An abandoned cat in Japan’s evacuation zone receives some sustenance from White Rock resident Chizue Lister.

Pet rescuer perseveres despite roadblocks

Thanks to the community rallying behind her efforts, White Rock resident Chizue Lister was able to rescue dozens of deserted pets in her most recent trip to Japan’s earthquake-stricken communities.

Lister, owner of Yucca Tree Café, received more than $8,000 in donations from customers and strangers alike, allowing her to return to her home country of Japan and aid abandoned animals in the 20-kilometre evacuation zone surrounding Fukushima’s nuclear power plant that was damaged in the March 11 earthquake.

After her first mission in April, Peace Arch News reported how Lister rescued 16 dogs from the area. Five were reunited with owners, who had been evacuated from their homes due to radiation concerns.

Lister returned here to an outpouring of support, with contributions of funds and equipment – such as leashes and collars – to the cause.

When Lister went back to Japan on May 16, the situation around the evacuation zone had changed. Authorities had restricted access to the area, threatening to arrest and fine trespassers.

The warning did little to stop Lister.

During this two-week trip, she and brother Daijirou Niino would leave their parents’ home in Niigata in the middle of the night, driving three hours to the evacuation zone. The two would turn off the car’s lights, to avoid attracting attention, and use tools to sever a wire blocking one of the access roads.

When police noticed the wire was being cut and replaced, they brought in concrete barriers.

“We found another road – a back road in the mountain,” Lister said. “It was pretty dangerous.”

The siblings timed their arrival to when officers left their posts, sneaking into the evacuation zone at 3:30 a.m. and working until 7 a.m. Because of the strict timeline, Lister said they worked quickly to locate and feed pets, and bring them out of the zone whenever possible.

Lister and Niino caught 25 dogs – including one that was pregnant – and three cats.

Lister visited four shelters in hopes of finding one still accepting animals and not full. She came across Animal Friends Niigata – one of three registered no-kill animal-rescue organizations in the country to form Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS) – which took in the pets Lister rescued.

Lister said much of the money that was collected on the Peninsula has helped the shelter cover vaccinations and food.

She was also able to arrange a home for around 15 starving chickens she found caged on a property in the evacuation zone. When she first spotted the coop, five were already dead, and the rest furiously drank the water she gave them. This weekend, Niino plans to return to the residence and bring the surviving chickens to his parents’ countryside home.

Lister estimates there are still thousands of animals in the evacuation zone. She said there are many roaming cows, some now with calves.

While she didn’t see others tending to the pets, Lister said there are volunteers sneaking into the zone to leave food and water.

As far as the evacuees, Lister said many of them think they will be returning to their homes in January – an impression Lister has a hard time believing.

“I don’t think they can go back home.”

While Lister has been settling back into her routine since coming home May 30, she plans to return to Japan in the fall with her husband.

She is also going to continue supporting JEARS, and said anyone who also wants to contribute can drop off donations at her restaurant (1347 Johnston Rd.) to be sent to Japan.

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