I saw my first Akita in 1972 and the rest, as they say, is history. I simply could not believe how amazingthis big bear of a dog was ... or how completely he was ignoring me. I waited next to the vehicle with this gorgeous dog until the dog's owner came out. I said "Is this your dog? And the guy (a little apprehensively) said "Yep, what'd he do now?" We chatted, and he called his Akita ("Point") out of the truck and Point then gave me my first experience with the aloofness of the adult male Akita. I was hooked, totally and forever under the spell of the Akita.
Remember, I've been around almost since before fire. In the dark ages before the internet, information about unusual things was a little more difficult to come by, and the Akita was at that time classified as a "rare breed" in the United States and not yet recognized by the AKC. When I asked the public library for information on the Akita, the reference librarian said "A What?"
In 1973 I got my first Akita puppy and later rescued and rehomed my first Akita. Since then we have evolved into Blue Moon Akita Rescue and been working with Akitas and continued doing Akita rescue at one level or another. It's been an interesting ride. We have been a Colorado corporation and a 501C3 Non Profit recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service since 2010. In 2011 we placed about 82 assorted dogs, cats, kittens and a reptile or two.
Our focus is Akitas but if it needs help and we are in a position to do so, we help; if we can't, we really try to find someone who can. Sometimes we fail, and that's the really hard thing about doing rescue. No matter how many you save, every day somebody dies because nobody stepped up.
To understand Blue Moon Akita Rescue, I think you need to know our story. Tonka's Miracle is a very big part of the story, but he's not "the whole story" ... so if you are one of those folks who reads the last chapter of the book first, slide on down to Tonka's section of this writing. If you like to know the whole story, thank you and I hope you enjoy it start to finish. God bless and thank you to each of you for the love you give your friends and family (animals and people!) every day. You are the reason we are still here.
My Life with Akitas, the beginning:
I saw my first Akita in 1972 and the rest, as they say, is history. Walking downtown I noticed a beautiful dog in a parked pickup truck. I waited next to the vehicle with this gorgeous fella until the owner came out. I said "Is this your dog? And the guy (a little apprehensively) said "Yep, what'd he do now?" We chatted, and then to properly complete introductions, he took "Point" out of the truck and gave me my first experience with the aloofness of the adult male Akita, and I was hooked.
In the days before the internet, information was a little more difficult to come by, and the Akita was classified as a "rare breed" in the United States and not recognized by the AKC. Shown in the miscellaneous class, I attended my first dog show about four months later and there were 1,500 dogs entered – only 3 of them were Akitas.
After six months, I felt I had gathered enough information and talked to enough people (and Akita people were real hard to find) that I knew what I wanted. It was time to find my first Akita. His name was Akiras Saki and he was purchased from a breeder who had brought his dogs home following a military tour in Japan. Saki was the beginning.
A darling puppy who loved everyone he met, Saki was a very old soul in a dog suit. It was from Saki that I began to learn the basics of obedience training as Saki was my first dog.
We were at one obedience trial when he was about 9 months old, and as we concluded our exercises, the judge told me that he hoped Saki was not my first Akita. I confided that he was my first dog. He then said "Young lady, do not presume to expect another dog in your lifetime to show the intelligence and willingness to work that this dog shows. Judging him today has been my pleasure."
I was hooked on Akitas before then, but that cinched it. Since then there have always been at least two Akitas in my home and generally several more than that as I became involved in obedience training, showing and, of course, doing rescue work. There is so much I could say about the love and gentleness of Saki, but his is a story for another time.
Akita Rescue was a little easier in the late 70s and early 80s because Akitas were relatively rare and the majority of the people who had the breed had an understanding of “what makes them tick”. At that time there were fewer breeders and those ethical breeders who were devoted to the Akita breed tended to keep better track of their puppies and support the folks who bought dogs from them, helping educate their buyers and standing by their puppies and accepting a return if the home didn’t work out, much as we still see the reputable breeders do today. Being rare, it was much easier to find a home for the occasional orphan and we didn’t have the large number of rescue dogs we see today. The lack of popularity at that time made Akitas not as attractive to backyard breeders and puppy mill operators. But I still always seemed to have an orphan or two staying with me until I could find a proper placement for them.
Life & Change:
We've all heard it before. All the one liners about how "Life is change, growth is optional. Nothing ever remains the same. Events cause change, whether we want it or not" ... I went through a divorce and sadly learned about the other side of rescue from the four Akita babies who were placed in new homes as a result of that divorce. I still had Saki and my blind girl Shiya (Ch. Sherisan Ichiban Shiyawase) and was so grateful to have been able to keep them with me. Fortunately I had many Akita friends and was able to quickly place my dogs in good homes and move forward with rebuilding my life.
Time passed and we aged together. I never got to say goodbye to Saki who was nearly 13 when he passed quietly in his sleep one evening. Shiya followed him less than 30 days later and I still believe she died of a broken heart when her sun and stars left us. At the ripe old age of 35 I found myself alone.
