Published: December 2011
The Moment  David Guttenfelder
The Dogcatchers A wafting grill attracts dogs in Okuma, Japan, as animal rescue workers Kei Asanuma (in cap) and Leo Hoshi try to lure them close enough to catch. The pets were abandoned when their owners fled high radiation levels in the town, located less than three miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But many who left missed their canine companions. When they learned that the men—as well as photographer David Guttenfelder—planned to enter the radioactive zone to look for animals, evacuees gave the rescuers their old addresses to help find pets they'd left behind. —Margaret G. Zackowitz

Behind the Lens

Why did you enter the radioactive zone?

Nobody was really covering the disaster from the inside then. The government had shut everything down, and the Japanese press decided to go along with that decision. I felt people needed to see the hidden place to make informed decisions. I ended up making several visits. I went in both officially—with the help of a mayor's aide from the Namie town government—and unofficially.

How did you get in unofficially?

Just after the tsunami even authorities weren't going in, because of high radiation. As levels fell in early April, police entered to start searching for bodies. By April 21 they'd blocked the roads and started patrolling the area. I first joined up with these animal rescue activists to cover them catching and feeding abandoned pets and farm animals. They knew all kinds of back ways in. Yes, they entered unofficially, but they felt justified. I watched them catch a dog in the parking lot of the Daiichi nuclear plant, but there is also radiation where you least expect it. You come around a corner, and the radiation levels on your meter go up a hundredfold.