We got up at the crack of dawn (6 am, really not that early but for someone who is not a morning person it is too early for words) in Inawashiro so that we could go and search for Samu's puppies in Kawamata. The night before we had contacted the guardians and had an off-site JEARS volunteer translate the location of their home (which they had already evacuated from due to radiation) so that we could plug it into my Iphone and go.
The drive to Kawamata from Inawashiro is about a 2 hour one (if you don't get lost). It seems like so many of our treks are about 2-3 hours long and, while I previously felt that this was an impossibly long period of time to be driving, it now feels downright short, especially after having done a few 7 hour rides in the last week.
We met up with Sega san along the way and she led us to the house. Once we got near, she immediately perked up and clearly knew she was getting close to her home. We had brought her in the hopes that she would lead us to the puppies. The location looks like a typical small Japanese farm. There is a central house surrounded by multiple storage sheds and chicken coops. This one was located on a sort of compound or maybe a family land plot with houses scattered in a maybe 20 acre area interconnected with footpaths and unpaved driveways.
We took Samu out and she immediately headed for one of the sheds. Optimistically, we followed her and she hid under a stack of wood and equipment where she had dug out an area near her dog house. We searched high and low in that shed but couldn't find any puppies. We searched all of the other sheds and still nothing. One shed even had dog food out. It was starting to look pretty hopeless when Samu perked up again and started trotting down the driveway. I sprinted with her down the drive and she stopped multiple times: twice to poop, three times to drink, and a few times just because she wanted to. She ultimately led me in a huge loop around the house we had been at to another house on the land and back through the woods on a foot path. It was a beautiful jog, but I was really upset that she didn't lead us to any puppies. We were feeling really down that we couldn't find any puppies and Sega san had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment so we reluctantly loaded into the van and headed out.
We decided to stay in the area and scout for animals left behind. We stopped by the places I had visited the previous Saturday and stopped by the location where we saw the raccoon dog. We left more food for it. After driving around for a couple of hours it felt like we really hadn't accomplished anything all morning and maybe it was time to go home to all of the dogs waiting for our attention. Luckily, as the driver, I decided that we should stop one more time.
Back at Samu's house we started scanning again. I noticed that there were two chicken coops with a total of 7 chickens in them (I had seen them before but in my haste to find puppies I had ignored them). I was glancing inside and noticed that there was one dead chicken in a coop and a pile of feathers outside of it as well. I put on gloves and removed the dead chicken noting that there didn't appear to be any food and what water there was mud in the bottom of their water buckets. There was also an area where it appeared an animal had dug to try to get in. I covered it up with a log and some fencing material in the hopes that this would secure the coop from predators. In the meantime, Karen, another Kinship Circle/JEARS volunteer helped me to clean out their water buckets and fill them with fresh water. We found a mostly empty bag of feed and we poured it out into the coops. The chickens drank and ate readily. We decided that we needed to find some more feed because they were clearly going to eat it all up and with the owners only coming to feed once every 7-10 days, we were certain there would be more dead chickens if we didn't give them more (ultimately we decided to make this a regular feeding stop).
Everyone was searching the half a dozen or so sheds for more chicken feed. Susan, one of the heads of JEARS ultimately found some in the second shed with food, but she also heard a faint noise that didn't sound like chickens in the distance. She called us all into the shed and we listened quietly. It was really hard to tell if there was actually anything making noise, so we brought in Samu. She immediately dove under the floorboards and made her way to the back of the shed and we started hearing yelping and other puppy noises!!! We were overjoyed, but also at a loss for how to get them out and worried what we would find once we did. These puppies had been without their mom for at least 24 hours now and they could have been anywhere from a month old to a few days old.
Karen and I started moving a cabinet, sewing machine, and pallet that seemed to be directly over the spot where the sounds were coming from in the hopes that there would be a hole in the floorboards, but there wasn't. We tried to find a saw or axe to hack through the floorboards but couldn't find any. Ultimately, we decided that the best way to go about the rescue was to come from the outside and bust in the wall. The sheds were made of basically plywood and mud/grass so we hoped it would be easy.
