What is it about dogs that make them so loveable? The late comedian George Carlin attributed this to the fact that dogs have something cats don’t, eyebrows! Carlin’s thesis was that by having eyebrows, dogs could express so much more feeling or as he put it, “personality.” With apologies to cat lovers, what Mr. Carlin said about cats in that particular comedy routine cannot be repeated in mixed company.
Japan is known for being a nation of dog lovers as well as having several unique dog breeds. Most draw their names from the regions from which they originated. Many are familiar names like the Akita inu “inu meaning dog” from Akita Ken (Prefecture). The Tosa inu comes from the old “Tosa Province” in present day Kochi Ken. The one exception to the rule is the Shiba inu whose name is believed to have derived from its smaller size. Even tiny Okinawa has its own distinct breed, the Ryukyu inu.
Like the rare Yonbaru Kuina “Okinawa Rail” the Ryukyu inu was thought to have been just another victim of hard times. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s when a small pack of feral dogs was discovered roaming the rainforests of the far northern Yonbaru region that their fortunes changed for the better. These dogs were eventually captured, tested and found to be genetically distinct and then finally designated a breed of their own. A “Ryukyu Inu Preservation Society” was formed and the line was preserved and then stabilized to the point where the numbers are growing again.
Though not very large, Ryukyu inu have a ferocious look to them. Their brindled tiger like stripes give them their other name, the Ryukyu “Tora” or tiger. They are said to resemble the wild dogs of Africa. However, most owners we ran across and talked with said they are obedient, playful and gentle dogs as well as very good with children. They also have one other very interesting and unique trait, a sixth clawed toe. This distinct feature allows Ryukyu inu to do something that the vast majority of dogs simply cannot, climb trees.
As a result of the abandonment problem, animal shelters have become a dumping ground for unwanted pets instead of the sanctuaries they were originally intended to be. Due to space and budgetary limitations, stray pets captured off base are afforded protection for only five days before they are euthanized. But by being aware of the problem and working together, we can help prevent stray pets from succumbing to what almost happened to the Ryukyu inu.