• Ryoma, the Trans-Pacific Shiba aka Shibathon 2011

    Posted on December 16, 2011by in 2011, Alex

    Early last week I received an email from the amazing Amber (of Bayou Rescue fame). Her friend had a friend (had a friend had a friend…) who was looking for a Shiba Inu and Amber wondered if I knew of any who needed a home. At Inawashiro we didn’t have any shiba who were available (several shiba being housed at Inawashiro but all fosters for evacuated owners) so I contacted Kate, another long-time volunteer for animals in Japan. She had pulled several animals from various hokenjo for us (Taro, Pitan, and Setsuo among many others) and I thought she might know of a Shiba in need.

    Kate took this opportunity to transport a dog back to the U.S. and ran with it. She contacted her friend, Angelina** who found a Shiba at the Ozato hokenjo in Okinawa who was to be euthanized the day that I contacted her. Luckily, he was picked up by his owner just before a volunteer was sent to rescue him. There were several other shiba available from the same hokenjo, but one little guy stood out. He was unbelievably friendly, got along great with other dogs, and none of the hokenjo workers could believe he had ended up at an animal control facility. He had been there for 2 months having been abandoned by prior owners. While we don’t know how he came to be in hokenjo, he knows English commands so he might be from a foreign family who evacuated after the earthquake.

    Contact was made with the director of the hokenjo and his seal of approval was given on Sunday afternoon. The friendly Shiba could be handed over on Monday morning. Here is where his story gets to be crazy on so many levels. Kate raced down to the pound before work and met a volunteer who had the authority to retrieve animals. She then sped the 20 miles to the nearest English speaking veterinary office. The little dog passed his health check with flying colours. Angelina tagged Kate in the vets office and then drove 25 miles back down South to meet all the quarantine stipulations.

    Ryoma right after being pulled from Ozato. Photo courtesy of Angelina Brewer.

    Ryoma on the way to get checked into quarantine at the airport. Photo courtesy of Angelina Brewer.

    After quarantine, new friends! Photo courtesy of Angelina Brewer

    Go team Shibathon!!! Photo courtesy of Angelina Brewer.

    With this deed done 4 hours later saw Ryoma (the Shiba’s new name) back up to another volunteer’s house to wait for Kate to get off work. That evening Ryoma was in great spirits. He played with toys, other dogs and people. Bright and early the next morning Kate packed him up and headed down to Naha airport where another Marine couple were waiting to accompany him on their 3 hour flight to Tokyo. At the other end they checked him into the only pet hotel in Narita airport and there Ryoma spent his last night in Japan.


    Meanwhile, I had been desperately trying to arrange with Continental Airlines and the Narita Airport Quarantine station to set up an appointment for Ryoma and three cats to come home with me.


    Thursday December 8th saw me back out in Namie for what I had hoped would be my final foray into radiation country. Susan joked that we might find some cat for me to take home with me on the plane. When Susan and I stopped in Kawamata to talk with the Shigihara-san sisters at their hair parlor a local woman asked us to pick up a cat and two kittens that were living on her property but were not her own. It took us several hours of picking up the mother cat and trapping before we had caught both kittens and the mother. By then it was too late to finish the feeding route and we would have to come back the next day.

    Gorgeous mama cat named Melanie by Selena.

    Diggory, tuxedo male kitten.

    Melanie and Sunshine, her female kitten.


    On Friday the 9th Susan and I went back out into the field and Selena took Melanie and the kittens with her to Tokyo. Once we finished in Namie I prepared to leave and boarded a bus to Tokyo after tearful goodbyes (and lots of snow). The always awesome Anna met me at the station in Shinagawa and we went out for one drink (which turned into 4 drinks and tequila shots) at her favorite watering hole, The Dickens, where the owner wouldn’t let us pay a cent. It was awesome.

    On Saturday we biked around central Tokyo and met up at a nearby dog park with Mai, one of Japan Cat Network’s best foster/volunteer/superwomen. She has been fostering Nana, one of the Minami Soma dogs for months and meets up with the foster of Hana (Nana’s sister) regularly so that the dogs can see each other. I was so beyond thrilled to see Hana and Nana again that I maybe took too many pictures…

    Nana..she remembers me!


    Anna, Mai, and Sarah with a variety of dogs.

    Hana with her superb foster mom.

