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How One Family Acquired a Dog
by Frank Shortt
World War Two generated many human interest stories, some good, some not so good. This is the story of how one Portuguese family acquired a dog under dire circumstances. Wartime produces many unsung heroes. It would take many volumes to record them all.
The Catu Family, of Japanese descent, lived and farmed in the community of Hot Springs, part of Hayward, California. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 into law on February 19, 1942, the Catu family was devastated. Besides losing all that they had worked for all the previous years, they also had to leave all their wonderful neighbors that had been befriended by them and vice-versa. Their close neighbors were the Vargo family with whom they had shared work plowing, irrigating, and harvesting crops.
They were to be taken to an internment camp and not allowed to take any of their furnishings, only personal belongings, such as, photos, birth and marriage documents, etc. They were instructed that no animals could be taken along, so Mike, their Chow dog would have to be left behind. Mike was as much a part of the family as anyone there.
Mr. Catu met Mr. Vargo at the local market and humbly entreated him to "please care for Mike until we return soon." He did not know that it would be until the war ended in 1945 that the Catus' would be allowed to return to their homes. So Mike was taken to a new home at the Vargo's ranch.
In Hot Springs there was a kind storekeeper named Mr. Brand, also of Portuguese descent, who due to some quick thinking, was able to show compassion and love to the departing internees. The Catus, along with other Japanese farmers, always traded at Mr. Brand's store. If he did not have what they needed, he would be sure to order the item if at all possible. Many items were being rationed due to the war effort. Mr. Brand even kept the farmers on his books of credit until their crops came in and they were always faithful to pay their debts.
When Mr. Brand heard that the Japanese farmers were being relocated to an internment camp, he immediately thought of what would possibly happen to their farms. Knowing all the farmers in his area, he went out to each home and requested that each of them sign over their deeds to him for the duration of their internment. They did not question his good intentions and were willing to do as he directed them. They would lose their farms anyway as they had to leave everything as it lay! Mr. Brand placed each deed in his store safe keeping them secure. He even checked each farm home occasionally to make sure no vandals had penetrated the boarded up windows.
The Catu family was taken away, some to Northern California, some to Arizona. They were herded like cattle into the trains provided for their transportation. They felt like they were goners as they glimpsed the last vestige of home. The internment camp consisted of rows of barracks fashioned out of rough lumber. The beds were leftovers from an old WPA camp. By the time they arrived at the camp, downcast and weary, they were glad to have any place where they could rest. They thought, "Will we ever be able to go home and resume a normal life?"
Mike mourned greatly the loss of his family. He cried remembering each member of the Catu family. He missed the familiarity of the farm. Even though he was allowed to roam around the Vargo farm at will, he grew thinner and thinner as he mourned and refused to eat. He felt alone, dejected, and forsaken even though the Vargo family cared for him as one of their own. Alas, Mike died before the Catu family returned. He died of a broken heart yearning for the only family he had ever known.
When the Catu family was finally allowed to come back to their farm, they went immediately to see Mr. Brand. Yes, he had kept his promise to them, and not one Japanese family, who had signed over their deeds to him, lost even one acre of ground. Being industrious, these Japanese farmers soon had their farms up and running. Even though the memory of Internment Camp lingered for many years, they did not allow adversity to hold them back in any way. Their crops flourished as neighbors were willing to help out in any way that they could.
As for Mike, The Catu family mourned for him, missing his familiar bark as anyone approached the farm house. His remains now lie underneath a shopping center. Time has moved on and the years have healed most of the hatred that men held for the Japanese who were unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Those were times that tried men's souls!