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Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain by Martha Sherrill

Dog Man

Someone once said, “When you finish a book that you love, it is like saying good-bye to a friend.”  I felt sad when I finished Dog Man and for a few seconds thought about turning to the front of the book and starting it all over again.

Martha Sherrill has such a beautiful writing style that it was a joy to read from beginning to end. Morie Sawataishi developed a deep admiration for the rugged mountain hunting dogs of Japan. Before World War II, Japan revered the Akita, partly due to the true story of Hachiko.  He was the loyal Akita who waited every day for his owner to get off of the train.  His owner was a professor who died suddenly at work.  Hachiko continued to wait for him every day for years hoping that he would come back.  Hachiko symbolized the Japanese sense of discipline and loyalty. However, during World War II, people ate the dogs and used their pelts to line uniforms until they were almost extinct.

Just before World War II, Morie moved his new bride, Kitako from her beloved city of Tokyo to the wilderness of Hachimantai where he worked for the power company.  He got his first Akita puppy and kept it hidden from his neighbors during the war, since they would have been furious if they discovered that he fed a dog when so many people were starving. In the beginning Kitako could not understand her husband's love for dogs or the wilderness and spent a large part of their marriage longing to move back to Tokyo.

After the war, Morie continued to develop the Akita breed and show the dogs, building a tremendous reputation as a dog breeder.  He trained under a Uesugi--a descendant of an ancient warlord that was known for his expert hunting and tracking. His Akitas were never simply show dogs, but traveled the rugged wilderness of the snowy mountains of Japan.  He was breeding Akitas with an eye for strength, bravery, thick coat, calmness, and intelligence.

Morie would take his favorite Akitas into the mountains to hunt and one of the saddest stories in the book involves a bear hunt with one of Morie’s bravest dogs - Samurai Tiger.  Morie never knew if a bullet hit him as he was attacking the bear or the bear claw hit him, but he fell off of a ledge and landed on his head.  Morie brought him home to die and as he lay dying Morie and Kitako cried together. Kitako understood by this time why he loved the dogs so much.  He spent the rest of his life trying to produce another Akita as brave as Samurai Tiger.

Morie was definitely no saint, but Martha Sherill conveys such a beautiful tapestry of the Japanese culture, Morie, his family, friends, dogs and the snow mountains that the reader cannot help but love it all.