Japanese dog of ‘Doge’ meme fame dies

TOKYO — The Japanese dog whose photo inspired a generation of oddball online jokes and the $23-billion Dogecoin cryptocurrency beloved by Elon Musk died on Friday, her owner said.

“She quietly passed away as if asleep while I caressed her,” Atsuko Sato wrote on her blog, thanking the fans of her shiba inu called Kabosu — the face of the “Doge” meme.

“I think Kabo-chan was the happiest dog in the world. And I was the happiest owner,” Sato wrote.

As a rescue dog, Kabosu’s real birthday was unknown but Sato estimated her age at 18, past the average lifespan for a shiba inu, with her birthday celebrated in November.

In 2010, two years after adopting Kabosu from a puppy mill where she would otherwise have been put down, Sato took a picture of her pet crossing her paws on the sofa.

She posted that image — with the fluffy shiba inu giving the camera a beguiling look — on her blog, from where it spread to online forum Reddit and became a meme that bounced from college bedrooms to office e-mail chains.

The memes typically used goofy broken English to reveal the inner thoughts of Kabosu and other shiba inu “doge” — pronounced like pizza “dough” but with a “j” at the end.

The picture also later became an NFT digital artwork that sold for $4 million and inspired Dogecoin, which was started as a joke by two software engineers and is now the eighth-most valuable cryptocurrency with a market capitalisation of $23 billion.

‘Unbelievable’ events

Dogecoin has been backed by hip-hop star Snoop Dogg, “Shark Tank” entrepreneur Mark Cuban and Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.

But its most keen supporter is probably the billionaire Musk, who jokes about the currency on X — sending its value soaring — and hails it as “the people’s crypto”.

Dogecoin has also inspired a plethora of other cheap and highly volatile “memecoins”, including spin-off Shiba Inu and others based on dogs, cats or Donald Trump.

Kabosu fell ill with leukaemia and liver disease in late 2022, and Sato said in a recent interview with AFP in her home of Sakura, east of Tokyo, that the “invisible power” of prayers from fans worldwide helped her pull through.

The 62-year-old Sato said she had become so used to “unbelievable” events that, when Tesla boss Musk changed the icon for Twitter, now X, to Kabosu’s face last year, she “wasn’t even that surprised”.

“In the last few years I’ve been able to connect the online version of Kabosu, all these unexpected things seen from a distance, with our real lives,” she told AFP.

A $100,000 statue of Kabosu and her sofa crowdfunded by Own The Doge, a crypto organisation dedicated to the meme, was unveiled in a park in Sakura in November last year.

Sato and Own The Doge have also donated large sums to international charities, including more than $1 million to Save the Children. The NGO says it is “the single largest crypto contribution” it has ever received.

“The Doge is the most popular dog of the modern era,” said Tridog, a pseudonymous member of Own The Doge, describing Kabosu as “the Mona Lisa of the internet”. — AFP