When the first tsunami warnings sounded in northeast Japan three weeks ago, many people fled so fast they had to leave behind their beloved pets. Animal rescue teams have since fanned out, hoping to help hungry, hurt, and lost pets. "In the hardest hit areas, we saw no animal life whatsoever," says Ashley Fruno of animal rights group PETA, as quoted by AFP. But mixed in with the losses, there have been heartwarming tales of survival "miracles." Here, four of the most inspiring accounts of animals who were nearly lost in the tsunami, but survived:
1. Ghosn, the "surfing dog"
When the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit, Atsuko Oikawa's two beloved miniature dachshunds were spooked, and ran off. She found one, Carlos. The other, Ghosn — the pair is named after Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn — headed toward the port, which would soon be slammed by the tsunami. Oikawa and her husband had no choice but to head for the safety of the hills. They were heartbroken, and assumed the worst. But a week later, police told her Ghosn had been found, in fine shape, a mile inland. "Maybe he rode on it, a surfing dog, perhaps," said Oikawa's husband, Yuki, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. "We're so incredibly happy to get him back."
2. A death-defying Akita
In hard-hit Sendai, a tsunami warden, identified by AFP only as Mr. Kamata, warned neighbors about the massive wave, then tried to return home for his dog, a large pedigree Akita. The churning water blocked his path, and he had to turn back. "I thought there was no way he could have survived. It was terribly sad," Kamata said. But that night, the dog turned up outside the shelter where Kamata was staying. "He'd swum and found me," Kamata said. "He'd ingested a lot of sea water and kept throwing up and I thought I was going to lose him anyway, but he pulled through."
3. The amazing "Cat Island" survivors
The small island of Tashirojima, also known as "Cat Island," is home to 100 elderly residents, and an even larger population of feral felines. The small island, a favorite of tourists and animal lovers, even has a shrine to its famous cats. It sits near the center of the earthquake's epicenter, and outsiders feared all would be lost as the 30-foot wave hit. But shortly after the earthquake, a blogger at The Cat's Meow said she had received a reassuring report from the island: "They said that the island sank around 30 centimeters in the water and there was some damage to property, but cats and people are ok! They need help, of course, but the Island is still there."
4. The baby porpoise stranded in a rice field
Japanese animal rescuers were looking for cats and dogs near Sendai, when they received a phone call that sounded puzzling at first. "There's a dolphin in the rice fields!" cried the caller, Masayuki Sato, 55. It turned out that a baby finless porpoise, or "sunameli," had been washed far inland, and wound up wriggling in a flooded rice field. Volunteers tried to catch it with a net and a stretcher they made from car parts and a futon mattress. When that failed, the lead rescuer, Ryo Taira, waded in and picked up the porpoise. Local aquariums were damaged by the tsunami, so the rescuers covered the porpoise in wet towels and returned it to the Pacific Ocean. "I don't know if it will survive," Taira said, as quoted by Britain's Telegraph, "but it's much better than dying in a rice field, right?"