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Rescued dog who found new life comforting elderly gets story made into children's book

Maruko interacts with a resident at special elderly nursing care home "Tajimaso" in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 2, 2017. (Mainichi)

TOYOOKA, Hyogo -- On the other side of the pet boom, there are cats and dogs that are abandoned or put down. But the story of one stray dog whose life might have been cut short but found a place as a comfort dog at an elderly care facility here has been made into a children's book.

    The title of the book is "Iyashiinu Maruko: Otoshiyori ni yorisou inu no motogatari" (Comfort dog Maruko: The tale of a dog who cuddles with the elderly). The story details the actions of Maruko, an estimated-12-year-old female dog who has become a comforting presence in the lives of those at the special elderly nursing home "Tajimaso" in Toyooka operated by the Hyogo Prefecture social welfare organization."

    "Whether it be a human or an animal, we want to show children that simply being there for someone has merit," a representative said.

    The cover of the children's book telling Maruko's story. (Mainichi)

    According to the nursing facility and other sources, Maruko was saved as a puppy by a dog shelter volunteer in the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture, where many owners are known to leave their unwanted pet dogs. After undergoing training with the nonprofit organization Japan Rescue Association in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, which trains disaster relief and therapy dogs, Maruko came to the nursing home in January 2006.

    Completely white and well-tempered, Maruko gained popularity for having a personality such that no matter how much she is petted or whoever hugged her, she never seemed to mind. Residents began anticipating when Maruko would make her way to their rooms to visit. As she got older and it became harder for her to make her rounds around the home, Maruko's main work became greeting visitors at the entrance to the facility. The nursing home also holds a weekly "Maruko Cafe" event in the lobby, and also set up events for nearby neighbors to also meet the dog, tying the community together through the beloved canine.

    Last autumn, Tokyo-based Iwasaki Publishing Co. learned that Maruko had been recognized as a distinguished animal by the Hyogo Prefectural animal protection society, and decided to turn her story into a book.

    "If Maruko hadn't been rescued, she was in circumstances where she could have died soon after. She's just a regular dog who doesn't particularly want to show off. But even then, she has this special presence that makes the faces of the residents light up," a representative from the publisher said. "That's why we wanted to convey the importance of a life like Maruko's; where just being there is useful in some way to someone."

    The book is 144 pages on A5 paper and is priced at 1,300 yen excluding the consumption tax. For inquiries, contact Iwasaki Publishing Co. (03-3812-9131).

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