February 13, 2017 1:00 pm JST

Pedigree Akitas at risk from mongrel impostors

Fake registrations increase as popularity surges globally

Breeders from various countries join in a dog show of Akitas in Tokyo in December.

TOKYO -- The iconic Akita dog, which is designated a natural monument in its home country of Japan, has seen its popularity grow across the globe in recent years. But now a society which promotes protection of the breed has warned the newfound popularity has led to some highly questionable practices.

Akitainu Hozonkai, or Akita dog preservation society, said the number of the dogs it registered overseas has surged in recent years, even exceeding the number in Japan. But as more and more change hands, dishonest practices have come to light, such as mixed-breed specimens being passed off as pedigrees to fetch higher prices.

Demand for Akitas exploded after "Hachi: A Dog's Tale," a 2009 U.S. movie based on the true story of a faithful Akita, became a major box office hit.

Breeders from everywhere from China and Taiwan to Russia and Poland took part in a Tokyo dog show in early December organized by the Akitainu Hozonkai. Some 170 Akitas were on show for the biannual event.

The society, established in 1927 in the city of Odate in Akita prefecture, northern Japan, started a registration service for the breed in 1937. While the number of registered Akitas in Japan has remained under 3,000 in recent years, the figure overseas has shot up since the U.S. remake of the Japanese movie.

Overseas registrations, which stood at just 73 in 2010, jumped to 1,267 in 2015. The figure then more than tripled to 3,922 in 2016, for the first time exceeding the number in Japan -- 2,628 that year.

According to the society, Akitas found a particularly large fan base in China, where there are 10 of the society's 16 overseas branches. The dog is seen as something of a status symbol in the country, and in one instance, an Akita was sold for 10 million yen ($88,000), according to the society.

The society said it has received applications asking to register unnaturally large numbers of puppies attributed to the same Akita pair, and it has found a number of supposed pedigrees that bore non-existent registration numbers. There was also an instance of a pet shop selling a mixed-breed as an Akita at an inflated price.

In an effort to combat the practice, the group has introduced watermarks on the pedigree certificates it issues. Late last year, the group also started requiring breeders to submit photos of Akita puppies they wish to register at 10 and 30 days after birth, as well as pictures of the parents' mating. The group admits, however, that these are the only clues in verifying applications from abroad, and may not be sufficient.

"There is this business-first attitude, at the cost of morals," an Akitainu Hozonkai spokesperson said. "The Akita dog is a part of Japanese culture. We are determined to protect it."

(Nikkei)

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