Director Lasse Hallstrom’s movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” went straight to DVD back in March, despite its compellingcanine subject, the director’s previous hits (“My Life as a Dog”),and an impressive all-star cast of human actors including Richard Gere, Joan Allen, and Jason Alexander.The movietells the moving story of New England college professor Parker Wilson (Gere) who takes in a foundling Akita pup.
The dog grows up to be the professor’s constant companion, walking him to the train station every morning and returning each evening to wait patiently for his beloved master’s return. One day, Professor Wilson dies while a work, but Hachi continues to wait at the station for many years. His steadfast vigil makes him a local celebrity, until finallyHachi meets his own death.
It’s a story the Japanese know well. The real-life Hachiko, on whom the filmmakers modeled Hachi,is immortalized with a bronze statue at Tokyo’s Shibuya train station, where he died in 1934 after waiting nine years for his favorite person, Professor Ueno. The monument is a popular meeting place, and aworthy destination for dog-loving travelers to visit.
“Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” is sure to win many fans tonight, when itgets its U.S. TV premiere on Hallmark Channel at 9 p.m. ET/PT, 8 C. But eye-opening stories of dogged devotion are not strictly scripted for the screen; sometimes, history shows us that nothing makes for more heartwarming tales than real dogs inreal life.
In 1936, a mutt named Shep began a vigil at the train station in Fort Benton, Montana, after watching the casket of his beloved human loaded onto an eastbound train. Legend has it that the man Shep waited for was a sheepherder named Ray Castle, but according to the Montana Historical Society, there’s no hard evidence to back this up.
What we know for sure is that Shep took up residence at the station, hopefully scanning the crowds of passengers on the platform, until his death in 1942 (he was hit by a train). He got a hero’s funeral, at which taps were sounded. And in 1994, a statue was erected in Shep’s honor; it was created by the late Bob Scriver, who also sculpted the monument to legendary showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody in Cody, Wyoming.
Meanwhile, here in New York, my friend Stephanie Mauer lived with her longtime boyfriend Don, their cats, and their pit bull, Victor. Stephanie had a special bond with Victor the pit, whose pet names were Vicky and Victoria Louisa. She’d often show off photos of her boy, bragging about the wonderfully considerate thingsVicky did – like the time he felt stomach upset coming on, so he thoughtfully jumped in the bathtub to get sick, making cleanup easier on Stephanie.
Tough, whip-smart Stephanie was as fearless as a pit bull,so I’ll never forget how scared she sounded the last time I spoke to her by telephone. She was crying, and she said,”I don’t want to die.” After a brave fight, Stephanielosttocancer in2002. Her boyfriend took Victor for a walk, stopping by a funeral home to make final arrangements. As he was tying Victor’s leash outside, a funeral home staffer came out and said the dog was welcome to come in.
Once inside, Victor caught a familiar scent. He draggedStephanie’s boyfrienddown a flight of stairs and came to a halt outside a closed door. Then he went wild: barking, shrieking, and trying to tear the door down. Stephanie’s body was on the other side of that door. Poor Victor had to be carried out of the funeral home; about a month later, the otherwise healthy dog died, apparently of a broken heart.
Stories like Hachiko’s and Victor’s are “universal stories of love,” says “Hachi” producerVicky Wong, for whom getting this movie made was a true labor of love (she’s a dog owner herself). “This kind of story is so compelling that when it’s told, people get teary eyes – even people who don’t like dogs! I really believe that animals are higher beings,”Wong adds. “They are very spiritual, and they grieve for their loved ones, but because they can’t speak, they learn how to intuitively communicatein a much more profound way than humans do.”
Have you experienced a true story of dogged devotion? Please share it in the comments.