Imagine a war torn nation, devastated at the conclusion of World War II. Japan. The nation is in shambles, people are hungry, and as a result, the country’s prized national dog, the Akita, has been almost entirely wiped out – slaughtered for food and for their fur. At the conclusion of the war, Morie estimates there were only 16 Akitas left in Japan.
Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain by Martha Sherrill tells the story of a man who became an unlikely ally in the fight to save these beautiful animals. Morie Sawataishi wasn’t interested in having dogs, yet he acquired an Akita puppy, almost on a whim, paying an exorbitant price for her in the middle of the war. He began breeding Akitas, attempting to restore the breed to the type and characteristics that existed prior to the war, and bring them back from the brink of extinction.
The book tells the story of this man and his family, and most importantly, the dogs that he bred and raised along the way. Each dog is explained in detail, the animal’s strengths, weaknesses and personality, letting the readers really get to know the dog on a personal level. As the book spans over 50 years in time, there are many dogs, some overlapping, so it is sometimes difficult to get the timeline worked out. But it is a wonderful look into the joy and pain of sharing your heart and home with animals.
The book is candid and honest, delving into the relationship trials that Morie and his wife Kitako experienced as they tried to navigate through their marriage. The book takes place in the Snow Country, in northern Japan, a cold, harsh climate known for its months of heavy snow. Morie grew up there and was interested in staying, but his wife was a Tokyo native and the move was challenging for her. To be quite honest, she hated it there and it had a significant impact on their relationship.
The writing is simple and unembellished; the chapters flew by. I didn’t have any particular interest in Akitas, but it held my interest until the end. Worth a read, especially if you like dogs, or are looking for a history book on a unique topic.