Kuma was a large, 4-year-old, brindle male when he first came into ARSA. Unlike most other Akitas, Kuma came to us because of the death of his owner, a man of 36 who died unexpectedly of a heart attack. While Kuma’s owner was alive, the man and dog were devoted companions sharing a deep love for each other. The man’s free time was spent with Kuma on walks, hikes- all the things a dog enjoys, activities that cement the human/dog bond.
Perhaps if Kuma had been placed in a home immediately or had been allowed to remain in his own home with the man’s wife, the dog may have eventually adapted to the loss of his beloved owner. But the man’s wife had never wanted a dog and admittedly was jealous of the time her husband spent with Kuma. As an act of revenge or perhaps, simple indifference, she brought Kuma to ARSA as soon as her husband was buried.
From the first day with rescue Kuma was deeply depressed. The confusion and sudden changes in his life must have been unimaginably frightening for him. Adding to his distress, Kuma was now in a kennel surrounded by strangers and other Akitas.
Everyone tried to penetrate through his apathy, but slowly during the next few months Kuma deteriorated. He lost weight but barely touched his food. His coat became dry, brittle, unhealthy looking as his broken heart affected his health. He was unresponsive to affection or attention though he seemed to favor one ARSA volunteer–Stephanie. Stephanie and the other volunteers worked hard to bring Kuma out of his depression, to interest him in a new human relationship, but he continued in a state of unhappiness–he was pining for his owner. Kuma’s tail had ceased to wag, his ears never went back in greeting, and he did not solicit attention but accepted it with resignation when he was petted or brushed. We all felt a sense of failure; it was the first time we were actually unable to penetrate the barrier of indifference Akitas can use as a cloak for their feelings.
One day, Kuma went into his kennel house and refused to come out. Any attempt to force him out resulted in growls. Stephanie was called and arrived to take Kuma to the vet to see if there was some miracle medicine to help him through his depression, or perhaps he was suffering from an illness.
Kuma went with Stephanie maintaining a subdued silence during the drive. As she walked him outside the veterinarian’s office, he showed no enthusiasm for the walk or his surroundings. He followed Stephanie when she brought him into an examining room. The dog remained quiet while Stephanie discussed his case with the vet. They agreed it would be best to run a complete blood panel to see if his declining condition was physical. The focus of the conversation was to try in some way to stimulate his appetite to keep him alive–Stephanie offered to take him home with her if that would help.
When the vet and two assistants attempted to place Kuma on the examining table, he became extremely hostile. In spite of a muzzle and four people trying to subdue this dog, Kuma fought with incredible strength. Finally, the vet called a halt to forcing Kuma onto the examining table. He was placed back on the floor where his heavy breathing was the only sound in the room.
Stephanie and the vet discussed Kuma’s behavior and situation at great length. Looking at Kuma, the vet told Stephanie he felt the dog did not want to live without his loved owner. It was time to be unselfish and truly humane by letting Kuma go.
While Stephanie tried to think it thorough to make the right decision, Kuma quieted down. His eyes on Stephanie, he waited. It was difficult not to feel a sense of failure. It was even more painful to decide to kill a young, otherwise nice Akita simply because he was unhappy. Once again, the vet pointed out that Kuma had already made the decision to die. Stephanie finally agreed to put him to sleep.
As soon as Stephanie voiced her agreement to euthanize Kuma, the dog’s tail began wagging! He knew! He absolutely knew! Without any fuss at all, he allowed himself to be lifted onto the table. As Stephanie gently removed his collar, Kuma leaned forward and kissed her face, his tail wagging enthusiastically for the first time. As he was injected, he stared at a spot beyond the vet, his tail wagging furiously, ears flat back in typical Akita adoration. Stephanie could never prove it, no one can, but the big Akita behaved as if his owner had finally arrived to take him home.
They’re together now for eternity and we know that at last Kuma is happy. He was one of those Akitas who did not want to live without his special person and rather than prolong his suffering, we let him go. If ever you have a moment of doubt that the dog you loved and lost will be there, wherever “there” is, Kuma proved it’s true–there will be a reunion.
That’s why, whenever an abandoned Akita dies in a shelter, or when an ARSA dog dies while waiting for a home, I pray for the dog’s soul to enter the light. I claim the Akita as one of my own so the dog will have someone to wait for. I believe the Akita waits with Mandy, Kody, Tootsie, Patty, Rocky, Kato, Toshi, and the countless other Akitas abandoned to streets and shelters. Most of you feel as I do, you have never met an Akita you could not love.