Dogs & Anger

Movies and modern media have a lot to answer for in regards to animal welfare and ‘trendy’ breeds.

You may well have heard of the surge in popularity of dalmatians after 101 Dalmatians hit the cinema, or everybody wanting to own clownfish after Finding Nemo came out, but the movie I will always particularly blame is Hachi: a dog’s tale.

An Akita, if you’ve never met one, is perfectly capable of being a loyal and noble companion, but are frequently described as ‘dominant, aloof, independent and ‘not a dog for beginners.’ They are even considered a dangerous dog breed in some jurisdictions.

So I was apprehensive when I met an 8-week-old one, who was already growling at his first vaccination consult.

The owner had no such apprehensions. He was convinced, with stars in his eyes, that this dog, named Hachi for the movie, was going to be just like that movie dog. He was going to be patient, loyal and obedient and everything was going to be perfect. He was in love with the legend.

“He’s going to be just like Hachi. You’ve seen the movie, right? Just like Hachiko.”

I was not convinced by his confidence in the face of this small, growling fluff ball.

This was his first dog, and an Akita is rarely a good idea for a first dog, but he’d seen that damn movie and was absolutely convinced. He was sold an idea.

He didn’t want to go to puppy school. Hachi was going to be like movie Hachi.

He didn’t want to castrate him. He didn’t think he’d need to.

He didn’t really want to listen. None of my concerns seemed to be getting across.

I tried my best, but figured I’d have to have another go in four weeks at the pup’s next vaccination.

Which he never showed up to.

No big deal, I thought. Maybe he didn’t like what I had to say and went to another clinic. It happens. As long as he listens to somebody, it doesn’t matter that it’s not me.

I didn’t see this dog again until he was 9 months old. For euthanasia.

Now I am never a fan of euthanizing a healthy dog, but this was an awful situation.

Not even fully grown, the owner had not heeded any of the warnings, and this dog was untrained, unsocialised, and already very large. He would tolerate his primary owner, but not any other members of the family, including the wife, which the dog had cornered in the house, snapping and growling, while she shielded their baby in her arms.

Nobody else could handle this dog, he was only going to get bigger, and the wife now, rightfully, refused to keep him. And given that he was only even partially responsive to one human, he couldn’t morally rehome him, so he had made the decision to put this dog to sleep before something terrible happened.

I want to emphasize that this person loved their Hachi, alongside the idea of the dog. The image of him sobbing on the floor where Hachi lay, muzzled and sedated but still growling as I put him to sleep via a back leg vein, will remain with me for the rest of my career.

It’s not the Hachi story everyone knows.

Media has a lot to answer for when it comes to animal trends.