People who have never been part of an Akita's life will think I am either pitiful or crazy, but I think that Akita people will "get" what I am about to say. I believe nobody understands "alone" until they have experienced the loss of those who have given unconditional love, protection and life lessons. Loss of my two two Akita family members left me about as alone as it gets I think. These two amazing dogs were with me through thick and thin and suddenly, in less than 30 days, they were both gone.
Time passed. Eventually the gaping hole left by Saki and Shiya's passing hurt only if I touched it. During this time I continued to do rescue but my life was somehow separate from my heart ... I placed dogs and I loved them, but I didn't let them into that quiet place. They went to good homes and did well.
My life was again livable, and finally I resolved it was time to heal that part of me where I had previously found peace and love. I believe in a higher power and that we all have lessons to learn to help us grow. I decided it was time to venture out of the shell I had built around my heart. I was working 3 jobs to make ends meet, alone and grieving the loss of my two best friends. I knew that when it was time, my next Akita would find me.
Apparently a higher power thought so too. Through a series of “curious events” I very shortly ended up with an Akita puppy from a breeder in Las Vegas who remembered seeing Saki in the obedience ring. That puppy was Tonka, and about 3 years later came Echo, a quiet female who looked like a carbon copy of Tonka. We did obedience work and quietly did Akita and cat rescue.
Life moved on and more changes came into my life. Tonka and Echo had never been around kids much, so when I became a foster mom I knew I’d have to watch the dogs closely to ensure all of us were up to the challenge of raising a child.
Our foster daughter arrived at the age of 15 months, and to say the first 15 months of her life had been difficult would be an understatement. Kristen was born with acute spinal bifida; she had surgery when she was 2 days old but did not receive the necessary physical therapy following surgery. At the age of 15 months, her little legs had atrophied, she could not yet sit up by herself and also had nerve damage to her right side; doctors felt it was unlikely she would ever walk, feed herself or do most of the things we take for granted every day.
Although not yet a toddler, one could tell that in her short life Kris had the sadness of having been a child of indifference; she knew she had not been loved and valued. This little gift from God looked upon her world through the saddest little eyes I have ever seen. She had learned that her life was more safe when nobody noticed her. She didn’t laugh, she didn’t cry. She just watched the world with the eyes of a wounded soul.
Being ever quiet meant she would sit in a wet diaper or dirty diaper without crying. Little Kris, having past experience with people, knew she had reason to be frightened of people and pretty much wanted nothing to do with me or Bill at first. But knowing nothing about dogs, Kris seemed to bond with Tonka almost immediately.
The first night Kris was in the house, Tonka moved into her bedroom and never moved out. This baby girl had been so badly treated that she was nearly 2 years old before we heard her cry. She'd learned very early if you were quiet people might not notice you.
When Kristen would wake up, she'd lay in bed until you went to her. She would lay with a dirty diaper and never make a sound; she didn't play and she wouldn't reach for anything...ever. But she had the best advocate in the world ... an Akita named Tonka.
Forget nursery monitors. When children don’t move and don’t make any noise, the monitor has nothing to report. If it hadn't been for Tonka, the self-appointed Akita nanny, a monitor would never have known when she was awake or wet or dirty ...but that Akita boy was on the job and needed no monitors. No matter how I'd listen and look in, he was always the first to tell me when Kris was awake or needed help in the night. Tonka the best nanny ever and he didn't tolerate his baby in wet or dirty diapers. And by golly, the moment that child was awake he wanted her out of bed and on the floor where he could take care of her. The instant her diaper was wet or dirty, he wanted it changed and he didn’t mind at all waking me in the middle of the night to change a sleeping baby’s diaper! Clearly there would be no diaper rash on Tonka’s watch!
If there is one thing Akitas understand, it is unconditional love and it was given to Kris. No words were exchanged, but that I cannot count the nights I went in to check the baby and found her fast asleep with one little hand outside the crib firmly clenching a large Akita ear while he sat quietly waiting for her to relax so he could lay down. Attempting to remove her little hand would elicit a warning rumble that told me very clearly Tonka had the entire situation under control and was not looking for any assistance with his baby.
Bath time was always interesting in a small bathroom with me and baby accompanied by a 120# lifeguard who monitored all activity with a seriousness that would suggest we were adrift on the Atlantic in January.
Kristen's little legs had atrophied because she had not gotten the PT (physical therapy) she needed after her spinal surgery (at 2 days of age) but Tonka hadn't spoken with the experts and didn't know about atrophy or "hopeless"; he just knew he wanted his kid moving.
Tonk started out by laying beside her on the floor and then when she started clinging to him and his collar, he started inching slowly along on his belly. Within two months she was starting to try to crawl, not very well, but she was beginning to move forward on her own, under his watchful eye and gentle encouragement. Impossible progress made because of an Akita’s love for his little girl.
