Learn loyalty from dogs

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readApr 19, 2018

Learn loyalty from dogs

Source : Google photo of Hachiko the dog at the Shibuya station,Tokyo

There was a man who took the train every day at the Shibuya station in Tokyo while his dog waited for him the whole day at the station for him to return in the evening and showed great delight when he returned. Together they went away happily. People got used to seeing the gentleman who was a professor and his dog at the station every day and some greeted them.

One day the gentleman failed to return for some reason while the dog patiently waited for him but the evening came and then the night but he did not return. The dog waited there day after day and night after night for his master, whimpered and cried due to hunger and grief but would not budge and would not take any food from anyone.

People were amazed at the extreme loyalty of the dog to his master but could not help the dog in anyway except to watch him slowly die of hunger. The news of the loyalty of the dog spread through the media and there arose a clamor for the dog to be remembered in a special way so money was collected and a beautiful statue of the dog was erected in front of the Shibuya station that you can see today.

We have all heard of such loyalty in dogs and admire but it is very hard to find such loyalty in human beings. I have seen photos of dogs lying on the graves of their masters and shedding tears and refusing to eat or move away until they died but can you imagine any human being doing so? Can you imagine anyone not eating and dying, doing so out of loyalty and grief?

The mafia people ask for absolute loyalty to them and punish those disloyal with death but that is not true loyalty because it is demanded with the consequence of violence so the fear is involved. Now some politicians are doing the same with threats and consequences just like the mafia people but it is not loyalty.

Loyalty that is due to love and faithfulness like that of a dog is true loyalty because it is given out of own volition and not because of threats.

Kings and tyrants, despots and power hungry people demand loyalty which is grudgingly given because people are afraid. How many people give their loyalty to someone whom they privately despise yet are afraid to admit? How many people just wait for their turn to take revenge on someone who threatens them every day with punishment for disloyalty?

Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her own body guards who were Sikhs and who hated her for her decision to attack the terrorists hiding in the Golden temple of Amritsar. Anwar Sadat was killed by the Islamists in the army who hated him for making peace with Israel and Hitler was attacked by numerous people because they knew that he was destroying Germany but his luck was with him every time so he survived only to kill himself when there was no other choice left to him.

So everyone demands loyalty. Spouses demand it from each other, families demand it of their members, employers demand it from their employees, politicians demand it from their underlings and people who are illegitimate in holding power demand it from their staff and inner circle. It seems that everyone demands loyalty but few get it.

Wives cheat on their husbands, husbands cheat on their wives, brothers cheat their own brothers and sisters out of inheritance and body guards kill their masters due to political reasons so it seems that loyalty is in short supply.

We have faced the problem of disloyalty of our maids here for over thirty years who have stolen money or things or have quit when we were against their immoral behaviors. None in 30 years had shown an iota of loyalty for their employment and the care and concern we showed them. I very much doubt if loyalty was a part of their vocabulary or they knew the meaning of it. Certainly they never practiced it. We do not miss such people when they leave and disappear for good.

But an animal knows the meaning of loyalty and will die for you to save you from harm. Dogs are known to carry an infant in their mouth out of a burning building at the risk of their own life but can any person be counted upon to do the same? I know that the firefighters risk their lives daily to save people from burning buildings but it is not loyalty that drives them to do so. It is just a part of their job albeit a risky one.

The army demands absolute loyalty from soldiers and instructs that no wounded soldier in the battle field should be left behind but that is not loyalty but due to the fear that a captured soldier may spill secrets under torture that may jeopardize the army operations. The soldiers are just pawns in the games the governments play and often you hear of terrible conditions under which the wounded soldiers are treated back home.

The Vietnam War veterans returned home only to find a life of drugs, abandonment and homelessness because there was no care or concern for their sacrifices from anyone. Some were despised for going to fight in Vietnam while others were ignored. Their wives showed no loyalty and often ran away with someone else. A war memorial was built at a great cost in Washington, D.C. but the returned veterans were not cared for the way they should have been. The cheap medals pinned on them did not serve their medical and other needs.

