To The Imperfect Dogs

I've always had a difficult time talking about the dogs I've lost. It seems a personal thing. Once one talks about it, I feel we are inundated with the typical and proper replies of concern, which may help others, but they make the process harder and more tiresome for me. I wrote this about one of my dogs that I lost in September of 2022, and never published it. Closing in on one year since her passing, I feel I owe her memory a post.

 Yesterday I found out that I'm losing another of my dogs. Rin has liver cancer, and we expect her to have another week or so. She's just turning 7. 

It seems not so long ago that Mitani Sensei sent 2 tiny Shikoku pups to me. I had nonchalantly asked him at some NIPPO Grand National for a dog from his line, and nearly 4 years later here was a call out of the blue asking if I still wanted to try hunting with one of his dogs. My answer of course was yes. What hunter trying to breed working Shikoku would not want a dog from the only line still being bred for dual purpose show & hunting? The reply to my reply, was to go to Haneda airport to pick up a pup the next day. Once at the cargo terminal I discovered 2 almost miniature little Shikoku pups curled up together in their crate. 

In some things Rin and Ran never changed, they were very small girls, 43.5 and 44.5 centimeters at withers when they were fully grown, but curled up they were not. They were fireballs of energy, constantly testing the older dogs and playing (mostly with each other) at 100 miles an hour. They had a streak of what we in the dog world might call aggression (it's a lazy term in my opinion) toward other dogs, and in this and other things they did not hold true to my idea of a modern 'safe' hunting dog. I found their argumentative and easily triggered temperament a bit of red flag, and ended up placing Ran with a new owner just after her first birthday. Having two of these girls together feeding of each other's energy was a bit too much, and my hope was that with just one of them I could mold them into a more even keeled dog that I could actually hunt with.

It was an unfortunate thing, since both girls showed promise as working dogs. They worked boar nicely at NIPPO's hunting instinct test at under 1 year old, an event where Mitani Sensei was present. In the end though, Ran did end up biting her new owner's wife, and Rin developed a bite history of her own with 2 bites to owners of neighborhood dogs. While Rin's focused aggression toward strange dogs was concerning, what was even more worrisome was that she would also switch on to people she knew owned dogs. She would switch on to them even when their dogs were not present, and this lead to her two bites.

As a liability, Rin's trips to the mountains were limited, which was a shame because hunting was the thing she enjoyed most. After Baron was retired due to injury, Karen and Rin became the defacto 1st team combo, and they did shockingly well together, pulling in boar in several of their first outings together. However we had to be very particular about where we would hunt with Rin, and as such she spent most of her time at home. I'll never forget her first hunt though, watching her and Karen moving up on a slope, rousing an 80kg boar, and watching that boar come flying down toward my brother and I with a 12kg Rin hanging off its back leg. She was a terror.

As a preservationist and breeder, there are many difficult choices that one has to make about which dogs to use to further a breeding program, and the breed in general. Rin was not an easy breeder. She would generally not accept males when she was in heat, with an exception being one heat where she adored Masamine. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this did not lead to any pups. I did one artificial insemination with Rin and Vega as a test study, which did lead to a singleton that died in birth. I called it a day after that attempt, and decided we were better off not producing more little terrors for the hunting world. 

Rin was the quintessential imperfect dog, the imperfect Shikoku that was not what I would want to breed toward. Flawed by standard, flawed in temperament, but with massive heart. In her own way, she still won my love. Sometimes it is these most difficult of dogs that take our hearts, even more than the excellent or perfect dogs, and I would say that my heart was not the only one Rin took. It was a rather sudden end for her, one that was not seen coming. At least we had a last few weeks together during a hot, smoldering Japanese summer. The grumpy lady was in the house and away from the other dogs which she tolerated, but who's company she never really enjoyed, soaking up cuddles and air conditioning until it was time to say goodbye.

We had one last good drive together, and now she rests in the mountain here behind my house. This post is for all the imperfect dogs, the ones that still have our hearts. To the crazy passionate girls, Rin and Ran, I dedicate this song by The Bluehearts.


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