When one man came across what looked like an abandoned dog, he decided to take the animal under his wing. However, what could easily have passed for a mutt turned out to be no such thing – but the internet still felt he was extraordinarily cute.
Twitter user chibi_tori lives in Japan, an island nation that hosts a huge range of wildlife. In fact, some species are synonymous with the country – as its name suggests, the Japanese macaque is one of them. Other species native to the eastern nation are decidedly less well known, however.
And in June 2015 chibi_tori chanced upon one such animal. The creature in question was an adorable dog-like being with peculiar dark and light markings. But despite its undeniable cuteness, it seemed someone had abandoned the animal.
As a result, chibi_tori decided to take the charming creature under his wing. He ferried the “dog” back to his house and gave him the catchy nickname Tanu. Then he got to know his new-found furry friend.
It turned out that Tanu had a keen interest in food. Indeed, he would eat virtually anything his owner placed in front of him. And, perhaps as some form of record, chibi_tori began posting images of the nutritious meals he prepared for his pet online.
Consequently, Tanu soon built up a cult following on social media. However, it wasn’t until January 2016 that the animal’s popularity really took off. That’s when chibi_tori posted a series of images on Twitter showing Tanu cozying up beside a mini stove as a snowstorm raged outside.
It’s safe to say the adorable images melted the internet’s heart. Before long, in fact, more than 10,000 people had shared the Twitter update. Consequently, Tanu soon became a rising viral star.
However, what set Tanu apart from the hundreds of other dogs online was the fact that he wasn’t canine at all. Well – in the true sense of the word, at least. Instead, he was a Japanese raccoon dog, or a tanuki.
Raccoon dogs are part of the canid family, which also includes domestic dogs, wolves and foxes. Canids live across most of the planet and are easily recognizable thanks to their protracted muzzles, sharp teeth and long limbs.
In terms of location, raccoon dogs are mainly confined to Western and Northern Europe as well as East Asia. They get their name thanks to their distinctive markings, which are similar to those of raccoons.
And the two species’ similarities don’t end there: both also have curved claws which enable them to climb. In addition, the raccoon dog is roughly similar in size to its better-known namesake, growing up to 26 inches long.
Of course, another connection the two species share is a love of food. Raccoon dogs can gobble up all manner of meals including lizards, frogs, rodents, fruits and seeds. So, keeping them well fed is a must.
But their similarities with raccoons end there – and raccoon dogs don’t have a great deal in common with domestic dogs, either. To begin with, you won’t hear them barking. Instead, they emit lengthy, high-pitched whines and growls – more like those of foxes.
What’s more, raccoon dogs are the only members of the canid family to go into torpor. Similar to hibernation, this means that the animals become inactive during chilly winters, only to rouse and search for a snack when the outside temperature starts to rise.
And perhaps due to their many eccentricities, raccoon dogs possess a spiritual importance in Japan. According to legend, the unique animals are magic and able to metamorphose, or change shape. However, folklore also states that the animals have a tendency to be distracted and gullible.
Still, while raccoon dogs can look adorable and are prized within ancient Japanese culture, it isn’t advised to keep the animals as pets. So, for those wanting to experience life with a tanuki, chibi_tori’s social media accounts will have to do.
And luckily for raccoon dog lovers, he keeps his Twitter feed updated with adorable images of Tanu. Many of them feature the animal’s favourite pastimes, including relaxing in bed and playing in the snow.
As a result, Tanu’s popularity just keeps growing. Indeed, more than 15,000 people have watched a video documenting the animal’s rise to fame on YouTube. “So cool,” read one of the comments on the footage. “I am in love with these guys! I would love to rescue one.”
However, not everyone was pleased with Tanu’s living situation. “It is a wild animal. Not a domestic dog,” another viewer wrote. “I wish they had another name without ‘dog’ in it. That just makes people want to keep them as pets. Just try and keep one as a pet. You will open your door and let it out very soon,” the concerned poster warned.
But whatever people think of Tanu and other raccoon dogs, there’s no denying that they’re extraordinarily endearing. And, for now at least, Tanu appears to be very happy at home with chibi_tori. For most of us, though, his Twitter account will be the closest we’ll get to life with the unusual animal.