The Amazing Animal Trainers and Akitas: A Cautionary Tale

 

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Boone’s Animals For Hollywood has been training animals all over the world for over thirty years.  Boone Narr’s reputation with producers and animal groups is sterling, and his uncanny ability to connect with dogs is amazing to watch!   I observed how Boone placed his concern for the dog’s well being over everything else, and he worked closely with the American Humane Association to this end.  

Several dogs were needed to portray Hachi over the ten year period. Based on our criteria, Boone found three adult Akitas named Forrest, Leyla and Chico to play the part of the adult Hachi.  They were show dogs from all around the country, and blood-related.  We needed multiple adults due to the long working hours, and for scenes that required specific personalities.  Leyla was called the ‘kissing dog’ due to her affectionate nature.  Forrest was reserved and we used him in more serious scenes.

People have asked me why we chose an Akita to play Hachi. They are known to be very independent thinking, and even our animal trainers had never worked with the breed before.  We felt that as the original Hachiko was a Japanese Akita – to honor him and his story, we had to stay true to his lineage.  There was never any question of the dog being anything but an Akita.

Our puppies grew very quickly, so we were constantly replacing them over the several month long shoot. Due to this size issue, we decided to use the smaller Shiba puppies instead of Akitas.  Lasse was amazed at their ability to take instruction.  Having all the dogs and puppies on the set fostered an unusually easy and warm atmosphere.

Richard recounts his first meeting with the dogs. “It was nerve-wracking because they are very independent and they either like you or they don’t, and we couldn’t find Akitas that were trained animals. About four weeks before shooting the trainer said, ’It’s time for you to meet the dogs’.  It was a decisive moment, because if we didn’t get along, we had to find three other adult dogs and start from scratch again.”

“I actually met the dogs at the train station in the movie and the trainer said, ’Don’t look at the dogs, just ignore them’.  The next day I could look at them.  The third day, I was sitting talking to the trainers and Layla came over and put her head right on my lap.  And from that moment on I was part of the family.”

“We created situations that would allow them to behave in any way they wanted to behave.  And sometimes we would go through a day and have quite a few magic moments which would just evolve.  And then we’d have times when nothing would happen, they didn’t feel like it, so we definitely were at their mercy in making this film.  We knew it was going to be about the dogs, it definitely wasn’t about me.”

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AKITAS:  A CAUTIONARY TALE

From the start, the American Kennel Club (AKC) was concerned that moviegoers would run out to get Akitas, then later abandon them at shelters.  As a result, the AKC invited me to one of their annual dog shows, and I was able to personally meet with many dedicated breeders.  I shared how this film depicts life as seen through a dog’s eyes, and how I hoped it would inspire viewers to treat all animals in a more humane and respectful manner.

I believe that one must adopt animals with a strong sense of responsibility, similar to adopting a human child.  Ownership of a pet should never be taken lightly.

To protect against potential spontaneous adoptions, I worked closely with the AKC, Akita clubs and the American Humane Association to craft a disclaimer at the end of our film.  We cautioned that Akitas are not for everyone, and perhaps more suited for experienced dog owners.

I’ve never had an Akita, but I have a friend who owned two Akitas at separate times.  They each had aggression problems towards other animals as well as individuals outside the immediate family.  Akitas are extremely intelligent, beautiful, loyal animals, and potential owners must be confident that they can handle these independent thinking dogs.



AMERICAN HUMANE ASSOCIATION PROTECTS ANIMALS

 

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The American Humane Association believes that all animals should be treated humanely throughout their lives.  Animals appearing in film and television are testaments to the human-animal bond through their interaction with their trainers and with cast and crew members, and ultimately through their effect on audiences. 

American Humane’s mission is to protect these animals and ensure that they are treated with the respect and compassion they deserve.

The American Humane Association wanted to ensure that our Akitas adults and Shiba puppies were comfortable and safe during the entire shoot.  They are the only organization authorized to issue the “No Animals Were harmed” end-credit disclaimer, and they set the standard in the humane treatment of animals.  They protected our animal stars from any potential harm, and it was a pleasure having them on our set!

UPDATE ON HACHI STAR “FORREST”

 

By Kathy Coffman, Baycrest Akitas, breeder/owner of Forrest 

I kept Forrest as my pick from this litter and he lived with us until he was almost a year old when I met Joe.
Joe lived close to us, he had just lost his male Akita to old age and was looking for another male Akita.  When I met him, I knew right away he would be the perfect home for Forrest.  I believe that I told him this dog was so special to me that I reserved the right to repossess him anytime the mood struck me.  Joe knew Ed and I loved this dog so much, but Joe was Akitaless and the first day he and his family met Forrest- we knew it was a perfect match.

In very atypical Akita fashion, Forrest is a very ho-hum kind of dog, nothing fazes him, little excites him-he just takes everything in stride.  As with most family dogs, Forrest has his own little boy to play and sleep with every night, Joe’s son Nick.
 
Forrest accompanies Joe to work every day, sleeping under his desk.  His main job is to greet clients as they enter the office.  Once properly greeted, Forrest returns to assume his position under Joe’s desk. Forrest does not fetch either.
 
Once Forrest came home from Hollywood and the Rhode Island set, he settled right back into his daily routine.
He is a much loved family dog with a very normal lifestyle, and is truly a once in a lifetime dog.
 
Joe, Ed, Forrest and I are complete and total supporters of Akita Rescue.  We are always striving to help them in any way we can.  I know Forrest would greatly appreciate it if you could add a link to our rescue group (Akita Rescue of Western New York).

We had many fears this movie would popularize the breed and put them in huge demand thus beginning a feeding and breeding frenzy for puppy mills and more unscrupulous breeders.  One saving grace for our breed is that many many people are seeking Akitas that look like Hachi (in the movie) that are “white faced with red coloring”, and I am one of a few breeders in the US who strives to produce those “true Japanese” marking patterns.  I only produce one to three litters every four years or so and screen the potential homes very carefully but fear others might not.

I applaud you and any one connected with this movie on how our breed was portrayed and was VERY VERY impressed with the “making of Hachi” option on the DVD-I found that as good as the movie itself.  Thank you so much for including it!
 
I preferred to look at the movie as an opportunity to publicize Akita rescues, as Hachi was homeless and I sincerely believe that the viewing public should look to rescue an Akita if they are considering this breed.
 
The Akita rescue we support and adore is Akita Rescue of Western New York (don’t let the name fool you they rescue dogs from every single state in the country).  Their website is http://www.akitarescuewny.com.  Visit the site and read the heart wrenching and heartwarming stories about the thousands of Akitas they’ve saved.  It is a very good read.  They also have a charitable status if any of your contacts would have the need.
 
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can ever do for you or help you with!
You have been so kind to our beloved dog/dogs and I know there is a special place in heaven for you.
 
Kathy

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