In Japan, tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the natural disaster and the subsequent nuclear disaster, and so too have thousands of pets. Many have been taken in by animal rescue groups.

And some of those groups even snuck into the nuclear exclusion zone to retrieve animals, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

(Soundbite of barking dogs)

BRIAN NAYLOR: Welcome to the Japan Animal Rescue shelter. It's in Samukawa, about a two-hour train ride through Tokyo's congested suburbs. And it's the new home of some 200 dogs and cats. Most of them brought here from the now off-limits towns around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Sugano Hoso runs the shelter with her husband. She's taken part in several clandestine and dangerous trips into the exclusion zone to rescue the animals.

Ms. SUGANO HOSO (Japan Animal Rescue): (Through Translator) There is the issue of radiation going in there and also lots of police guarding the place. So we really have to try hard to get through that. But we have to do this because the dogs are dying on this second, on this minute.

NAYLOR: This is one of numerous shelters throughout Japan where pets have been brought from the exclusion zone as well as from the many towns destroyed by the tsunami. Most evacuation centers do not allow dogs and cats, so until people are either allowed back into their old homes or into new temporary ones, their pets will stay in places like this.

Hoso says providing shelter for the pets is more than just a job.

Ms. HOSO: (Through Translator) It's rather that my job is like a mission. And as a human being, since all the people have been evacuated from there, but why these dogs have to be left there? So it's very natural for us to go there and rescue them.

(Soundbite of barking dogs)

NAYLOR: Here, the dogs are living in typical pet crates stacked three or four high. Most are smaller mixes, along with a few spaniels, and even a St. Bernard whose owner asked the center to rescue.

Yukie Otake is a veterinarian volunteering her services to care for the animals. She says many are hungry and under stress.

Dr. YUKIE OTAKE (Veterinarian): (Through Translator) When they arrive here, they are more violent to protect themselves. But after some days, their stress go away, and they are fed all right, and they start understanding this is a safe place. Then finally, they let us touch them or walk with them.

(Soundbite of barking dogs)

NAYLOR: The dogs from the exclusion zone are immediately washed, and their radiation levels measured. Volunteers sympathetic to the animals' plight have been streaming in to help out. Some are walking the dogs.

Mee Nori Iwasaki stopped by with a delivery of dog food and big towels.

Ms. MEE NORI IWASAKI: (Through Translator) I got very sad to see the pictures of dogs on TV. And we have our dogs as well. So that made me so sad to see. That's why we are here today.

NAYLOR: The owners of the Japan Animal Rescue shelter say it's their philosophy that humans and dogs should be treated as equal as possible. But even they concede that some two months after the earthquake, it's already too late for many pets left behind.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Tokyo.

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