Hachi the Wonderdog/Facebook(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Meet Hachi, a tiny therapy dog that usually spends his days comforting and snuggling up with patients at Advanced Home Health and Hospice in Sacramento, California.
But since Monday, the 16-pound pup has been trekking through California wilderness — navigating mountainous terrain and snowy trails with his owner, Jeff Douglas, who is also the hospice’s chaplain.
The duo are on a what Douglas has called “Hachi’s Hike for Hospice,” a journey and campaign to raise awareness about hospice care and dispel the negative misconceptions that come with the term.
“Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of misconceptions about the purpose of hospice and that a lot of people come way too late to get the benefits of hospice care,” Douglas told ABC News Wednesday. “So, I thought, why don’t we leverage Hachi’s charm and personality and do a great feat that will be big enough to get more people to listen to our message?”
Douglas said he hopes he and Hachi can “start important conversations about end-of-life planning” with people they meet while adventuring from the California-Nevada border to the Pacific Ocean for the next three weeks.
“So many people think hospice care is about dying, when really, it’s about life and living the end of life on your own terms,” he said. “We want to plant the seed and help people see it’s important to have these conversations about end-of-life planning now. The ER is not the time to have those conversations.”
And though the chaplain is incredibly passionate about hospice care and the patients, Douglas said he also wants to use the hike for him and Hachi to enjoy the outdoors and each other’s company.
The chaplain explained he has been with Hachi since the Chihuahua-Shiba Inu mix was a puppy. Douglas said he first came across Hachi over five years ago when he caught sight of a group of girls playing with the “cutest little puppy” he had ever seen.
When he asked what the dog’s name was, the girls said, “Hachi,” which blew Douglas’ mind because he had just recently watched a movie inspired by the true story of Hachiko, a dog who became famous in Japan during the ’20s and ’30s for his loyalty.
Hachiko would meet his owner at a train station at the same time every day after he came back from work. Even when his owner died and didn’t come back, the story has it that Hachiko continued to go to the station every day at the same time for next nine years.
“When the girls said his name was Hachi, I just knew it was destiny,” Douglas said. “I asked their mother if they had any other pups from the same litter, and she said, ‘No, but you can have that one if you pay me.’ So I went to the ATM, got Hachi and the rest is history.”
Soon after, Douglas quickly noticed Hachi’s compassion and astute intuition when he witnessed the pup comfort a patient who had just lost a dog. He also took notice of Hachi’s athleticism.
Despite Hachi’s short stature and small body, the pup can walk for over 20 miles a day, Douglas said. He added that when he visited a veterinarian to make sure Hachi was in a good condition to do the 375-mile hike, the vet laughed and said he was more concerned about him than Hachi.
“The vet told me he’s like a K9 elite athlete,” Douglas said with a laugh. “Hachi is truly an amazing little dog.”
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