Dog-Saved

Daisy is a Japanese Spitz, and she’ll be two years old on November the 7th. For those who consider numbers propitious things, you may have noticed: she was born on 7/11. Those are two very lucky numbers. She’s a very lucky dog, too, I might add. A bit like the genie in the bottle, if you give her tummy a good rub, you’re sure to have an excellent day. Also a bit like the genie in the bottle, I sometimes (often) wish I could miniaturise Daisy and put her in a little box so that I can take her with me into non-dog environments and get her out, should I ever feel the need for that little bit of moral support.

I find it endlessly suprising that the Japanese Spitz is a relatively unknown breed, and not more popular. People who meet Daisy often ask if she is a Pomeranian (nope!) or a Samoyed puppy (nope!!). Dare I say it – in this age of hybrid dog breeds – I am most affronted when people assume Daisy to be a mongrel of some kind. No, she most definitely is not! Her breed is up there with Golden Retrievers in terms of sheer gorgeousness to look at and charm of character (incidentally, I grew up with a Golden Retriever called Flora). However, to be fair to those misguided folk, Japanese Spitzes are related to Poms and Samoyeds. My thinking is that JSs are the best of both worlds: they’re not as big (and so don’t moult as much – hypothetically) as Samoyeds, and have the size-manageability of Poms. On the other hand, they have taken much of the Samoyed’s temperament, including their good-natured attitude, trainability, and child-friendly qualification.

Many owners of JSs train them in agility, and they’re often present in utility dog competition rings. There is a close-knit community around the breed, formed of people who have essentially been enlightened, had an epiphany, reached Nirvana, discovered the Theory of Everything, been touched by the hand of the Japanese Spitz God, and seen the errors of their ways in ever considering any other breed to be the greatest. That’s the truth.

I admittedly came across JSs at a time in my life when I was very fond of Japan. I had visited twice, was learning Japanese, and had got a job as an English teacher in Ōita, Kyushu. My desperation for a dog was immense, and had been for some time (possibly since we lost Flora to cancer, when she was only seven and I was fourteen). This move, however, was approaching at a time when both myself and my family had been going through a great deal of stress building over the years. The source of this stress, by and large, was from my father. He is an immense subject for a whole other essay, but in summary, his health dipped drastically due to self-neglect, and my mother (who divorced him some twenty years earlier due to his errant behaviour) was abruptly strung along by healthcare professionals and social services to take care of him. I cannot express enough how traumatic this was for her, and by extension, that trauma transferred to myself, who was living at home with her at the time. I had maintained contact with my father over the years, but had become increasingly disillusioned with him after years of emotional neglect on his behalf.

It became increasingly apparent to me that a move to Japan right then wouldn’t be the best-timed. I was needed at home – not on the other side of the world. Added to this, I had my own problems with ongoing health concerns. So, I made the very difficult decision to turn down the job in Japan and put myself in a position of unemployment.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, though, isn’t it? So often I have found myself in a place of immense personal struggle. Mental health is not something I have yet to find the courage to talk openly about, so I will say, vaguely, that I ‘have been there’. Nevertheless, I find it ceaselessly remarkable that, in looking back, those periods of crisis have led me onto better paths. One of my bad habits in rectifying dark thoughts is by seeking out quick-fixes, usually superficial what-can-I-buy-to-make-this-momentarily-better-type things. One such (admittedly harmless) manifestation of this was searching through ill-advised websites like preloved or pets4homes (I wouldn’t recommend them), and at least dreaming of the notion of having a little creature to look after. And that is how I discovered Japanese Spitzes.

Fortunately this time, their lack of popularity meant there were none to be found on either of those websites. I nevertheless researched the breed, and thought them wonderful. Honestly, who wouldn’t? Have a look. In that moment (and via a great deal of deliberation thereafter), the quick-fix idea was solidifying. I naturally look for solutions rather than dwelling on the difficulty, and while I fully appreciate that a dog (or any pet) is a serious commitment, I wholly believed that getting a dog was a beneficial thing to do. It started off as a whim, but it evolved, and the idea of it settled. We were going to get a new family-member.

After sharing this newfound information with my mother (since I would be off working wherever I could find work, the notion was that the dog would be hers), we had a look for a breeder, and found a lovely woman who had a litter planned for a few months’ time. In December 2015, we went to visit her and the babies, and met a very small fluff who we had decided to name Daisy. We picked her up a month later.

This is the point at which I have to admit that my research has failed me. When I was very young, one of my favourite books was about a young girl (or was it a boy?) who is repeatedly recommended different ‘cures’ by a doctor for her mysterious illness – none of which are successful – until the problem is discovered (loneliness), and a solution found (a puppy!). I suppose, in our more responsible times, this isn’t such a great concept to introduce to children who might see an opportunity to win over parents with the idea of a new family pet. But I cannot help but be reminded by this echo of my childhood with Daisy, because she came into my life at a time of immense personal crisis. In the space of two weeks, I changed from a disheartened, unmotivated, lethargic ghost, to a person with something to live for. I had no choice but to get up each morning at half-past six to clear up the mesDaisy TONGUEs in the kitchen left by this small, helpless creature. For a good few weeks after that, I had to trudge out into the cold January climate every half an hour for little Daisy to ablute (puppy-bladders are weak, as anyone who has had a puppy will know from the stains on the carpets). I battled through every tribulation with Daisy: from her unruly adolescence (dogs have these), to her training and socialisation. The adoration between us was wholeheartedly mutual.

The extent of her personality is something else, and is probably in correlation with her obvious intelligence. You cannot be harsh with Daisy, which in turn forces you to mediate your responses to her. She, on the other hand, responds best to tenderness, soft reprimands, and gentle signs of disapproval. She knows exactly when she’s been naughty, at which point she endearingly hurries over to make amends by leaning against my chest, head down, asking for a ‘scritchy-scratch’. Meanwhile, she walks on the lead like she’s the block captain. She also has a bad habit of humping her larger chews (towels, a large golden retriever from IKEA, and my bear if she can get away with it). Personally, I admire her unashamed lack of sexual inhibition. You go, girl.

Okay, she’s a dog. Some of you will understand, and some of you will be baffled. But she is so incredibly precious to my family and me, and her presence in my life has made it all the better. Her people are at the centre of her universe. Her unconditional love for her people, on the other hand, is limitless. Here’s to Daisy, and to Japanese Spitzes. May more people know of them.