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- Published on Wednesday, 17 February 2010 05:00
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President Harry Truman said that in Washington if you want a friend, get a dog. He knew what he was talking about. Dogs are always in a good mood, think everything you do is great, won’t fire you, and won’t abandon you. Their faithfulness is almost a universal constant.
Stories about canine loyalty cover the globe. At Tokyo’s Shibuya train station there is a statue to Hachiko, considered by the Japanese “their country’s most faithful dog.” Born in 1924, he was an Akita. This is a native Japanese breed is an attractive mid-sized dog with lots of fur. He belonged to a professor at the Imperial College in Tokyo and each day Hachiko saw his master off at the Shibuya train station and then waited for him to return. The Professor and Hachiko were a familiar pair and conductors, fellow commuters and vendors knew them well.
Unfortunately the professor became ill one day and died while teaching a class. Hachiko didn’t understand and until his own death waited at the train station for the professor’s return. The professor’s friends and family tried to find the dog a new home. But Hachiko would have none of it. Until he died he was a fixture at the train station.
The Japanese value faithfulness and loyalty as some of the greatest qualities anyone can possess. It is a powerful part of their culture, and the citizens Tokyo, and indeed throughout Japan, warmed to the story of the faithful dog waiting at the train station. Shortly after Hachiko died in 1934, the city of Tokyo erected a statute of Hachiko. Perhaps it’s the only statue of a dog in all of Japan and it became a revered landmark. Alas, it didn’t survive the war, but the legacy of Hachiko did. In 1948, even in the midst of the aftermath of war, a new statue was built. Just like the old it celebrated Hachiko’s loyalty and duty.
A half a world away there is another story, similar to that of Hachiko, but this one occurred in 19th century Scotland. Bobby was a Skye terrier who belonged to John Gray. Gray was a night watchman for the Edinburgh Police Department. Bobby accompanied Gray on all of his rounds. He and Gray were an inseparable and cheerful pair. But, sadly, Gray died in 1857 and was buried at a local church called Greyfriars Kirk.
Gray’s friends and locals near the church tried to find the dog a new home or at least coax him away from his master’s grave. But the little dog wouldn’t leave. After awhile the story became well-known in the Scottish capital and when concern arose over Bobby’s not having a dog license, and therefore, possibly having to be destroyed, the Edinburgh City Council stepped in and made Bobby an official ward of the city.
Bobby lived in the churchyard for 15 years. He was fed and cared for by local residents and the church. After Bobby died, the city council raised private donations to erect a bronze statue of Bobby. To this day it stands across the street from the church where the little dog stood vigil for so many years.
I learned the full weight of his place in the Scottish heart in 1979 when I was living in Edinburgh. Vandals had poured yellow paint on Bobby’s statue. It was also the day of the national election that brought Mrs. Thatcher and her conservatives to power. It was one of the most important elections in British post-war history. But that’s not the way Edinburgh’s largest daily paper saw it. Their headline, in extra large type, was “Greyfriars Bobby Attacked in Night.” Below the newspaper fold, in the lower right hand corner, was the more subdued headline, “Conservative Sweep in National Election.” To this day, I think they had their priorities right.
In the 1980s the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals placed a marker on the Skye Terrier’s grave. It said simply, “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” There is not much I can add to that.
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