Have you seen the photo of a crane that flies thousands to kilometers every year to return to its mate who is injured and cannot fly away? That is loyalty. Have you seen the photo of a man carrying his very old parents in baskets hung from a bamboo pole on his shoulder and walking from Myanmar to safety in Bangladesh? That is loyalty and very rare. It makes international news because it is so rare to see such loyalty in human beings. It will not make news if it was common.

When loyalty comes out of love for a person the way a dog loves his master, it has more meaning therefore love is the reason why people show loyalty but when there is no love then there is no loyalty. I think love is the fundamental reason for any relationship between two people but this love is very conditional.

You can’t love your parents who are very abusive toward you, ill-treat you and do not feed you properly. You can’t love your siblings if they are mean and selfish toward you. You can’t love your relatives who take advantage of you and scorn you when they do not get what they want from you. You can’t love a narcissistic person who is toxic and takes advantage of you using the word friend liberally. Between such people there can be no loyalty ever.

So loyalty is earned because it is so conditional. If all the conditions are met then a loyalty develops but not so with a dog. A dog loves his master unconditionally to even death as shown in that case mentioned earlier. He pays back in loyalty and love for the care he receives.

During the British Raj in India a curious loyalty developed among the foot soldiers who served in the British Army. It was called the loyalty to salt. It comes from the Middle East tribal culture where someone who has eaten your salt can’t go against you. The Indian soldiers used the same reason for not taking up arms against their oppressors although some 60000 left their service and joined the Indian national Army of Bose to fight for the independence. Obviously not all soldiers believed in Salt. It is quite an outdated concept now.

Bose himself tried to convince the Indian prisoners in Germany to come and join his army to fight the British in India but many refused due to the loyalty of the salt although several thousand of them were willing to join the INA. Hitler could not repatriate a large number of soldiers by land through enemy territories so that plan fell apart.

We often hear the word doglike devotion but why the dogs have such devotion and loyalty while we fall short of emulating them? It is because devotion, love and loyalty are all conditional. It is also conditional in dogs because a master who ill-treats his dog and feeds it poorly will not be loved by the dog and may even get bitten as recompense. The dog depends on his master for his food and care but a dog is devoted and loyal to a child without conditions because the dog knows that the child must be protected at all times.

His loyalty for the child comes from a love the dog develops for the child because the child plays with him and may even steal food to give to the dog when the master does not.

Even wild animals are known to show love and loyalty to someone who cared for them when they were orphans. The movie Born free showed it where the lions raised as cubs by a compassionate man never forgot him. The same thing happened when the wild elephants came to the bedside of a dying man who had raised them with love and great compassion in his orphanage and released them in the forest later. They had not forgotten him and showed love and loyalty when they knew he was dying so came to pay their last respect. How they knew is unknown.

Now the loyalty due to salt is as rare as a hen’s tooth. People quit their jobs if they have a better opportunity somewhere else or due to abusive employers or many other reasons. There is no longer the lifelong employment to serve only one employer. The employers are also edgy and often fire employees for sundry reasons so the lifelong loyalty does not develop here. The economic health of the corporation or the office that employs you determines the hiring and firing of employees so a longtime loyal relationship does not develop.

In Japan the companies often demanded some sacrifices from their long time employees to take some pay cut during hard times but now people are not so willing. An educated and highly skilled person does not feel the need to be employed for life under one employer because he can get another job with better pay somewhere else.

But when people are not very well educated and have only limited skills tend to stick to the job they have because they have few other options. It is not due to their loyalty but because they have no other option.

So I return to the issue of loyalty and the doglike devotion that Hachiko showed and wonder how such loyalty can be found in us. Can we really learn something from dogs that we can’t learn from each other?

I will conclude here that we all need to treat others and animals we keep fairly and with love and compassion without ever asking for a reward. Such rewards come in spades when least expected.