Quiet Akitas Wail At Trouble, Experts Say -- Trial Focus Turns To Nicole's Dog

Whatever made Kato the Akita - a gift from O.J. Simpson to Nicole Brown Simpson - wail on the night of June 12, Akita experts are convinced that the dog knew something was wrong.

"Akitas are not very barky dogs. They normally are very quiet," said Betty Liittschwager, who has bred, trained and shown Akitas for 30 years in Southern California. "They are very sensible dogs, and this one must have sensed that something was very wrong."

In court yesterday at O.J. Simpson's murder trial, witnesses described hearing the dog's "plaintive wail," part of the prosecution's attempt to establish a time of death for the murders of Simpson's ex-wife Nicole and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

One neighbor said the dog's howling around 10:15 p.m. alerted him that something was amiss.

Liittschwager described the type of sound as an instinctive call of the wild, similar to the cry a dog makes when another dog is wounded and helpless. "The wail is half a bark and half a howl," Liittschwager said. "It means something out of the ordinary has happened."

Making Kato "talk"

So how to pull such vital information from Kato? One dog trainer thinks she has the answer - channeling, a form of New Age mysticism that permits a person, or canine in this case, to summon a past life or recollection.

Julie Sterling, a trainer at the Kennel Club in West Los Angeles, believes that if the dog were brought to a channeler, it might respond to visual imagery that would reveal what caused the wailing that night.

"Animals have feelings," said Carol Gurney, an animal channeler. "They know things."

If they put Kato on the stand in the case, could Gurney get to the bottom of what really happened that night? "It is possible," Gurney said. "Depending on whether the animal wants to talk."

Akitas loyal, used to hunt

Kato the Akita was descended from a breed renowned for its loyalty. The dogs were bred to protect emperors and to hunt bear in Japan.

The first Akita brought to the United States was a companion given to Helen Keller. But after World War II, servicemen brought many dogs back. Today, Japanese Akita experts say the dogs' special traits have been diminished by poor breeding. Purists say the American version is not a true Akita-Inu, as the dog is known in Japan.

"They don't weed out inferior breeds (in America) because of their love for the animals," Keiichi Ogasawara, director of the Akita-Inu Preservation Society in northern Japan, told the Asahi News Service. "That's why they cannot improve the breed."

"I'll tell you one thing," said one member of the Akita Club of America who asked not to be identified. "That dog was no real Akita. A real Akita would have protected her from anyone, whether he knew the person or not."