Be forewarned, this post is very upsetting and if you are easily bothered by death you should skip this one. Don't worry, there are more fun puppy posts later.
On Sunday the 22nd we were awoken by a 5 am phone call from our friend, Fran. I think he's one of those people who only need 4 hours of sleep. I, however, am whole-heartedly not. Anyway, Fran called because he had a cow near the 20 km exclusion zone beyond some barriers that he thought had a hoof stuck in the gutter and he wanted our help to extract her. However, at the time he was telling us about all of this he thought he was in the 20 km exclusion zone and we were under the impression that he was. Even though I love cows I didn't think it was a good idea to go because it was 4 hours away, it didn't sound like we would actually be able to remove the cow since we didn't have access to proper equipment, and we already had a big pick up in Kawamata scheduled for early that day. Despite my protests several of my team members insisted that we go and I didn't want them to go without me because I had literally just taken a technical large animal emergency rescue course and at least had been around cows before (no one else had). I didn't want any of them to get kicked or fallen upon and killed so I opted to be driver.
Before we left, though, I called Tori, the woman who organized the large animal rescue course to ask for advice. I just want to say that Tori is a stellar human being. She and her husband, Justin, are one of the only teams advising first responders on protocol and helping to perform technical large animal rescue. They have helped to rescue so many cows and horses (and I'm sure other animals I'm not even aware of) in North Carolina it's ridiculous and they've done it all by purchasing their own equipment out of pocket. Tori called me back almost immediately and reaffirmed my belief that the best way to remove the hoof from the gutter was to go from underneath the hoof and try to use leverage to remove it (see, I learned so much in the NCTLAER class!). She also emailed me video of harnesses that could be used on the cow to simultaneously pull from above with just human power.
So, armed with some basic knowledge and a whole lot of naivetee, we (Jessica, Brian, Courtney, and myself, all Kinship voluntees) headed to Minamisomo to try to pull a cow out of a gutter. The ride there was long and we got a little lost even though I was using my Iphone to navigate (the GPS we have isn't reliable and also is in Japanese). When we got near, Fran met us and led us to the area where he had snuck in. We didn't have our Geiger counter with us because it had accidentally been left in a car that went to Tokyo the day before. So we went ahead and put on our full Tyvek suits (that was an adventure in itself because they only had mediums which just barely fit my huge boobs and height so I'm sure I looked absolutely ridiculous).
The walk into what we thought was the exclusion zones was about a half a mile of desolate road winding through areas devastated by the tsunami and then evacuated for the radiation. We had to keep low because a parallel road across an open field was well traveled by police and military vehicles. As we walked, Fran told us that he had been taking care of this cow and several others for about 3 weeks. He had let them loose from the pen they were kept in and for a while they seemed to be doing well just grazing on pasture, but recently 4 had died. He was desperate to save this one cow and hoped that we could help. When we got to the house with the farm we could smell the death before we even saw it. Fran led us inside the barn where the cow was "stuck," but I immediately realized that this was not a stuck cow, this was a downed cow who just happened to look like her leg was stuck in the gutter. She easily moved it out of the gutter so that wasn't the problem. The problem was that the was malnourished, dehydrated, and probably septic from mastitis. During the morning Fran had milked her and what looked like cottage cheese came out. He also fed her some hay and tried to calm her. He and the cow clearly had a connection, but she didn't look long for this world.
I called Tori again to ask for advice and she said that the best thing would be to euthanize her, but since we didn't have access to euthanasia solution, a gun, or even a captive bolt, this wasn't an option. Tori advised that we let her lay on her side until she died from the compression of the organs because if we tried to kill her in other ways it wouldn't be humane. Tori likely won't ever read this, but I want her to know that I'm so grateful for her guidance. By the time I called her I was sobbing and when I told Fran that there wasn't anything we could do he seemed resigned. We left him and Courtney to be with the cow while she died (we were hoping it would take 15 minutes because generally when a cow is completely on its side the compression happens quickly).
The rest of us explored the small farm and barn. It was a macabre scene with 4 cow corpses scattered in the most impossible angles. One was stuck inside a small well, two had their heads trapped in bars hanging from the ceiling and one was just out in the field. Everyone was crying. I've never seen anything firsthand that was so repulsive and depressing and preventable.
After about 30 minutes the cow still hadn't passed (I think she was too sternal) and we needed to leave for fear of radiation and getting caught so we left her with Fran's assurance that he would return to be with her.
Fran took us to his car. Earlier in the day he had found a husky running around the highway. He is a gorgeous black and white husky who is probably 10-15 pounds underweight with protruding hip bones and spine, but very friendly. We loaded him into our car and made our way back to Inawashiro, but first we had to stop to help with the pick up in Kawamata. It was only midafternoon but felt like a lifetime since we'd woken up in Inawashiro.
In Kawamata we again met up with Sega san. We had caught a cat in the trap from the previous day, but it wasn't the sick one. We took it anyway because staying at Yukimama's house was not a long term solution since the area was evacuated. Then we met up with the owners who were evacuating and they tearfully gave us their two cats and small shiba mix dog, Sakura (it's a very popular name for dogs in Japan meaning cherry blossom). We then made the journey back to Inawashiro where we took care of all of the dogs there (at the time 11 in total and 8 cats). It was a very rough night after a rough day.
It got worse when I found out that my grandfather had passed away that same day. I received the email telling me about his passing on my Iphone and just burst into tears on the balcony. My fellow volunteers quickly surrounded me to try to comfort me, but it felt like everything was caving in. When I was able to compose myself we made a trip to the 7/11 for some Jack Daniels and ended the night with melancholy whiskey drinking.