I have already posted about my affinity for dogs and how among my siblings, I am the one who is the most attached to them – a couple of my siblings react to dogs with emotions ranging from distaste to disapproval. My children have mixed feelings about them – one is quite fond of them and the other two are fond of them as long as they don’t have to take care of them!

The role of working dogs is well known: they have from time immemorial been used by humans in various capacities whether as seeing eye dogs, detecting explosives or drugs, pulling sleds, police work, search and rescue, hunting, herding, detection of cadavers, as guard dogs, for tracking and even in the detection of diseases.

Today while reading the news about the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the admirable way the Japanese are coping with the tragedy displaying a discipline and equanimity which would be hard to imagine in most other countries, I came across a news item about the undying loyalty of some dogs to their masters.

This particular news item pertained to an Akita by name of Hachiko. It was the catalyst for a little research relating to other true stories about dogs. We all hear anecdotes about the dog who alerted the family to a fire in the house while they were sleeping or who kept a child from harms way when confronted by a stranger or intruder. But there were a couple of true stories that were just amazing for their poignancy and illustrative of the loyalty one associates with dogs.

Hachiko was an Akita that lived in Japan. He was brought to Tokyo in 1924 by his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno who was an agriculture professor at the University of Tokyo. Uenao commuted to work every day by train and Hachiko would accompany his master each day back and forth from the train station. Every day, the young Akita would return to the station in the evening and wait patiently for his master’s return on the train platform.

On May 25, 1925, when Hachiko was eighteen months old, his master did not return. The dog waited like he did every day for the professor to arrive on the four o’clock train, not knowing that his master had suffered a stroke at work and died.

Soon after his master’s death, Hachiko was given to the professor’s relatives to be cared for, but the dog would constantly escape and return to his old home to wait for the professor. Eventually, Hachiko realized his master no longer lived there and returned to the train platform. As the legend goes, Hachiko would wait at that platform every day for Professor Ueno to return but his master never came back.

Other commuters who saw the relationship between master and dog were touched by the dog’s show of devotion and would feed Hachiko as he waited for his master. This continued for nine years with the dog appearing every night at four o’clock when the train was due.

Vicki Shigekuni Wong, a co-producer of a movie based on the story of Hachiko, has long been fascinated with Hachiko’s story. She said: “Something about this dog’s simple act of unwavering loyalty, of waiting, is so profoundly moving…People seem to identify with Hachiko. He symbolizes so many different things to different people. Hachiko represents innocence, fear, hope, joy, loss and loneliness.”

The exact spot where Hachiko waited in the train station is permanently marked with bronze paw-prints and text in Japanese explaining his loyalty.

Hachiko is memorialized in a bronze statue at Shibuya station. The location is a popular Tokyo meeting place, with the statue now symbolizing the commitment and love of people who meet there. The original statue was erected in April 1934, with Hachiko present, but it was melted down for use in World War II. The Society for Recreating the Hachiko Statue was formed, with sculptor Takeshi Ando, son of the original sculptor, commissioned to make a second statue, which was unveiled in 1948.

Hachiko Statue at the Shibuya Train Station

The Real Hachiko

An identical statue of Hachiko is at the train station in Odate, Hachiko’s hometown and, in 2004, a statue of him was put in front of Odate’s Akita Dog Museum. Hachiko’s stuffed and mounted remains are at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

A footnote to the story of Hachiko that was resolved recently pertaining to the cause of death – a mystery that was solved because Hachiko was considered such a model of devotion that his organs were preserved when he died in 1935 which enabled modern science to determine the cause of death.

According to Yahoo News:

“Rumor had it that Hachiko died after wolfing down a skewer of grilled chicken — Japanese barbecue called yakitori — that ruptured his stomach. But University of Tokyo veterinarians examining his innards said Wednesday that they found Hachiko had terminal cancer and also a filaria infection — worms. Four yakitori sticks remained in Hachiko’s stomach, but they did not damage his stomach or cause death, said Kazuyuki Uchida, one of veterinarians.

“Hachiko certainly had yakitori given by a street vendor at Shibuya,” he said. “But the sticks were unrelated to his death, and the rumor is groundless.”

There is also the story of a little Skye terrier named Bobby whose owner, John Gray, died on February 8, 1858 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“The day after the burial, the curator noticed Bobby lying on the fresh mound of dirt. He immediately chased the little dog away, but the next day he was back. Again, the curator chased him day, but on the third day-despite the cold and the rain-Bobby was back. Finally, the curator took pity on the poor dog and allowed him to stay.

For the next fourteen years, Bobby kept constant watch over his owner’s grave, rarely leaving except to take his noontime meal at exactly one o’clock. After a while, he came to be known as Greyfriars Bobby, after the cemetery in which his master was buried.

Bobby outlasted his master by fourteen years. When he died, he was buried just inside the gate at Greyfriars Kirkyard. He could not be buried with his master because it was consecrated ground. His headstone reads, “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”

On a more personal level, my cousin’s wife had a dog that was getting on in years and not in the best of health. The dog was very attached to her. When she went on a visit to India the dog was left behind with my cousin and family. The ailing dog waited for her return and the day after she returned, the dog died – it was almost as if the dog held on to life until he could see her again.

Perhaps, it is this loyalty that has been a factor in quite a few presidents having dogs while in the White House. In the rough and tumble world of politics where loyalties are fleeting, the attachment and devotion of a dog is the one thing a president can count on. After all, it was Harry Truman who said: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!”

Dogs are also good for one’s ego. It was Dave Barry who said: “You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, `My God, you’re RIGHT! I NEVER would’ve thought of that!'”

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4 Responses to ““To err is human, to forgive, canine””

  1. Peter says:

    touching stories…..all of them, almost tempts me to get a dog, but then its a lifelong commitment, hopefully the dog’s <:)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I loved this totally…if amma wasnt around i would have got a dog by now 😀

  3. Vishal says:

    I loved this totally…if amma wasnt around i would have got a dog by now 😀

  4. Saira says:

    I’m assuming I’m one of the children that likes dogs as long as I don’t have to take care of them :)…

    Still a nice piece, Papa….makes me think of you and Max..and how depressed he is for a couple of days whenever you leave him at our place. Kaya, of course, totally unfazed 🙂

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