The Plight of the Tosa Inu

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 at 7:06 PM
The Plight of the Tosa Inu by Emma Giering
The Tosa Inu weighs roughly 79-130 pounds and is of Japanese origin.

This past winter break, I was casually scrolling through the online photographs of our local animal shelters’ most recent rescues. There were lovely dogs with big paws and quiet cats perched on carpeted lofts a plenty. But there were also some rather upsetting posts that I came across, which, of course, I couldn’t just keep quiet about.

The Tosa Inu is a massive, glorious, behemoth of a dog. It is best compared to a Mastiff in appearance; it stands about three feet tall, weighs around 79-130 pounds and is notorious for its stately ginger coat. What is sometimes swept under the rug is that the Tosa Inu is a dog that is sold in Korean marketplaces, not as a pet, but a commodity — an item that will eventually be set before a family at a dinner. The Tosa Inu is one of many dogs that are sold as a commodity in East Asian countries, and their suffering is often disregarded because, after all, it is not a reality that America has to face directly.

The Tosas’ suffering is considered to be intangible because American shelters struggle as it is to keep the strays and surrenders well-fed, vaccinated and ready for adoption. This, at least, seems to be the stance of my hometown humane society operation, “Clarion PUPS.” I came across a poster on Clarion PUPS’ Facebook page on Monday evening as I was scrolling through my feed. The poster read, “103 Tosa Inus imported from Korea from a dog meat farm by HSI (Humane Society International) and dumped in our shelters, 103 Homeless American dogs will be killed while the Korean dogs will be rehabilitated, and HSI has the audacity to say that American breeders are the problem.” In the middle of the poster, a photo of a caged Tosa Inus appears.

I immediately thought this poster was bogus, as I highly doubted any research has been done validating that “103 Tosa Inus kill 103 American dogs,” and that this poster was created by some disgruntled humane society worker whose philosophy on rescuing dogs was beginning to feel like something Donald Trump would endorse a la: “We gotta stop the Tosa Inus from coming to our country, they’re killing innocent American dogs.” When I commented on the Clarion PUPS page asking for this claim to be validated, I was told that the poster was factual by one of the page admins and that there was no way to take the issue of the Tosa Inus slaughter into consideration in the U.S.

Being the dog lover that I am, I of course countered this notion, informing the worker there are billions of dollars in grant money for the non-profit sector which could easily be allotted (if effort was made) to bring the Tosa Inus to the relatively safe haven of American shelters. But I found I was continually admonished. No matter how many alternative solutions I suggested, the Clarion PUPS worker was adamant there was no room in American shelters for the Tosa. I was repeatedly told the Tosa is an aggressive breed that would surely have a difficult time being adopted due to its temperament and its powerful physique.

When I brought up the point that, had these dogs been Pitbulls or Rottweilers, and I had said they were practically unadoptable, I would surely be attacked from dog-lovers around the world. “It’s unfair to stereotype a breed; you’re just feeding into cultural hysteria.” But apparently, being an advocate for dogs that are packed into a single crate with legs spread everywhere and muzzles brutally tied with fraying twine is unrealistic and ill-informed.

After the PUPS worker informed me that they were a former “AKC breeder of champions,” I was even more flabbergasted that they were still using the whole “there isn’t enough room in our shelters” spiel to counter my suggestion that through awareness and proper funding, we could perhaps end the suffering the Tosa and other breeds roasted publically over a pit of fire. Breeding creates even more opportunity for shelter dogs to suffer and ultimately face euthanasia, because the demand for a specialty bred Chihuahua trumps the desire for a mix of unknown origin. The hypocrisy at this point in the online conversation was laughable.

The Clarion PUPs worker then began to post the characteristics of the Tosa in the thread. They claimed the Tosa was aggressive and difficult to handle, cumbersome and not a breed of which the general public should have access. When I did my own research, it occurred to me the worker was providing very one-sided information on this breed that needs all the support it can get. In fact, Tosas, according to one website, are “laid-back sofa-connoisseurs until switched on.”

Tosas have short-coats for easy maintenance, fantastic watchdog abilities, are generally mildmannered unless aroused, and compared to Mastiffs are more agile and responsive to training. As far as I’m concerned, the Tosa sounds like almost any other dog — capable of being loyal and man’s best friend if given the proper attention and environment. I googled images of Tosa Inus and their owners and found hundreds of photos of children laying on them, riding them, and holding their massive paws in their hands. It seems to me the information the Clarion PUPS worker tried to provide was biased and provided with the intention of only furthering the exclusionary rhetoric they use to keep American dogs alive and other dogs whimpering in malnourished horror. I left videos and photos of the Tosa in Korea and the Tosa in America on the Facebook thread in hopes that other members of the Clarion community might scroll through the comments and open their hearts and minds to the plight of dogs whose stories are so often overlooked because they’re not the problems of America.

The Clarion PUPS worker told me I should stop pretending that everything is “Shangri-La,” and recognize the reality that American dogs are being euthanized for the Tosa Inus’ rescue. I told the worker it was better to work toward “Shangrila” than to turn a blind eye on the suffering of any living creature. I’m sure some relocation efforts are made when HSI rescues dogs from the meat industry, but there truly isn’t a number statistically relevant concerning the kill-rate. Instead, we have posters that demonize an innocent breed of dog instead of the improper funding that doesn't meet the needs of animals that are neglected, abused, or surrendered.

When I went to bed that night, I was satisfied I had voiced my opinion and that other community members had even plunged into the comment section and agreed with some of my counterpoints. I was hopeful more people might have the chance to read the online dialogue that got heated at times. Sadly, this was not the case. When I looked at the comment section again, everything had been erased, nearly three hours of commentary completely gone.

I have donated time and money to Clarion PAWS and Clarion PUPS for years, and was very frustrated to see this sort of filter being placed on my right as a citizen and supporter to state my own perspective. The post was also pinned to the top of their page, meaning the presumably inaccurate poster was now the first thing anyone who comes to the page will see, thus furthering resentment of the Tosa Inu for merely escaping a grotesque death.

When I directly messaged Clarion PUPS telling the organization I planned to write this editorial because my prior grievances were overtly squelched, I was only more disappointed in how they handled the situation. Simply because I had offered an alternative perspective to the issue I was told that “my opinions aren’t appropriate.”

I used to love supporting anyone who welcomed diversity and inclusion, but that doesn’t seem to be the philosophy or ethical approach of Clarion PUPS. They’ve now lost an advocate. Hopefully others will urge their local shelters to reconsider their stance if it rivals that of my community’s shelter.

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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