Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“Okinawa is such a beautiful place, not just the ocean and scenery and culture, but the people. I’ve been treated well and taken care of by many people here in what has become ‘My Hawai‘i.’” — Colin Sewake
This past February, our family bid our dog Hana a “Happy Fourth Barkday!”
With this year being the “Year of the Dog” according to the Chinese calendar, I thought I’d tell you about our family’s experiences with man’s best friend in Okinawa.
Since moving to Yomitan, we’ve taken care of four dogs.
Our first dog, a white mixed-terrier stray that I named “Kea” (“white” in Hawaiian language) showed up in our backyard in 2004 while I was grilling. She was pretty well behaved and didn’t seem to want to leave. I felt bad that she didn’t seem to have a home to return to, so I convinced Keiko, who prefers cats, that we should keep her and take care of her.
In the spring of 2005, Keiko’s co-worker’s dog — a purebred Shiba — gave birth to three puppies. We couldn’t turn down the offer to take home one of our dream dogs for free. Koa, which means “warrior” in Hawaiian language, took only a few months to grow to almost full size. He was also a pretty rough dog. Unfortunately, Kea didn’t like the newcomer and found a way to escape after her tolerance level was tested one too many times.
In December 2009, however, Koa had a run-in with a poisonous Okinawa habu snake. The habu had chased a mouse into our backyard and got into a tangle with Koa, biting him over his right eye. Sadly, Koa did not survive the injury — he died three days later, just three months short of his fourth birthday.
I’ve always enjoyed the love and joy that a dog brings to a family, so, I convinced Keiko to let me adopt another dog. A few weeks later, I visited the canal outlet area of Mihama American Village. A nonprofit organization had brought over several dogs and puppies for adoption that weekend. Our daughter Mizuki picked out the same dog that had caught my eye. She was one of five female puppies.
We brought our new dog, Mari, home and raised her until she died unexpectedly in October 2014 from a blood disorder after having just turned 5 years old.
I again convinced Keiko to let our house be filled with the affection of a loyal, four-legged furry friend. One of my American neighbors told me about Doggies, Inc. (http://www.doggiesinc.org), a nonprofit organization that helps U.S. military and civilian personnel adopt dogs from the Okinawa Pet Control Facility in the Ozato area of Nanjo-shi (city) on the southern end of the island. The facility is run by the Okinawan government. It typically gives owners five days to contact them regarding their missing dog — the unclaimed ones are euthanized every Friday morning.
After reviewing some pictures on Facebook, I saw a dog that had a friendly and tame appearance, so I contacted Doggies, Inc. on a Tuesday and scheduled a visit to see the dog on Thursday. Keiko got home from work a little early, so we picked up Mizuki, who had gotten out of school early, and drove to Ozato via the kösokudöro, or expressway.
Upon arriving at the facility, we were led upstairs to look at the dog I had inquired about from the Facebook posting. As we approached the cage she was being held in, she immediately wagged her tail in happiness and let me pet her through the small openings in her cage. The dry erase board on top of the cage read “Nago,” so I assume she was found up north in the Nago area. The Okinawan staff estimated that the dog was about four to five months old. I knew instantly that this dog was a good match for our family — Keiko and Mizuki gave their thumbs-up, too.
The Doggies, Inc. coordinator approved our adoption right away and said we could take the dog home, so off we drove with our new family member after taking a photo for the organization’s Facebook page. Mizuki had already picked out a name for her: “Hana,” which means “flower” in Japanese. Maybe we should have named her “Lucky,” because she had been held at the facility for two weeks, which is way longer than the normal holding time. In fact, she was scheduled to be put down the next day.
But Hana was now our dog.
On the way home, I stopped at the doubutsu byouin veterinary clinic in Zakimi, which isn’t too far from our house, so that Hana could get her initial check-up and vaccinations right away. When I asked the veterinarian about her age, she told me that Hana was older than the four to five months old that Doggies Inc. had estimated. The vet could tell because all of her baby teeth were gone.
The veterinarian established Feb. 19, 2015, the day we adopted Hana and took her to the clinic, as her one-year birthdate.
For the first few weeks, Hana fit into the doggie bed that we had bought for her. But she quickly outgrew it. Like most other animals, she doesn’t like loud sounds and erratic moving objects, so she takes refuge on the staircase whenever I turn on our Roomba vacuum cleaner to do some housework.
Hana enjoys going with me to the Nagahama Dam Park nearby. If no one is around, I let her off her leash so she can run. Walking in the stream that flows from the dam is a treat, especially during the summertime when the temperature and humidity are really high.
I hope Hana can enjoy many years of love in our home. But, next year, 2019, she will have to share the house space with a “boar person” — that is, the owner of the house, who hails from Wahiawä.
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, O‘ahu, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. He met his future wife, Keiko, within a month and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin retired from the Air Force and, recently from the Air Force Reserves. He now works as a customer service representative for Hotel Sun Palace Kyuyokan in Naha. Colin and Keiko have two teenaged children and make their home in Yomitan.