TOKYO, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Japanese authorities say future evacuations may include pets, so owners do not have to leave them in cars or abandon them altogether.
Not all local Japanese governments ban pets in evacuation centers, but some that do are reconsidering their rules, realizing pets have emotional value for those recently made homeless, The Asahi Shimbun reported Friday.
Dog owner Kayoko Suzuki, 51, said she was evacuated from her home in Fukushima prefecture during the 2011 tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, when she and her family arrived at public housing, they were told they could not bring their three dogs inside. She ultimately left the dogs in her car and the family took turns walking them.
Suzuki's story is similar to other evacuees, who were told to either leave their pets at home or leave them in a car parked outside evacuation centers.
"Pets are part of the family," Suzuki said. "Local officials should be more flexible so that families and their pets are not separated during evacuation."
Veterinarian Chizuko Yamaguchi, director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Animal Relief Center, said the center took in 36 animals during the 2011 nuclear disaster, costing about $207,000.
"If owners and their pets remain together while evacuating, it would save money and reduce the sense of loss," Yamaguchi said. "It will be also good in terms of hygiene and the ecology of the affected area."
Now some prefectures are looking to change their laws to be more pet-friendly during emergencies.
Officials from Ibaraki, however, warned that it would take some time before all municipalities allow pets in evacuation centers.