    Ever the photographer Anna and one of the girls (they are virtually identical..hard to discern which this is)

    Sunset and Docomo building from the dog park.

    Tokyo sunset from the dog park.

    I spent the rest of my time in Tokyo at E-chan’s apartment, Sudhir’s apartment, and at Sylvia’s desperately trying to contact the airport and Continental about the animals. Also, Melanie got loose at Mai’s place (don’t worry, she was caught again on the 15th) It was less than relaxing.

    Finally, on my last day in Japan, I found out from Continental that they had recently changed their policy about in-cabin animals on planes. I wouldn’t be able to take the kittens with me (probably for the better since at the time Melanie was still loose). They also told me I should have booked Ryoma for cargo two weeks in advance even though this policy wasn’t listed anywhere on their website. Needless to say I was in freak out mode and cried a lot.

    Fortunately, I was with Sylvia who is really good at getting what she wants from people on the phone. She changed my ticket to United Airlines and we were able to book Ryoma on as cargo the same day!!! Moral of this story, never use Continental. Their food blows and they make bringing animals helacious.

    It was a mere 6 hours before my flight’s departure by the time we had sorted everything out with the airline and ticket change!!!! I had to get to Narita, a 2 hour journey from Sylvia’s place in Yokosuka, get Ryoma from the pet hotel, go to quarantine, check in, and make it to my gate. It seemed a virtually impossible task!! Luckily, Kate had arranged for a volunteer, Lisa, and her daughter to meet me at Narita to help with pushing around my oversized luggage and dog crate. I quite literally couldn’t have done it all without Lisa’s help. She met me at the pet hotel and aided in picking up Ryoma.

    Ryoma, myself, and a hotel attendant.

    Lisa helped me navigate to the quarantine office, an exceedingly difficult task involving walking outside around the terminal trying to find the right place, asking information for help, and getting stuck in an elevator when the doors were a centimenter too small to remove the crate. Luckily, the actual quarantine paperwork signing took mere minutes and we were on our way to check in at the next terminal (another fun adventure getting on the bus from terminal 2 to terminal 1).

    Lisa and her cute-as-can-be daughter with Ryoma at check-in.

    Checking in done, I made it to my terminal with just 15 minutes to spare before departure. I was (again) in the center of the center on my plane so sleep was pretty impossible. We arrived at LAX ahead of schedule and I had to pick up Ryoma and take him to the TSA desk so that he could be “frisked.” On the way I stopped to walk him and we were approached by a half dozen people interested in his breed and how we managed to make it all the way from Tokyo. Ryoma took it in stride with lots of tail wagging and hand licks.

    Ryoma at LAX!

    Ryoma and I made it through two more airplane flights (LAX to D.C. Dulles, Dulles to RDU) and arrived home at 11:15 pm EST. Exhausting. Ryoma somehow managed to not pee or poop in his crate for the entire 24 hours he had been in there. It’s only the second day that he has been here in North Carolina and he is already fitting in very well in my home with my dog and cats. Ryoma is available for adoption and we are seeking donations to cover the costs incurred for his transport.

    To apply to adopt go to this page.

    To help reimburse the many volunteers whose time and (limited) funds paid for this amazing rescue mission go to this page.

    Ryoma at home in North Carolina.


    **Angelina Brewer started Doggie Orphan’s Great and Small when she was based in Newport, North Carolina. It kept her very busy and she has a strong volunteer staff. Her husband is a Marine and got orders to come to Okinawa, Japan, a tour that will last three years. They uprooted their family 3 young children and two dogs (base housing limits) and moved to Japan. At first Angelina was interested in joining an animal volunteer group but when things didn’t get done or didn’t get done efficiently she looked into making a branch of her Stateside shelter here in Okinawa. She was able to do so based on her tax exempt status in the U.S. She knew wanted to contribute positively to the local community and with her skill set she was in a perfect position to do so. She established links with the prefectural pound that gasses their intake after 5 days of holding. Her aim was to spare the fate of the animals that were admitted. She organised foster families among her military friends she found new families for the dogs, puppies, cats and kittens she supported other local (Japanese) shelters by donating surplus food and pet items. Since receiving her permission to operate Doggie Orphans great and Small in February she has rehomed almost 100 animals.

    Taken from Alex’s blog.