Jessica and I went to work peeling back the metal sheet surrounding the base of the shed while Susan directed us to the part of the wall where she felt the sounds came from and Karen went to get tools. We ultimately used a pair of huge hedge trimmers to pry the metal from the wall. In doing so we crumbled the wall exposing very thin plywood. I had my head down try to see if I could get my arm in the few inches between the plywood and floorboards when Jessica asked me to move and kicked in the plywood!!! She was pretty badass about the whole thing. We then removed the plywood and were able to lift the floorboards just enough for me to stick my arm and head in. We shined a flashlight around and could see Samu contentedly nursing live, squirming puppies! Everyone looked fat and healthy and we were so excited. I was able to easily grab one of the puppies with just a single floorboard lifted.
We ultimately had to lift two more floorboards to extract the rest, but we got them all within just a few minutes without any injuries to any of us volunteers despite the debris (though I did get my head stuck underneath a floorboard for a bit).
Once we were done we had 4 adorable 3-4 week old pups: 2 brown, 1 black, and 1 cream colored, 2 boys and 2 girls.
Now we were all loaded up in the car and exhausted and it was only noon! So much accomplished in one day.
We drove back to Inawashiro and called Sega san on the way to let her know about our success. Ultimately, Samu's guardians didn't want the puppies so they will be up for adoption in a few weeks (though getting them stateside is an unlikely proposition).
When we got back to Club Lohas we celebrated by eating at the hotel's cafe (there is a theme of us eating copiously after rescue work). I had a wonderful mushroom pasta dish and we basked in the awesomeness of our morning. Everyone was so excited to meet and play with the puppies. Other people staying in the hotel came down to see and they were eagerly passed around.
One of the JEARS volunteers, Selena, was about to leave for Tokyo. She was supposed to take the cats with her because they would be transported from the city to Susan's no kill shelter where they could have adequate room to run around. However, Selena couldn't find one of the cats, Aimu, anywhere in the room. She asked us to help scout for her because there was a lot of stuff in the room that she could hide behind but we couldn't see her. I climbed up to the loft sleeping area and noticed that we had left the skylight open. It was on the ceiling across from the loft but was probably a 15 foot near vertical leap. I figured there was no way she had made it out of that and maybe, instead, someone had accidentally let her out the door. Karen walked around the hotel to check on the roof anyway and we found Aimu wedged underneath an overhang on the roof!
Everyone was freaking out and we were kind of at a loss for what to do. Selena and a new volunteer, Brian, found a ladder and tried climbing onto the roof from the outside, but Aimu was about 25 feet up and there was no way an 8 ft ladder was going to help with that. They took the ladder up to the room and tried to climb out onto the roof (even after I told them it was a horrible idea). The roof was made of aluminum and super slick even dry so they abandoned that idea. Jessica and I took a sheet and stood underneath hoping to catch her should she fall. Poor Aimu was desperately pushing herself underneath the overhang and was clearly having a hard time not slipping.
After about an hour someone finally called the fire department (I had recommended it from the beginning, this was a very frustrating experience for me because no one was listening to what I had to say even though eventually we did exactly as I had directed). They got a man on the roof with a harness and he slowly made his way towards the cat.
For a few tense minutes the head of the fire department was barking at his man on the roof to push the cat so we can catch her while we were screaming for him not to and to instead scruff her and put her in his bag. Luckily he listened to us and got her in his arms, but she bolted and fell, hitting the ground and immediately sprinting into the woods. We chased after her and caught her huddling on the ground. I took her inside and examined her. Nothing seemed broken, but she was dehydrated and all we had were bags of ringers with no drip sets and syringes (never ask non-veterinary people to bring you supplies, they will be clueless). I monitored her temperature which was slightly high and she slept next to me in a cage throughout the night. Luckily she seems to have survived her ordeal with no ill effects.
We had to cuddle with the puppies to calm down from that experience!