The recently discovered recording of Hachi-ko's voice — on
an old long-playing record that had been broken into three
pieces — was obtained by the Culture Broadcasting Network
(CBN). After technicians at CBN had repaired the disc with
laser surgery, and after a galvanizing buildup, a dramatic
introduction and an onslaught of commercials worthy of a Super
Bowl, the storied dog's voice was played for a national radio
said Hachi-ko. (Wan-wan is Japanese for bow-wow).
Inu (the latter is the Japanese word for "dog") was named
after the rugged, mountainous Akita province on the northern
end of Japan's Honsu island, where the first dogs of this
type were developed in the 17th century. According to Keiichi
Ogasawara, DVM, writing in The Akita University Research
Bulletin, studies "seem to indicate" that the Akita's
ancestors "came from Europe via the U.S.S.R. and Hokkaido."
Akitas were often kept as pets by Japanese emperors and other
members of the ruling nobility, the breed was once known as
"the royal dog." The Akita's size and courage made it a formidable
hunter, whose quarry included the fierce boar, huge elk and
savage Yezo bear of Akita province.
bravery also made it a favorite recruit for Japan's famed
Samurai warriors. In order to turbocharge the Akita's aggressiveness,
it was crossbred with Tibetan mastiffs and Great Danes. These
breeds not only enhanced the Akita's combativeness and courage
but also brought added vigor and additional size to the breed.
Survival of the Fewest
died on March 8, 1935, at the age of 13, he was already a
Japanese legend. The preceding year the city of Shibuya had
installed a life-size bronze statue of Hachi-ko at the Shibuya
train station, where the faithful dog kept a vigil for his
dead master. That vigil had begun in May 1925 when Hachi-ko's
owner, Eizaburo Ueno, failed to return from the Imperial Agricultural
University (now Tokyo University), where he taught. Professor
Ueno had died of a stroke that day.
story was related to Helen Keller when she inquired about
his statue while visiting Japan on a lecture tour in July
1937. Keller expressed a desire to own such a dog, and the
following month she was presented with a puppy named Kamikaze,
who was the first Akita to reside in the United States. "If
ever there was an angel in fur," wrote Keller in the Akita
Journal,, it was Kamikaze. I know I shall never feel quite
the same tenderness for any other pet. The Akita dog has all
the qualities that appeal to me — he is gentle, companionable
and trusty." Kamikaze died of distemper at a young age, and
in 1939 Keller received one of his older brothers as a replacement.
tribute to the Akita, and Hachi-ko's fame, captured the imaginations
of dog lovers around the world. But for their influence the
Akita could have become extinct as a result of the devastation
wrought upon Japan during World War II. Because of the profound
food shortage during the war, anyone seen feeding a dog in
Japan was liable to be branded a traitor. Therefore, many
Akitas were destroyed at the time. Barely a dozen Akita dog
survived the war, wrote Ogasawara, but a number of American
servicemen were able to bring Akitas back to the United States
admired the same qualities that had made the Akita a national
treasure in Japan, and in 1956 the Akita Club of America was
founded. Seventeen years later the breed was accepted for
championship competition by the American Kennel Club.
renowned Akita in the United States is Kato, whose name is
a bloody footnote to the O.J. Simpson story. This dog, who
might well have witnessed the killing of Simpson's wife, Nicole,
is emblematic of the trendiness responsible in large part
for the difference in the Akita's reputation here and in Japan.
was the beneficiary of a 290 percent increase in American
Kennel Club registrations during in the 1980s. As often happens
when dogs become status symbols, familiarity breeds contretemps.
Not surprisingly in a study of dog bites reported to Denver,
Colorado, animal control officials in 1991, Akitas were among
the breeds most likely to bite children.
year when the Chicago Tribune asked six dog trainers
to select the five most problematic kinds of dogs, the Akita
was at the head of the class. "It's a super-attractive dog,"
said one panel member, "but unlike most canines, Akitas don't
have a strong pack instinct." They can be aloof to the point
of being catlike. This is not always a virtue in a dog so
large, so Akitas must learn "the absolute rules between right
and wrong," another panelist added. "And it takes some patience
- an Akita frequently resents correction."
more, in 1996 and '97 the Akita was the breed that inflicted
the highest percentage of bites severe enough to require medical
attention in Palm Beach County, Florida. These are but some
of the press reports, which often contain horrific details,
about damage wrought by Akitas. Their devotion notwithstanding,
these are large dogs with enough torque in their jaws to break
a person's arm with one bite.
