I lived in a small town in California. It had a funky old downtown, with shops of every sort. A lot of antiques, most of which just looked like old stuff.
One day I was walking my Akita, Rufus, downtown, when a tall, thin, stern-looking old lady stepped out of a shop door.
“That’s a beautiful Akita,” she said, in a voice that brooked no nonsense.
“Thank you,” I said. “He’s Rufus.”
Here is the nun’s story.
She was also a nurse. When World War II ended, she was sent to a refugee camp outside the ruins of Hiroshima. The camp was surrounded by fences. MacArthur ordered his troops to shoot anyone who tried to leave it.
MacArthur also ordered that any GI who saw an Akita should shoot it on sight, because Akitas are a proud symbol of Japan, above all in Akita Prefecture, in northwest Honshu, Japan’s main island. Akitas are temple guardians. Beautiful dogs. Smart, too.
One day, the nun told me, a woman in the refugee camp said that another woman was sneaking out of camp every night and walking into the ashes of Hiroshima.
The snitch showed the nun the hole in the fence where the other woman escaped.
So the nun set a trap.
She watched that hole in the fence, and sure enough, just after sunset, she saw a woman slip through it, with a bag in her hand.
The nun followed her into what was left of Hiroshima.
A few blocks into the ruins, the escapee lifted a big sheet of plywood and stepped into a hole.
Aha, the nun thought, she’s feeding her husband or children down there.
The nun stepped up to the plywood plank and waited, then busted the woman as she came out. And then?
The nun said: “I picked up the plywood and looked into the hole, and what did I see but a mother Akita nursing her puppies.”
That’s right. That poor victim of Hiroshima risked her life every night to feed Akita puppies.
So, the nun told me: “I countermanded MacArthur’s orders.”
They took the Akitas back to camp and let them live, spreading much-needed joy.
When the nun’s tour of duty was over, she took two of those puppies back to the United States.
“No,” the nun told me, in her stern voice, “I won’t have any dog but an Akita.”
The first Akita to live in the United States was named Kamikaze-Go, a puppy who was given to Helen Keller by a Japanese police chief in 1937. An ironic name, as the Japanese military nearly exterminated Akitas during World War II by slaughtering them for their thick fur, to line flight jackets for military pilots, including kamikazes.
The most famous Akita is Hachiko (1923-1935), a white Akita who followed his owner, a salaryman, to a Tokyo train stop every morning, then waited there for him to come home after his 8- or 10- or 12-hour shift.
One day Hachiko’s owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, died at work, and Hachiko sat there patiently, waiting for him to come home. People fed Hachiko for nine years at that train stop, until Hachiko died. A statue of Hachiko graces that subway stop to this day. If I ever go to Tokyo I will lay flowers before him — his statue.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dogs are better than men.
When a man calls another man a dog, it should not be a reason to fight. That’s a compliment.
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