THE AKITA…. The Heart of the Breed
By Julie Mays
A kita…. a National Mon- ument of Japan, its orig- inal country of origin. Th e first Akita in the United States was gifted to Helen Keller in 1937 when, on a visit to Japan, she had arranged to visit the Akita region. Ms. Keller had learned of the story of Hachiko the leg- endary and faithful Akita, who waited for his master at the station for years after his master died while away. She wanted to visit the train station where his Bronze likeness and plaque bearing his story stood on the spot where he had loyally waited for his Master each day. Upon expressing a desire to meet an Akita, a Police Department instructor fulfilled her wish. As she loved large dogs and was so impressed with the Akita’s faithfulness, the decision was made by the Police Instructor and his family to formally present her with their own puppy, Kamikaze-Go, he was just 75 days old and she nicknamed him “Kami”. Unfor- tunately, after returning to the States, and to Helen Keller’s utter devastation, she lost Kami to distemper at just 7 ½ months of age. It was decided by the government to send another Akita to her as an o ffi cial gift of the Japanese Government in 1939—it was not until Kenzan-Go arrived that Ms. Keller learned that he had been generously provided to her by the same young Police Instructor and that her “Go-Go” was the litter brother of her precious Kami! Go-Go protected her and brought her much joy each day of his life. It has been said that young American servicemen also found the breed’s loyalty and dignity alluring and brought some Akita to American shores when they returned from WW II.
Th e Akita region that the breed origi- nates from is a mountainous and arctic (winter) region of Japan and the breed was originally used in pairs to track and hunt the 800-pound Yezo bear, holding it until the human hunter arrived to kill the bear. Perhaps the legendary faithfulness of the Akita is derived from their original purpose on the side of a mountain with a lone hunter and a hunting mate of the opposite sex. Th e Akita is not a pack ani- mal in the “traditional” hunting dog defi- nition, for they can be intolerant of other animals, especially those of the same sex. Th ey possess a heightened prey drive but can be raised and taught to tolerate other animals in their domain today, if much consideration and respect is given to the nature of the breed. While Akitas are no longer used to hunt bear—aside from the Conformation show ring—they continue to prove their faithfulness, natural intelligence, dignity and all-purpose working ability in many areas. Akitas today participate in a variety of Performance events, serve as Th erapy Dogs, Crisis Response Dogs and even as Service Dogs in the right situation! In 2008 the American Kennel Club Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) in the Th erapy Dog category (there are five
catagories and one dog is awarded in each category from the thousands submitted each year) was awarded to Zadok, loved/ owned/trained by Julie Burk of Oregon. Zadok had a remarkable instinct for knowing just the right way to approach each person, based on his/her needs and could even detect when someone was near death and would then provide extra comfort. Zadok and Julie were also certi- fied as a National Animal Assisted Crisis Response Team, helping people in disas- ters….whether that meant comforting victims or rescue/recovery workers. Zadok comforted students and faculty at the Vir- ginia Tech shootings in 2007 and, again a few short months later at Northern Illinois University in 2008, earning him and Julie a spot in both those college families. Sadly, Julie lost Zadok at just under 10 years of age but he will now live on as a relevant and important part of Akita history as an example of what an Akita can be in the hands of a knowledgeable owner who can help him/her reach their full potential and develop their capacity for seemingly human understanding. Akitas can and are able to be trained in obedience, agility and even rally but it requires special skills as a train- er/handler to understand the Akita
“THE AKITA IS NOT A PACK ANIMAL IN THE ‘TRADITIONAL’ HUNTING DOG DEFINITION, for they can be intolerant of other animals...”
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