J. Andrews, internationally known Akita breeder and author
of The World of the Akita worries that the story of
Hachi-ko and Helen Keller's reminiscences might lead readers
to believe the Akita is a plodding and lovable giant. For
all its devotion, the Akita is no one's servant. Indeed, Andrews
writes, the prospective Akita owner should be aware that the
breed can act with lightning speed and is not one to back
down from a challenge.
is both aristocratic in bearing and aloof with strangers.
He is protective and determined -- at times to the point of
exasperation. These characteristics are not accidents. They
were developed for a purpose. Unfortunately that purpose,
which generally involved the pursuit of game or an adversary
in war, can be counterproductive to the breed's integration
into polite society. Thus, to ensure the Akita a permanent
place among the purebred dogs of Japan, breed advocates began
working to eliminate the superaggressive tendencies required
in the times of war. The trouble is, inbred tendencies are
often difficult to breed out. Terriers still love to dig,
sheepherding dogs still love to herd, and guard dogs are still
liable to attack innocent people.
fanciers claim that owning just one of their chosen breed
is nowhere near as much fun as owning two or three, but if
you fancy owning two Akitas, get one of each sex. Spay and
neuter, of course, and expect the female to rule the roost,
yet at least you'll be able to rest easily knowing that your
dogs won't attempt to have each other for lunch. Having two
Akitas of the same sex in a household is courting disaster.
Fights will erupt, and Akitas are not inclined to leave any
Big and Beautiful
standard the Akita is a lot of dog. The average male measures
26 to 28 inches at the shoulder and weighs roughly 100 pounds.
Females are a bit smaller, but still of a size to impress
plush coat comes in an infinite array of colors — from snow
white to jet black or chocolate, in brindled designs or with
patches of brilliant color on a snowy background. This glorious
coat is shed twice a year, and at those times your house will
look like a blizzard site. Judicious and frequent grooming
can help to minimize the extent to which you are inundated
with hair and the length of time you will have to dig your
Good Fortune Hunting
is considered a harbinger of good luck in Japan. When babies
are born, their parents receive carved statues of Akitas.
Persons in hospital receive similar totems. Each April tens
of thousands of people visit Hachi-ko's statue in Shibuya
train station. There a festival is held in memory of this
devoted dog, and visitors leave offerings at the foot of his
statue in the hope that the spirit of Hachi-ko will visit
the hearts and souls of all humans. If you are considering
an Akita, be sure to make your own pilgrimage to reputable
breeders whose dogs reflect the traditional Akita virtues.
can lead happy, healthy lives for as long as 12 to 15 years,
but like all pedigreed dogs, the breed is subject to its share
of genetic diseases and other problems. In no particular order
of frequency they are:
a malformation of the hip joint resulting in a poor fit between
the head of the femur bone and the hip socket, in which the
femoral head normally lies. This condition can be alleviated
by surgery, at some cost to dog and owner. Because dysplastic
dogs often produce dysplastic puppies, buyers should ask if
both the sire and the dam of the puppy in which they are interested
have been rated clear of hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation
for Animals or by Penn HIP. Do not take yes for an answer
without seeing the certificate, and ask for a copy to take
to your veterinarian. Hip x-rays are most useful if they are
taken after a dog is two years old.
(gastric torsion), though not a hereditary condition, frequently
affects the Akita. When a dog bloats, the stomach can turn
and block, causing a buildup of gas. Unless treated quickly,
bloat can be fatal. Signs of bloat include futile attempts
to vomit and to salivate. Bloat, which may lead to cardiovascular
collapse, usually occurs when exercise too closely follows
eating. The incidence of bloat may be lessened by feeding
adult dogs twice a day and, of course, by allowing a dog time
to digest before taking him for a run in the park.
imbalance in Akitas can occasion a number of disorders, not
the least of which is hypothyroidism, an endocrine disease
that results in the abnormally low production of thyroid hormones.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism include lethargy, mental depression,
weight gain and a tendency to seek out warm places. Hypothyroidism
can also affect the coat and skin, causing hair loss and excessive
including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), are not without
incidence in the Akita. PRA is the wasting away of the vessels
in the retina. Initially manifested as night blindness in
young dogs, as PRA progresses, its victims become totally
blind. Conscientious Akita owners test the eyes of their breeding
dogs every year and should, therefore, be able to produce
current CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) test results
for the parents of any puppy offered for sale.
Disease, an abnormal condition of the blood-clotting system
that resembles hemophilia in humans, has also been observed
in the Akita.
Beauchamp is a freelance writer who resides in Cambria,
California. He is the author of numerous books on canine breeds
and is a judge licensed with the American Kennel Club and
the United Kennel Club.