I’ve been writing about Katana in my blogs for so many years now, I can’t remember if I’ve written about how we came to be united as human and fur child. It’s not an overly remarkable story, but it is OUR story. Whether I have or have not, let this be the official tale…
It was January of 2011, I was 21 and I had just begun dating my (now ex) girlfriend. I’d known her for years, but the relationship was less than two weeks old, and for some reason we had gone about 25 miles outside of town to visit an Academy Sports store. For the life of me, I cannot remember why we went so far out of our locale just to visit that specific Academy Sports, but we did. What I do recall however, was leaving Academy empty handed and heading back towards home.
As we drove through Pensacola I was given a minor heart attack when my girlfriend suddenly screamed and frantically leaned over me while pointing to my almost immediate right, “Oh, there’s a Pet Land! We have to go!” Fearing an emergency, I almost went into evasive maneuvers thinking someone was about to hit us. Instead, I ended up going into emergency re-route maneuvers as I tried to cross a busy lane of traffic and merge into the turning lane we were already halfway past. Suffice it to say, we made it.
As a child I’d always enjoyed pet stores, especially the reptile sections. I would go in and ask to handle all the snakes, play with the ferrets, and let as many exotic birds perch on my arms and shoulders as I possibly could. I was a pet store employee’s worst nightmare; I always had to look with my hands. Now, as a somewhat mature adult… not much has changed. I still look with my hands (**not at random women though**).
I hit up all my usual pet store suspects; the ball pythons, the corn snakes, the king snakes, the bearded dragons, the uromastyx, the stinky ferrets and the nippy parrots. I was in “Biophilia” heaven (Don’t know what that is? Look it up. It’s a cool theory. Not creepy).
Lastly, I walked along the clear wall displaying all the puppies. I’d never bought a dog from a pet store, and wholly (no longer) do not support the practice of those who do. Although the employees will tell you their puppies come from reputable breeders; more than half the time… they do not (as I will expand upon later). Anyways, as I was saying, I was walking along the wall of puppies, wishing I could take every one of them home; when I noticed a little fox looking creature completely isolated in its own display box, probably three empty display boxes away from the next nearest puppy.
As I walked up to the adorable creature, it leaped up against the glass on its hind legs and began pawing at me. I couldn’t summon an employee fast enough to get it out and bring it to me to play with. Several minutes later I was in a “play booth” with the cute creature, as well as my girlfriend.
We stayed in there for more than hour playing with the little dog. I was somewhat familiar with Shiba Inus from past visits to pet stores, but I’d never met one in person, let alone played with one. This little dog was a bundle of high energy – and aggressive energy at that. She was leaping around the booth, gnawing on anything that came near her (including my fingers). She was a complete handful… and I loved it.
Even though I’d built a small connection with this little animal, I knew I was in no place to get a dog at this phase of my life. I was working like crazy and had just moved into a three story house on the water (which consumed a great deal of each paycheck) with a couple other (guy) roommates; a real bachelor pad, even though I wasn’t exactly a bachelor anymore.
Out of curiosity, I asked an employee how much they wanted for her. They responded with, “She’s $1,600, but has been marked down from over $3,000 because she’s been here so long. She’s over 12 weeks old.” This about broke my heart that she had basically fallen into the “unwanted puppy” category. “With a price tag like that, who would buy her?” I retorted. “You’d be surprised. We usually sell them real quick at the full price. She’s just really hyper and nips too much – people don’t like that,” was the female employee’s reply. “Well, I’ll give you $500 for her right now,” was all I said. This was about every last cent of my disposable income for the entire month; and the month had just begun. I fully expected the woman to tell me to “take a hike” (ironic, I know), but instead she said, “Let me check with my boss.”
Now to be perfectly honest with you, I made that offer under the assumption that I was NOT going to get this dog. I knew in my heart that I shouldn’t get one, and if I did, I was in no place to afford or take care of one properly. Throwing out the offer had been almost a joke, albeit a joke to make me feel better about leaving the pet store empty handed. Had I had $1,600 to spend with some left over… I would have paid the asking price in a heartbeat. Sadly, I was of the mindset that I couldn’t get this dog right now no matter how bad I wanted her.