That summer we went to a friend's house and Tonka swam with Kris, towing her across the pool with her little life jacket and her legs streaming out behind. That was the first time I heard her laugh.
We went for walks and ...Tonka hated the stroller... so I put his harness on him and Kris rode Tonk ... at first one of us would hold her on him as we walked. Once she could sit up by herself, she quickly learned about balance and how to hold on with her little hands, then she started using her legs to grip. She was so little that for the first year or so, she rode him pretty much everywhere we went (now I have to tell you, a child riding an Akita does tend to stop traffic and start conversations in the most unlikely places).
I guess it's no surprise Kris took her first steps hanging on to Tonka's collar. And nobody was prouder of their child than that Akita. By the time Kris was 28 months, she was walking with his gentle assistance and by the time she was 3 he had her running, not well and not like other children, but certainly beyond any expectation the “experts” had for her physical development.
Kris started playing soccer when she was nearly 5 and I don't know who found the practices more stressful ... me or Tonka because he wasn't allowed on the field with her. The first time Kris got knocked down, he dragged me the entire length of the field, straight down the center, to get to her. He was really annoyed because I couldn't run fast enough and had set my heels to try to stop him … so we dug great furrows where he dragged me the length of the pee wee soccer field – it was like being on the water skis from hell.
So much for obedience training, that all went right out the window when he thought his baby was in trouble. “Akita on the field” became a regular call during practice because compared to the Akita nanny, I as Mom was not even in the picture.
It’s probably just as well that Tonka did not live to see Kris grow and join a competitive club soccer team. I don’t think he could have watched quietly as his baby grew into a scrappy little defender who gives as good as she gets on the field …but then she is part Akita I guess.
Never sick a day in his life, Tonka had his 10th birthday physical and blood work when Kris was 6 and the vet said "I wish I was this healthy"....and two weeks later he became deathly ill one night and went into shock almost immediately with massive internal bleeding.
An emergency exploratory surgery found him riddled with cancer. I don't know why nothing showed up in the physical but I am grateful that he was sick for less than 24 hours. His condition was inoperable and we euthanized him immediately. I thought I'd torn out my heart.
If we were heartbroken, Kristen was devastated and inconsolable by the lost of her first and best friend. Today, 11 years later, Kris still keeps his ashes in her room with a picture of the two of them together. Never has anyone made such a difference in any child's life. What he did for our family I have not the words to adequately express, but an Akita’s love was a memory that touches the soul.
Echo Takes Over:
An interesting aside... Echo was Tonka's daughter and we always referred to her as our "idiot dog" because she'd been so very sllllllooooooooooowwwww to house train and even slower to teach anything else. I'd never met a more loveable but witless dog, which is so very NOT LIKE AN AKITA.
She acted like jumbo toy poodle – that’s truly the only way I can describe her behavior. Bounce. Yap. Bounce. Yap. It was reincarnation of a perky cheerleader or somebody’s toy poodle.
Echo was a gorgeous Akita bitch who was always happy as a clam with all the wild enthusiasm of a Labrador retriever but with absolutely no sign of any brain activity. The only thing Echo cared about in this world was Tonka and they were a tightly bonded pair; he was ever the serious, indulgent Alpha and she was always the bouncy big girl who looked to him for guidance.
The day Tonka died, Echo moved from her dog bed in my room into Kristen's room. Overnight Echo stepped up and became an Akita that would make Tonka proud.
Echo wasn't Tonka but Echo grieved with an unconsolable little girl and helped Kris work through the tremendous loss of her first and best friend. And I believe had Echo not felt responsible for Kristen, she would have followed Tonka to the other side very shortly after his death. She knew she was needed and that it was not yet her time.
Five years later Echo told us it was her time to cross the bridge and join Tonka. Echo too had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer; she fought the good fight and we agreed that as long as she had quality of life and wanted to fight, we'd be there for her. The last two of those five years I believe she hung in there for Kristen but finally she told us when she was ready. It was again time for another sad goodbye and to ease her passage over the Rainbow Bridge.
Not our first Akitas, certainly not our last, not famous show dogs, but Saki, Tonka and Echo epitomize the spirit, intelligence, unconditional love and dignity found in every Akita. So this is why there is a Blue Moon Akita Rescue.
I am forever grateful to my Akitas for their many gifts to me and my family. I will do Akita rescue as long as there are Akitas who are sitting in shelters waiting to die because they are “unwanted."
My love of and gratitude to the Akita breed is a subject about which I could write for far longer than anyone would care to read.
The story you have read is really our story. Kristen is our daughter and Kris is now a senior at Regis University in Denver, CO. Tonka was an AKC registered dog of the old Akita Tani lines and was registered as "This Ain't No Tonka Toy" and Echo was his daughter. She was AKC registered as "Tonka's Silver Echo". When I get my scanner back on line, I will add pictures to their story.
Thanks so much to Roger W., his Akita Roz and her partner Koga for their unfailing encouragement in getting me to put this story back online and, particularly, to Roger for proof reading.