I just watched the movie “Hatchi.” I cried, felt both touched and anguished. The movie is a remake of the Japanese film “Hachikō Monogatari.” (literally “The Tale of Hachiko”) In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During their time together, Hachikō greeted the professor at the end of each day at Shibuya Station. This was their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage during a lecture. He never returned to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachiko_Monogatari)
In the remake with Richard Gere, he is a music professor in the US. The story is the same, however, and that’s the point. This man’s dog loved him so much he never gave up waiting for him. He could not even be persuaded to stay in another home, though the home was warm, the owners loving and patient. Hatch’s heart stayed with his master. He waited for the rest of his life.
The stories I have read about this incredible dog, and many more, have made me wonder about the use of the word “loyalty” that appears over and over in the telling of these wrenching stories. These animals (and they aren’t always dogs) stayed true to the memories and bonds of the people they loved. Some were Beloved pets, thought lost forever, who made their way home, often over unbelievable distances. Silverton Bobby, or Bobby the Wonder Dog, is one of the most famous. He traveled 2,551 miles after being lost on vacation. The family searched desperately but finally had to give up. It took him 6 months, but he made it. There are also several books and movies about Bobby and his journey.
Again, I read the word “loyal” over and over. Loyal, yes, but more than that. These animals had the most profound love for their humans. Love we must not be able to understand because we can’t even name it. Do we realize their love is something far deeper, fiercer than what we experience with other humans? Maybe that’s why we give it another name, a word all of us understands as a measure of character.
The actual definition: Loyal: faithful to one’s sovereign, government, or state: a loyal subject.
2. Faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations: to be loyal to a vow.
3. Faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity: a loyal friend.
4. Characterized by or showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiance, obligations, etc.: loyal conduct.
In doing my research on the loyalty of animals I realized that secretly I had hoped for a loyal husband and partner on so many occasions. What I believed was a loss of love for me was also a lack of loyalty.
My cat, Max, waited 7 months for me to return from my Appalachian adventure. I had tried to get him to stay with friends while I was gone but he hid when I tried to find him. I had the friend with me, and Max had no use for anyone else. My landlord kept an eye out for him, hoping to feed him and be able to send me reports when I checked in. He reported only one possible “Max sighting” while I was gone. I carried a heavy burden of guilt along with my backpack. The day after I returned home Max appeared at the door, during a rainstorm, crying to be let in. It was a tearful reunion and I will never be able to explain the relief, amazement and wonder I felt, still feel, when I realize Max had waited for me all that time. I have tried to imagine what his life was like through that fall, winter and spring. I have never felt so loved in my life. Ever. No one has ever made me feel that I was that important to them.
And it’s because of Max that I get up every day, that I have continued to struggle to make my own life. I can’t let him down.
Say what you want. He’s just a cat. Hatchi was just a dog. They are just animals. But they are creatures capable of love and loyalty almost beyond our comprehension, capable of stunning depths of emotion.
I saw this movie right after one of my Mercy For Animals newsletters. NatGeo has aired a documentary about the desperate levels of cruelty in the corporate farming industry. I watch these videos just often enough to remind me why I am vegan.They sicken me, and I am ashamed to be part of the human race after I see them. I don’t support the industry, I donate what I can, when I can, and I tell people about what I’ve seen when I can.
I read about animals’ love and loyalty, how they are capable of infinite forgiveness and compassion toward us and each other. Then I think about the levels of cruelty we often subject them to, saying “they’re just animals.” I wish we were able to learn from them. I wish we were able to love with their purity. I feel little hope for the human race but I believe animals will be here long after we are gone. At least, I hope they will be here after we’re gone. They deserve this wonderful, beautiful place. I’m not sure we, as a species, really do.