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2009-06-03 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Dogs are known for their loyalty. Some of the most faithful pooches in history have been immortalized in stone, verse or film. Thefollowing profiles two dogs whose devotion goes above and beyond:

* Hachiko- During the 1920s this Akita would meet his Tokyo professor owner at the train station every day at 3 p.m. when the teacher returned from the university. The pair continued their routine for about a year and a half until 1925, when the professor suffered a fatal stroke at work. Hachiko was given to relatives and later to the gardener, but would repeatedly escape to the train station where he would await his master's return. He kept up his 3 o' clock vigil for almost 10 years. Sometimes he wouldn't return home for 2 days. Only hunger forced him to go back to his new owners. Life on the streets took a toll on Hachiko. He suffered from mange, canine battle scars and finally succumbed to arthritis and heartworm. The once majestic Akita was a familiar sight to commuters until March 8, 1935 when he was found dead at the same spot where he had waited so patiently. Hachiko's passing made the front pages of Japanese newspapers. A national day of mourning was declared.

Through the years, Hachiko's faithfulness became a symbol of loyalty in Japan. In 1934 a bronze statue was erected at the ticket gate of the Shibuya station and Hachiko himself was present at its unveiling. The first statue was recycled during World War II but a new one took its place in 1948. Each year on April 8th there is a solemn ceremony at the station in Hachiko's memory. The Akita's bones are buried alongside his professor, and Hachiko's coat is preserved and stuffed on display at the National Science Museum in Ueno. (Reminiscent of Roy Roger's Trigger and Bullet.)

As an interesting aside, last year's bestseller The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by D. Wroblewski centers around a mute boy and his family's fictional breed of dogs, but the author alludes to bloodlines that trace to Hachiko and also to Buddy (a female) , the first Seeing Eye dog in the US. Now wouldn't that pairing be an intriguing designer dog?

After several children's books and a 1987 Japanese film, Hachiko's saga has gone Hollywood. A major motion picture shot in Rhode Island, "Hachiko: A Dog's Story", starring Richard Gere as the professor, is scheduled for release this summer. Hachiko will be portrayed by an Akita named Forrest. There is no word on whether Forrest or the real Hachiko were ever Buddhists like their co-star.

* Greyfriars Bobby- This Skye Terrier's persistence pre-dates and surpasses Hachiko. The scene now shifts to Scotland.

In the 1850s Edinburgh policeman John Gray acquired a stray black Terrier as his little guard dog, a condition of his employment as a night watchman. He named the dog "Bobby" after the UK term for constable. The team was inseparable until Gray died of tuberculosis in 1858. Bobby led the funeral procession to Gray's grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and refused to leave the freshly packed earth. The caretaker initially sent him away but the dog kept coming back each day for 14 years until he died on Jan.14, 1872 at the age of sixteen.

Some like to think that the tenacious Terrier kept constant watch over the grave, but realistically, Bobby had help along the way from a group of admiring friends. He regularly left for lunch at a neighboring coffee house when he heard the 1 o ' clock cannon. Word spread and crowds would gather to witness this daily ritual.

Others built Bobby shelter, and it seems he spent winters in local houses. Nine years after the start of his vigil, an edict was passed saying unlicensed dogs would be destroyed. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh, also the director of the Scottish SPCA, paid Bobby's license fee. From then on, he wore a collar that said he was the responsibility of the city council.

Disney made a Greyfriars Bobby movie in 1961 based on a children's book, which is a more accurate tribute than the 2006 UK remake that cast a Westie as the famous Skye Terrier. There was such an uproar over the change of breed that a Scottish backer withdrew £500,000 of financing and filming was almost moved to Luxembourg.

When Bobby died, rules prevented the dog from being buried in the cemetery, but his tomb is just inside the gate. A baroness who came to see Bobby several times, deeply moved by his story, commissioned a granite statue and fountain nearby, while over a century later the Dog Aid Society purchased a headstone for the tiny Terrier, engraved with the words- "let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all."

** SPECIAL THANKS to the fine staff from Hempstead Town Shelter for running the low-cost Microchip Clinic during the Last Hope Dog Walk at Wantagh Park last Saturday. We are also grateful for our wonderful (volunteer) vet tech, Diane Pionegro. A total of 58 pets- 53 dogs and 5 cats- were implanted with Bayer resQ™ microchips during the event. Any owner from the clinic with questions or problems registering their pet's new chip, please call Hempstead Shelter at 516-785-5220.

Poster Pets from Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: "Phelps" the Retriever mix in Cage 5 is also an amazing dog. Neighbors saw him saw him swim the canal by Mayhew in Babylon Village, but no one has come to claim him. This happy, obedient fellow has a lump on the back of his right rear leg that the shelter is having tested. Meanwhile "Skitz" a hefty tabby is quite the extrovert. While in the cat colony enclosure, he'd pat you on the back when you walked in to visit. Female: "Doubles" sweet white & orange cat; "Hallie" - Pit in Cage 38 at the shelter a year; "Tyra"-Rottie mix Cage 42; "Precious" purebred Rottie; 2 older tan Chihuahuas. Male: "Snoopy"- senior Beagle Cage 13; "Kobe"- handsome Hound mix puppy Cage 15; "Rocky"- 1 yr. gray Pit mix Cage 12.

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