When historians refer to Aaron Skabelund as "the dog guy," they're not talking about his looks.
Skabelund just finished the book "Empire of Dogs" about the role dogs play in the war, using Japan in WWII as a case study for the book and spent an excessive amount of time searching libraries and databases for any of the little-written about subject.
"You wouldn't think that canines had anything to do with politics, with geo-politics, and fascism and total war, but I make it clear through my analysis that dogs were intertwined and mobilized for war," Skabelund said. "They were put to use. They were part of Western and Japanese imperialism."
He said that we live in a canine moment, with popular movies like Marley and Me and television programs dedicated to dogs on Animal Planet and National Geographic.
People just love their loyal pets.
Skabelund came up with the idea for a dog-focused history book from the much-revered story of Hachiko, the dog who waited for his master at the railway station in Japan, up until 10 years after the man's death.
The Japanese people view Hachiko as a hero and a demonstration of faithfulness and loyalty and have erected a statue in his honor.
Self-proclaimed crazy dog-owner and fellow BYU professor Kirk Larsen said the way Skabelund explained the origins of the twists and turns of the retelling of Hachiko in his book was a pathway more interesting than fiction.
"You couldn't make this stuff up," Larsen said. "It's true that truth is stranger than fiction."
Mostly, the heart of the book centers on how dogs were used and abused in the military as heroes and as animal sacrifices.
He said the most popular breed for war is the German Shepard but said he was surprised to find out about the role some small dogs played in the military.
Some of the most incredible stories of dogs included dogs searching for bombs, people, and he even referred to a dog that helped fly into Osama bin Laden's compound to execute his assassination. And he cited more than 2,800 dogs on active duty today.
He said in the cash-strapped times toward the end of WWII in Japan, dog owners were urged to give their pets to the army to provide hides, meat and oils, despite the fact that Japanese people don't normally eat dogs.
"Owners of small dogs are being asked to put their dogs down because they're seen as a luxury," Skabelund said. Japan is not the only country to use dogs for war.
Smoky, a four-pound Yorkshire terrier followed U.S. Corporal Bill Wynn onto the battlefield and in fighter planes to provide companionship to Wynn in the lonely war environment and to comfort wounded soldiers along the way. He is recognized as the first therapy dog to be recorded as such, according to Animalplanet.com.
The book helps remind readers of historical events through the perspective of a species always around but seldom thought about in their relationship to human endeavors.
"Often we think history is the story of humans," Skabelund said. "Dogs have a voice. They're all around us, but we often don't take time to notice how they and other creatures contribute to our history and our culture."
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