigata, Niigata Prefecture
AFN Staff with animals rescued since the 2011 earthquake, Niigata.
Animal Friends Niigata, Niigata, Japan.
Cats waiting for a home, Niigata, Japan.

Animal Friends Niigata was founded in Niigata Prefecture 2008, and until the earthquake AFN cared for an average of one hundred cats and twenty dogs.

However, two years after the catastrophe, over four hundred animals, much more than ever expected, are languishing there. Dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and one crow are current residents, most of them are available for adoption, but finding homes for all of them is a Herculean task.

Some animals are old and most people considering adopting an animal tend to choose cute young animals. Moreover, AFN also tries to re-home pets that have grown up together in one family, while most people only want one animal.

Further complicating matters is that Isabella feels she cannot legally or morally find homes for pets whose desperate owners had implored her to rescue their animals but are still in limbo, without jobs or stable housing. These people cannot support their own pets.

Many have said that they want to be reunited, but the owners are unable to care for their pets or to pay for their feed, medicine, and housing. Nonetheless, Isabella will not abandon the animals. She cannot allow other people to adopt the pets until the original owners have given permission. About fifty owners have informed Isabella that they no longer plan to take back their own pets. Numerous other pet owners, though, have not contacted Isabella for a long time, so she is not sure of their intentions.

Ducks, Niigata, Japan.
Ducks rescued at AFN, Niigata Prefecture.
AFN, Niigata, Japan.
Take all three of us.

Soon after the earthquake, Isabella received many requests to rescue animals. One such request came from a lady in Okuma who had been forced to evacuate. Like her, many pet owners were told to leave their pets, and that they could return within a few days. Isabella went into the radioactively contaminated area to search for the dog, named Nanchan.

Isabella recalled driving over dangerously damaged roads, the stench of death, and strange rumbling noises from the damaged nuclear power plant just kilometers away. She found Nanchan still tied up. Traumatized and confused, Nanchan was at first very aggressive, but Isabella and her helper managed to get Nanchan into their car and back to Niigata. While searching for Nanchan, Isabella saw other animals that were suffering. Unable to catch and help many of the animals, all they could do was to return to Niigata with regrets.

Isabella later arranged for a reunion of the Nanchan with her owner, but the owner could not take her dog back to her temporary housing situation. The international media organization CNN interviewed Isabella and filmed their reunion.

Niigata pets awaiting a new home.
Take me home please!

Another request came from a pet owner in Koriyama, whose house would have to be destroyed because it was deemed unsafe after the earthquake. The owner told Isabella that one dog and thirty-two cats were in the home. Most of those cats have found new homes, but the dog and a few cats still live together at Animal Friends Niigata.

Animal Friends Niigata has a "no kill" policy, which means that animals that are not adopted because of age, injury, or appearance will not be put down. Euthanasia will only be practiced when extreme age or serious illness makes the animals' lives intolerable.

Pet dog in need of a home, Niigata.
Pet dog wanting a caring home, Niigata.

Taking care of so many animals requires tremendous time, energy, and money. In addition to the full-time work of Isabella and her husband, two full-time staff, seven part-time staff, and volunteers are required. Each animal needs food, space, attention, and veterinary care. Money to help the animals comes from an animal boarding service that Isabela started and from donations, which are sorely needed. Due to the media coverage of the Great East Japan Earthquake, donations poured in from all over the world, but time has passed and now donations are trickling in; although, thousands of animals housed in animal shelters and homeless in the disaster areas still need help.

First of all, they need loving families. How about welcoming one into your home or yard? To see photographs of animals that would love to join your household, click on either or

Another option for you is to provide a temporary foster home to one or more pets, which frees up time and space for other animals at Animal Friends Niigata. If you are unable to welcome a pet into your home, you can help by sending in a financial donation, or, if you prefer, you can look at an AFN wish list on Amazon's Japanese site, (It is in Japanese only.) and have food or other goods delivered to AFN. Other sites that can be used for requesting pet supplies to be sent to AFN are Yoyo Market, which has an English language page, and Norinori, which has a Japanese language page. Please use the shipping address below:

Animal Friends Niigata
1430 Fusube

Contributions toward paying veterinarian bills, staff salaries, supplies, car fuel, heating, new buildings for animals, food, and so much more are greatly appreciated.

Information for Financial Donations:

  1. Post-office direct debit account number: 11240-22316841 Name: Animal Friends Niigata
  2. Post-office direct debit account number: 00510-6-61632 Name: Animal Friends Niigata
  3. The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, Niigata branch account no: 0056934 Name: Animal Friends Niigata
  4. The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, Niigata branch account no: 0073880  Name: Jishin Tsunami Doubutsu Kyuen
  5. Paypal;

If you live close enough to visit, please consider volunteering to walk some of the animals; it is an experience that clearly brings them joy. AFN is located in a woodsy environment of Niigata with fresh air, so taking a walk there will be a refreshing experience for you and the pets that really need attention and exercise.

Animal Friends Niigata is just one of many animal rescue organizations in Japan and around the world that need your support to help innocent animals. You can make a big difference in the lives of others and make yourself feel better at the same time, so please do not wait. The love or assistance that you give a pet will be more than returned in love.

The author of this article blogs about Japanese hot springs at

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