A few minutes later the woman came back to the booth and said, “We’ll take $1,200.” A little surprised, I did the only thing I could do; I stuck to my guns. The only guns I had. “I’m still at $500” I replied nonchalantly. I literally had all my cards on the table. There was no haggling or meeting halfway because I was already “All In.” “Let me ask again,” was the answer I received.
Anxiously I waited for the woman’s return, and after a little bit longer than her first absence, she did. “My boss says he can do $700.” This seemed like an incredible deal compared to the $1,600 we’d started at. The only problem was I didn’t have $700. I sort of felt like I was negotiating the price of a car or something. One last time I made my final offer… “Five hundred bucks and she’s out the door right now,” I said in my best and most serious business voice. Once again the woman trotted off to the back room.
At this point I was nearly sweating with excitement and anticipation. Never in my wildest day dreams within the past hour or so did I see myself possibly becoming the caretaker of an adorable new puppy. More time went by. What felt like a lifetime went by. There was no way either of us would budge off the next offer that was made. Then she was back…
The only thing the woman said when our eyes met as she leaned up against the play booth was… “Five Nineteen.” “Five hundred and nineteen dollars?” I said somewhat stupidly, abandoning all of my business like grandeur. This seemed like a very oddly precise number to counter offer with. “Yup.” She replied. I thought about it for a moment; “Do I split hairs over this $19 – or do I pony up and do this deal?” *a couple more seconds passed* “…SOLD!” I exclaimed in what was almost an auctioneer’s bellow. And that as they say… was that. They might also say, “The rest is history.” “They” say a lot of tings.
Katana came home with me that day ,and I named her so later that evening. I picked the name for several reasons, none of them being the superhero of the same name (which I had absolutely no knowledge of at the time). I picked the name “Katana” because it was culturally significant to her breed (Japanese), it was feminine (the name ended with the letter “A”), and it was bad ass (it’s the name of the sword the samurai used! and also like, my opinion of what bad ass is, man). My own logic was undeniable, to me at least.
So it came to pass that Katana lived in a three story beach house on the water full of young men who partied about 4 days out of every week. Katana grew up with another Husky in the house who toughened her up by whipping her tail in play fights all day long, and carrying her around the house by the scruff of her neck and collar. I knew I had a special pup on my hands when she would sit in my lap like a human, with her head and paws resting on the table, watching us play drinking games for hours on end. I’d originally thought I wouldn’t have time for a dog, but I found myself spending every spare second I had with her. Not to mention the fact there was never a dull moment in our house, and she had another dog to play with as well.
That was Katana’s first four months of life with me; non-stop social gatherings of getting endless attention from an ever revolving door of guests. She mellowed out from the nippy little puppy I had first met and became a well mannered, curious, sassy as all hell… affectionate little Shiba Inu.
Four months after she had begun life on the beach with me, we were evicted from our bachelor pad for totally collapsing the first floor ceiling, accidentally burning half the second floor balcony down, and knocking over one of the large palm trees in our driveway, then digging a giant sand pit out back to burn it in. The final nail in the eviction coffin was when one of our unruly (and probably very drunk guests) pulled up the mailboxes of every house on our street and threw them into the canal behind our house. All evidence pointed to us, obviously, since they were all at the bottom of the canal behind our house. To this day I still don’t know who did it. It was quite literally the wildest time of my life, and Katana shared nearly every moment of it with me. How much of it contributed to her overall wonderful demeanor (for a Shiba), I have no idea. Regardless, she is a model citizen of her breed.
Long story short, Katana lived me at my parents house for a little bit, then lived for a couple years at mine and my girlfriend’s house. It was me, my girlfriend, Katana, and my girlfriend’s schizophrenic, epileptic Chihuahua named Louie – all under the same roof. We were one big happy family.
