By the title of this column you might assume I’m writing about our special JA veterans of the 442 RCT or 100th, MISers, Korean and Vietnam War or recent Afghan War veterans. We of course honor them and thank them for their service.

But what I’m talking about is the special Japanese American veterinarians who have been our family dog’s medical practitioners. Without them we would have had some difficult times, but their humane, compassionate and excellent medical care has made dog ownership very pleasant and special.

Lisa and I didn’t grow up with dogs playing a major role or having a longtime presence in our lives. We both had experiences with dogs, Lisa with her auntie’s dog Chris, and we had a Doberman for a very short time. Also, we didn’t have dogs when our sons were growing up. We weren’t dog people, so to speak.

But, when my oldest son returned from college, he decided he wanted a dog. After reclaiming his old bedroom, he and (our youngest son was away at college) Lisa started to look to adopt a dog. I had no idea what was involved in this effort until I was required to attend a meeting with the dog at the local dog shelter.

There we were put in a room while the dog was introduced to us and we had to fill out an attitude survey (ours) and had to describe the environment the new adoptee would live in (inside dog, outside only, do you have a yard, apartment, etc.). We passed muster and were allowed to adopt our new member of the family. We named our puppy Koko.

I took a bit of an arms-length approach to our new family member. Yeah, yeah, I’ll pick up the dog shit, I’ll feed her, I’ll walk her, I’ll move out next week. Whaaat!

Yeah, once we got my son a dog, he moved out. So, Koko was the family dog now. And a member of the family she became. How she so quickly integrated herself into everything we did was amazing. She went everywhere with us, got along with everyone (human and dog), and my arms-length attitude gave way to a full-on love affair.

But in our second year with Koko she got sick. Her spirit was strong but her body started to betray her. That’s when we met Chris Omoto, veterinarian. She was referred to us by a friend and was down in the South Bay, so convenient, and as it turned out a very special human being.

Like the best doctors she was forthright, patient, answered any and all questions and had a great bedside manner. She guided us through a pretty slippery downhill slope of medical decisions we had to make relative to Koko’s sudden cancer diagnosis. She helped us by suggesting realistic treatment and with the decision to end her suffering and life.

Dr. Omoto said Koko had a “golden demeanor” after looking after her during those difficult times. She comforted us with that description of our beloved Koko and guided and helped us through that difficult time. She herself would need that same prescription as she later passed with cancer.

So, after a mourning period our son said it was time to get another dog. Although out of the house during Koko’s tenure, he and his brother took on dog ownership responsibilities from afar. They had a stake in getting another dog because they had become dog people as well.

After some investigation and searching, they went to a series of shelters in search of a puppy with a “golden” demeanor. Then they found one who had a “kennel cough” but with the personality they sought. So, another family member was found, but when they went to the counter to fill out the paperwork, the shelter attendant said it was nice that they were rescuing two dogs. Whaaat!

Somehow there was a mixup and two different attendants brought two different puppies to be adopted. One, the three had agreed upon but the other was looked at but not selected. The second one sat on her haunches and caught the three in her stare. Unblinking, she cast a spell on the humans and one said, “What the hell, we’ll take them both.”

So, Sweetie and Maggie would become the second dog generation in our household and Doctor Stacy Fuchino would become our next veterinarian. Stacy was junior to Chris at the clinic and a JA. He was a hipper version of Chris with cool shoes and a cool, not cold, demeanor. Stacy, like Chris, was straightforward, no-nonsense, has good people skills but with a vision beyond dog care. He moved the clinic and built a new, modern facility, which is still in the South Bay.

Now, Sweetie and Maggie are 14 years old and both are starting to show it. In fact, Sweetie has gone downhill significantly. Enter Katlin Imamura, veterinarian. Another JA who, along with several other vets, has taken over for Stacy, who still is owner but has moved on and is focusing on the business, I understand.

Dr. Katlin is now helping us through a difficult but expected process with Sweetie. Dr. K is another clear communicator with uber compassion and empathy as she’s allowed Lisa to sit with Sweetie in the kennel as Sweetie has had to stay overnight for hydration and medical treatment (Lisa wanted to but wasn’t allowed to stay overnight).

Sweetie’s home and doing well, but these three generations of JA vets have helped our family have a good quality of life with our dogs. We thank these JA vets for their compassion and service, and I’m sure there are others out there helping other families. JA vets rock!


Warren Furutani is a former member of the State Assembly and served on the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Community College District boards. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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