Apropos of nothing, let’s talk about raccoon-dogs.
To start, here is a photo of Max sitting on our hearth next to a picture of himself and two statues of the famous Japanese raccoon-dogs known as tanuki.
In Japanese folklore, tanuki nominally belong to a class of spirits known as yōkai which are essentially monster spirits but, unlike most of his contemporaries who have malevolent personalities, the tanuki is a fat and happy soul who is a bit rascally, loves his alcohol and brings good luck to establishments who position his statue at their front doors.
Whilst tanuki statues come in a variety of styles they typically share certain characteristics, the most obvious being an amazingly over-sized pair of testicles. The other attributes of a quality tanuki representation include:
- A jug of sake, representing the tanuki’s affection for a good drinking party.
- Big eyes, to see truth and make good decisions
- A pawful of unpaid promissory notes which dissonantly conveys his rascally yet trustworthy nature.
- A bulbous belly (“curvy” in the parlance of the girls at 24 Hour Fitness) which the tanuki pats to make a drum-like sound. That FUPA screams wealth and indulgence!
- A big tail which serves as the raccoon-dog’s anchor and foundation on the long road to success.
- A wide, goofy smile which simply represents a wide, goofy smile thereby confirming Dr. Freud’s assertion regarding cigars.
While your common or garden variety of tanuki has more nuts than Mr. Planter, those huge boys have nothing to do with fertility or such.
Nope. Instead, they symbolize wealth and good money management. The story is that the skin of a tanuki is so tough, one could fill the raccoon-dog’s scrotal sac with gold leaf and hammer it so thin it would cover an entire floor.
Jeezum crow, that’s a real leg-crosser of a statement, isn’t it? Hurts just to think about. But I digress.
By now you might be thinking that the tanuki is just a mythical creature. Au contraire, Japanese raccoon-dogs are real animals.
They are often confused with a badger or raccoon but are neither — the tanuki is a most unusual species of dog with distinctive stripes of black fur under its eyes and some very unusual behaviors. For example, it is the only canine that hibernates. Not only that, they hibernate communally.
For a creature so well-endowed, the raccoon-dog does not act assertively. It never saunters like a bow-legged cowboy into cheap dive bars. It never man-spreads on commuter trains. Rather than a gruff bark or intimidating growl, it’s vocalization is a thin high-pitched howl more associated with canine castrati.
Raccoon-dogs are generally monogamous and have a good temperament. The male of the species is said to be a compassionate partner and father. Scientists have observed TD’s (Tanuki Dads) bringing food to their pregnant mates, and after their partner gives birth, they take an active, role in the parenting of pups. Shoots, they probably hold their spouse’s purse when shopping at the mall.
In old Japan, tanuki were hunted for their meat and fur. In fact, even up to now the fur of the raccoon-dog is actively traded.
In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States filed claims against a couple dozen U.S. retailers after finding that 70 percent of faux fur garments they analyzed actually contained raccoon dog fur which, in the biz, is known as murmansky.
The raccoon-dog is not endangered but the population of wild tanuki has been decreasing of late.
Of course, all of this begs the question: could a tanuki be a satisfactory household pet, perhaps a suitable substitute for, say, a very picky and pushy Maltese dog? There are advantages and disadvantages to consider.
On the plus side, raccoon-dogs don’t bark, don’t crave for attention, will eat almost anything, sleep most of the day, don’t have to be kept inside and choose a fixed place for potty breaks. They are a bit stand-offish but not aggressive and can be leash-trained. And, just in case tanuki trivia matters to you, their tails can only move up and down, never wagging side to side.
On the other paw, tanuki are not attentive, they’re thoroughly useless as guard-dogs, they don’t learn tricks, they shed explosively every spring, are prone to mange and never become cuddly pets. At best, you can only achieve a medium level of domestication with the raccoon-dog. And, since I know you are wondering…yes, in real life they indeed have very large gonads.
So, after careful consideration, I think we’ll keep our eunuch Maltese after all.