Fast forward several years to a full thru hike with Katana on the Appalachian Trail, plus half a thru hike (for her) on the Pacific Crest Trail. Katana now has only one eye due to losing the other one to Glaucoma. She went blind in her left eye while thru hiking in the southern California desert portion of the PCT. The eye could have been saved if only the first vet I took her to had caught her ailment as actual “Glaucoma.” We could have got her on the proper medication to bring the pressure down, and the vision could have been saved. Unfortunately, that vet, plus two more California vets couldn’t seem to recognize the symptoms of Glaucoma. Katana went blind in that eye.
Within 2 minutes of getting her into her normal vet back in Florida (mid thru hike), she was properly diagnosed with Glaucoma and put on the proper medication. The eye was still bothering her a few weeks later, so it was removed. She has been more or less completely normal since then, but the other eye is pre disposed to Glaucoma and it’s only a matter of time before it flares up. According to her Ophthalmologist, she could end up losing the other eye tomorrow, a month from now, or years from now; either way, the other eye will eventually get it. I dread that day.
So now I administer two eye drops in her remaining eye, twice a day. At first it was a huge burden trying to remember, but now it’s second nature. When Katana sees me approach with the bottle, she sits down and calmly lets me put the drop in; it’s a part of her and my life just like anything else now.
Out of curiosity late last year, I dug up her official paperwork that I received when I got her. I’d never looked at it then, or any other time within the past almost 7 years of our life together. Looking up the name of the breeder and where she came from, I discovered she’d come from one of the worst puppy mills in the entire country. The place had been shut down multiple times before finally being closed permanently in 2015. There had been upwards of 1,200 dogs on the property in various states of health, and everywhere there were burn pits with animal remains in them. As I read through all of this information online, I had tears in my eyes at the thought of my little fur child coming from such a background and environment. Even worse was the thought of her going back there had she not found a home from the pet store (that’s what happens to unsold puppies; they go back where they came from). She would have ended up as a breeder dog, then eventually at the bottom of a burn pit. I could feel nothing but a mixture of intense anger and relief as I gathered her up in my arms after reading the article. I couldn’t help but wonder if she remembered anything of her life before me, or what possibly became of her siblings. I don’t even want to think about it.
So the answer to her Glaucoma at such a young age was more or less answered. Shiba Inus are fairly prone to getting Glaucoma at the ages of 5 to 6 years old, but are more susceptible to it when bad breeding becomes a factor. How does bad breeding become a factor? Bad breeding becomes a factor when puppy mills and bad breeders (aka – less than wonderful human beings) enter the equation.
I will end this little tale of mine and Katana’s past with a constructive and hopefully positive message. That message is: Please stop supporting the puppy mills by buying dogs from big chain pet stores; even small chain pet stores or privately owned pet stores are guilty. You are better off finding dogs from reputable breeders who only keep a few dogs of their own who are loved and cared for as members of their family. It’s not hard to find these types of breeders for any breed of dog you’d like; not to mention they’re usually cheaper than the pet stores and your dog will not be prone to as many health problems due to poor breeding selection, as well as inbreeding. This may sound preachy, but it’s the truth. Sadly, the puppies on display will have to go back where they came from when nobody buys them, but eventually the cycle will stop. I never realized the epidemic that is puppy mills until I did some actual research and found out where my own puppy came from. Never again.
As far as a recent update on Katana goes… she is doing fantastic! We’ve had a few hiccups with her and one of Jessica’s dogs (Fancy), but other than that, she has settled in quite nicely. She is still in my plans to re-hike the CDT next spring, but nothing is set in stone. I plan to get her out on some long section hikes on the AT beforehand, so the success of those will determine her future on the CDT. I truly want for her to continue to see as much as she can before the inevitable happens, but I do not want to be the catalyst for bringing that inevitability on any faster than it has to. We’ll see…
I leave you with a plethora of CatFox photos, giving you a glimpse into a fraction of the life she has been fortunate enough to lead (me too!). Enjoy!