For my daughter Kana, who suffers from chronic depression, Joey's death in September was probably like what it would have been for me to lose a child. It was hard to keep Kana in the world for a while. All her waking time was spent wanting to die to hurry up and be with Joey, or wanting to save all the unwanted and abandoned dogs in Japan. She wanted to do impossible things like drive to a famous faraway place where dogs are often abandoned and save them ALL from being captured and euthanized. She read articles on the Internet, vowed to buy a crate, go to Kyushu on the train (because she lacks confidence in her driving skills) and rescue at least one or two strays. She became infuriated by the unforgivable pet owners who abandon dogs in the wild and obsessed by the bold amateurs in Japan who make dog rescue their mission. She wanted to join their ranks. Every day she had a new plan that would have required help or money from me, and all the while I kept on having to go to work and maintain the house. I would try hard to think of ways to assuage Kana's grief that didn't involve journeying to distant places and fighting unwinnable fights with the authorities. That activism can come later, I said to her, but for now why don't we just go volunteer at the shelter where we adopted our first two dogs, and maybe we could someday adopt another one who needs a forever home?
So we made the drive a few times in the months after Joey died. I was assigned to Kennel 1 and Kana to Kennel 2. We scrubbed the kennels and took the dogs for walks on the rocky mountain paths, all the while keeping our hearts open to whichever might be the right one for us. Most of the dogs, though, seemed either too scared or too old. The scared ones wouldn't come out of their houses, or they would bark at us out of fear, while the old ones were sweet and cute but the white hair on their snouts made me think I was not quite ready to go through so soon with a new dog what we had just been through with Joey.
One day we felt we should go ahead and make a decision. We told the shelter staff that the next time we came, we would like to choose our new family member. We made a list of candidates that we had walked, including two very scared ones and two very old ones, just to be fair, and we spent time with those dogs. They were all nice. Though the scared ones were very hard to walk, I knew that Kana is good with dogs and would most likely be able to train them to walk properly. But we couldn't feel much of a connection with any we had walked, so when the staff member asked us back at the office which one we would like to adopt, I gave a name, but I had no confidence in our choice. Then another staff member came in and said that a pair of dogs had just come back from their walk, and it was a pair we had not yet met on any of our trips over there, and would we like to meet them? I was pretty exhausted and didn't feel like going back to the kennels, but then I thought I might later wonder about the two dogs we had declined to meet, so off we went one more time and--it was love at first sight!
Their names are Leda and Elenora (named by the British woman who founded the shelter). They were two of a group of 34 dogs running free in the mountains near Kobe. A man working at a construction company nearby had been feeding them, and of course the dogs had multiplied quickly, until hikers started telephoning the city office, and the city office warned the man that if the dogs were not removed within three days, they would be captured and euthanized. And thank goodness the animal-lover man was able to find out about and call the shelter which immediately launched a massive rescue mission, forming a convoy of vehicles filled to bursting with dog crates, leashes, harnesses, treats, etc. (There's blog with photos about this rescue mission.) All thirty-four of the dogs were captured and taken to the shelter, where they have received excellent veterinary care, good nutrition, and human attention. Of the 34 dogs captured six years ago, only four remain, and we will be adopting the two--a mother/daughter pair--we were shown that day we were almost too tired to go and see.
Why were these lovely girls in the shelter for six long years while their siblings were being adopted left and right? Perhaps it was because, according to Matsuo-san, our guide at the shelter, every time any potential owner came to their kennel, they would erupt in barking and people would hesitate to enter and interact, but when Kana and I appeared, they greeted us with polite expressions and wagging tails. We took this as a sign, in addition to the fact that Leda has this charming way of trying to make you pet her by reaching out and gently touching your arm repeatedly, that maybe these girls were meant to be with us. Unwise as it may have been for that construction company worker to feed dogs in the mountains, he did a pretty good job of instilling trust in all those strays.These two girls get along well with each other, too. Leda, the mother, is more outgoing and loves attention, while Elenora stays in her doghouse (just like Kana!) and comes out only when she knows you can be trusted. Kana and I will both have a mini-me!
The shelter did DNA testing on some of the mountain dogs and found that they are a mixture of chow-chow, Shiba, husky, Akita, spitz, and others I can't remember right now. Whatever their ancestry is, I'm just glad they'll now have a new last name--ours!
Here they are in their kennel at the shelter. They'll soon have a big yard to tear up!