Friday, December 3, 2010

The Loyalty of Dogs

Dog loyalty comes in many forms.  Knowing when you've had a bad day and doing something wacky or special to lift you up.  A stand-offish dog like my Kitsune suddenly deciding, when you're sick in bed and feel like crap, to have a cuddle session.  Getting you over your Demon Days.  Stealing the neighbor's newspaper when yours is missing (true story).  Defending the home and the loved people in it.

I've seen a lot of doggy devotion, but I've never seen a dog devoted enough to sit for hours at a window, waiting, watching.  Until Kitsune.

The windows at our old apartment were not conducive to dogs peering through them.  There were only two that faced the parking lot, one was so drafty it had to be constantly covered in plastic sheeting and a quilt, the other had trees and bushes blocking any view.

Kitsune still knew when someone was coming home, we realized this very early on.

At this apartment, there are floor to ceiling windows all over the place.  Kitsune can stand with all four feet on the ground and look out of any of them.  He can keep an eye on his Groundhog Hunting Grounds and the parking lot almost simultaneously with a quick sprint through the living room.

It wasn't long after we'd moved that I noticed, if I left the house when my SO was home and Kitsune was roaming, he was sitting at my son's bedroom window watching me leave, and he would still be sitting there when I came back.  I started to wonder if he was sitting there the entire time I was away.  I noticed that he would do the same thing when my SO left and I was at home with Kitsune.

One night my SO had to get up in the middle of the night to pick a friend up from the airport.  I watched Kitsune get up when my SO got up.  My SO left.  Kitsune sat down by the bedroom window and looked out of it.  He sat there the entire three hours without moving.  I tried to draw his attention away from his vigil, but he wouldn't have it.  If I called his name, he only turned the ear closest to me in my direction.  A couple of times, I thought he would leave the window when the cats were horsing around just outside the bedroom door in the hall, but the most he did was turn his head to look, longingly, at the action.  For Kitsune, that's true restraint.

My Sainted Labrador never did anything like this.  He was happy to see people when they came home.  He smiled, and grunted, and shoved favorite plush toys in the arrival's direction.  He never mounted a vigil and refused to leave it, though.  Not for me, not for anybody.  It's as if I have my own personal Hachiko in Kitsune.

The Disney movie Eight Below is a true story, with one major and (to me) glaring misrepresentation:  The dogs left behind by researchers were not Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes.  They were **Akitas and Karafuto-ken, another Japanese spitz breed.  The original film is called Nankyoku Monogatari.  It was released in the US as Antarctica.  I will warn you now:  It is much harder to watch, emotionally, than the Disney version.  After being left to fend for themselves for a year in conditions no other dog could survive in, Taro and Jiro greeted their handler with "wild enthusiasm."  Although it is pure conjecture on my part, I'd be willing to bet that the few moments not given over to survival, one or the other of them was watching.  Waiting.  Scenting and staring in the direction that they had last seen their beloved person.

What's so special about a dog waiting at a train station every day, or watching at a window without moving for food, water, or cat ruckus for a favored person to return?

It's the idea that loyalty of that magnitude can exist on earth.  It is hope for the human race, if a dog is capable of that, how much more potential exists in you, or me, or anyone.  Everyone.

The Samurai trained with spitz breeds to learn the true meanings of loyalty and bravery from them.  In this, as in many things, the ancient Japanese wisdom is right on the money.  Observing a dog is one of the only ways to experience that type of devotion and loyalty, but with few exceptions, the Japanese spitz breeds raise the bar.

This morning, I had to drop my SO off at his job, and sit at the bus stop with my son.  When I got home from these errands, which took about 25 minutes, I pulled into my parking space and looked up to see a foxy face staring out of my son's bedroom window.

He had been sitting there with his nose practically touching the glass for long enough that his breath had fogged up a space almost two feet long and a foot high on the window, requiring him to crane his neck to try and peer over or around it.  I wanted to get a picture to post for you, but in order to get a clear picture I would have had to open the car door and get closer to the window, and the second I open the car door Kitsune leaves his post and begins yodeling at the front door.

Domo arigato, Shiba-sensei.  I have the best teacher.

**I have read two sources that say the dogs were Akitas.  One reference to the story in Dog Man says they were Akitas.  Wikipedia says the dogs were Karafuto.  So I will leave it at that they were both, because they probably were.  Working sled dog teams tend to be comprised of many breeds, purebred and mixes of different northern dogs to get the best traits.  With your survival dependent on your sled dogs going into harsh conditions, it's not about a dog's pedigree or breed but only about if they can endure the weather and do the job.

No comments:

Post a Comment