When it comes to World War 2, there were a lot of funny things going on with Japanese Americans. Land and property were stolen from Japanese Americans, they were put into internment camps (though, not the 157,000 Japanese Americans in Hawaii, including my great great grandmother, who was sending aluminum to Japan to make bombs before the America-Japan conflict started), and now, apparently, there were dogs being trained to sniff out Japanese people. Ironically, they were being trained on Cat Island, a crappy little island just south of Mississippi (and a part of Mississippi too).

Dogs And World War Two

When the US entered the War, it started taking dog donations from civilians. Dogs were used to be sentries, to detect and sniff out mines, and so much more. There was, however, a much more secret dog training mission taking place on Cat Island, where William Prestre (Swiss Refuguee) said he could train dogs to target people of Japanese ancestry based off their smell. According to Prestre, he could train 30,000 dogs that would be released on the beaches of Japanese islands and Zerg rush their inhabitants. Greyhounds would streak across beaches to take out machine gunners (since they’re so speedy), then slower but more terrifying dogs (like Great Danes and Wolfhounds) would wipe the floor with everyone else. Obviously, none of this happened. Thank goodness for the dogs, anyways.

Getting To Cat Island

Cat Island is a little island off of Mississippi that had similar weather and temperature to the Pacific Islands. Apparently, it was also really sulfury, barren, full of alligators and mosquitoes, and a big pain all around. Around 25 people of Japanese ancestry (who were in the U.S. Army) were notified that they would be going on a super secret mission, so secret they couldn’t even tell their friends they were going on it. One of these people, Ray Nosaka, says:

So that morning, they said, “Don’t say anything to your own buddies and don’t goodbye, don’t say anything.” Seven o’clock, we rode the big truck and took us to Wheeler Field [Fort Williams]. And all of us went on a plane.They didn’t tell us where we’re going to go, what we’re going to do.

They got on their plane, stopped off in Tennessee (where they couldn’t get off the plane, because the higher ups didn’t want anyone to see them), then flew to Mississippi where they boarded some coast guard ships which took them to another island near Cat Island called “Ship Island” (seriously, someone should have been commissioned to come up with better island names). At Ship Island, they waited for a while, fished, and didn’t do much. Then, after two weeks, their Major came and told them they would be “training dogs” on  Cat Island. I suppose that’s where the fun starts.

Every day, they’d go by boat from Ship Island to Cat Island, help train the dogs for four hours, then go back home to Ship Island. Besides being attacked by dogs all the time, that’s a pretty sweet gig. Hang out on a tropical island, work 4 hours a day, and drink tons of beer because the water tasted terrible.

We only worked half a day. Half a day, you go back to Ship Island. You go fishing, play guitar and sing a song, things like that, drinking beer. Half a day you work, half a day you’re off. So the hours are very good. That’s why all of us was catching fish. So many fish over there. And now ducks come, shoot the ducks like that. So the life after the four hours we worked is very good.

In fact, at one time we ran out of beer because we cannot drink the water. That thing is so – like rotten eggs. The thing is sulfur, so we cannot drink the water, so we drink up the beer. And, you know, the beer. The thing gone in one week. All gone because we cannot drink the water, we just drink that beer.

So, that begs the question. What were all the secret things they did while they were on the clock, over in Cat Island?

How They (Tried) To Train Dogs To Hunt The Japanese

There were a couple of steps involved in order to try and train dogs to take down Japanese people. The first step was training them to go up to the right people, the second was to learn how to attack, and the third was to play hide and seek.

In the first step, the Japanese Americans would stand there, and the dogs would go up to them. When the dogs went up to them, they’d give the dog some meat and fire a pistol into the air. They did this over and over for four months. I’m guessing the dogs just got good at finding people who had meat on them… yum.

The second step wasn’t as pleasant, unfortunately for the dogs (and the humans involved, too).

And they told us they put a guard over here and we stay like this. And then when the sergeant tell him, “Kill ’em,” the dog come right up and bite us here, see.  And then finally, the dog got a little more friendly with us. They tied the dog on the fence and they gave me like a whip to hit the dog. I go like this.

Oh, I feel so bad. That’s why I hit like this. I get scolding, tell, “Hit it hard, some more hit” until the thing bleed. That’s why the dog gets mad with you. And they tell ’em, “Kill him.” I’m like this and, whoa, he bite me all over the place. So I hit the dog until he bled, see. Then he tell me, “Okay, walk ten yards back, turn around and go this way.” The dog was so mad at me because I hit him. Ho, he bite me, bite me like this. And then the sergeant comes, takes him away. And that’s the attack dog.

Lastly, they played hide and seek. They’d go someplace, wait for the dog to come find them, then wait for the dog to go away, then go hide somewhere else. They did all this while batting mosquitoes and avoiding alligators. At least it was only a four hour work day, I guess.

What Happened?

I think you know – the dogs couldn’t tell the difference between Japanese people and other people, and since they were mostly donated dogs from loving families, they’d often just lose interest and become friendly. Our Swiss dog training friend Prestre was fired in Feburary 1943 after a couple of dog shows for the big boys, and the island was converted over to a more traditional dog training island (i.e. no more sniffing out the blood of Japanese people). This went on for a while, but then was eventually closed down in July, 1944 after training approximately 400 dogs.

If you want to read more about Cat Island’s crazy dog training programs, you can read Ray Nosaka’s (one of the 25 Japanese Americans on Cat Island) interview, with the Cat Island parts here and here.

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P.P.S. If you like cats, you should subscribe to the Tofugu Newsletter, Here.

Dog trainers of Cat Island

Ship Island is where they’d stay in between trips to Cat Island

Image of Cat Island

Want to read about a more pleasant “Cat Island?” Here’s an island in Japan, populated by cats.

  • Jacob Carscadden

    What the hey!

  • Jos

    That’s a really weird war strategy… Btw, are the people working at IKEA in the US mostly Swiss people? Here in Norway they tend to be Swedish… you know, because IKEA is Swedish ;)

  • Mitchell Atlas

    Funny typo: “full of alligators and misquotes” — “Getting to Cat Island”, 2nd line

    “misquotes” or “mosquitos”? :P

  • koichi

    doh’p, I fail. Apparently I don’t know where Ikea is from – fixed!

  • koichi

    haha – sadly, I probably used spell check to make that mistake :) Thanks, fixed!

  • Randall

    Nice article but I question the title “America’s Racist Japanese People…” This makes it sound like the Japanese American soldiers, such as Ray Nosaka, who were forced to participate in the training were the racists. Instead, the title should reflect that it was a racially insensitive U.S. Army program.

  • koichi

    Comma added, clarification achieved. Thanks!

  • Amy

    Before I read the article, I thought it was about racist Japanese people in America hunting the dogs of Cat Island. Confused, yes, but I wasn’t sure what it meant.

  • Tony Alexander

    The trained dogs to attack African Americans in the South, too. You fucking animals!

  • Jmakaiju

    This is what I enjoy about the Internet. Any imbecile can start a blog.

  • Erisvc2009

    PBS’s History Detectives had a show on Cat Island.

  • koichi

    whoa, nice! gonna watch

  • Martial Ndeko

    I have no word to express the ugly side of the human possibilities !

  • The Happy Earth

    That is so strange. I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and have never heard anything about this.

    Fun Fact: Mississippi’s Cat Island is named not for cats, but for the ridiculous number of raccoons living on it (which they for some reason either thought were cats or just called cats.)

  • koichi

    I think I remember reading that the French explorer who “discovered” it saw
    all those raccoons and thought they were cats, so he named it that, so that
    all lines up!

  • Dog training

    What a cruel way of training a dog.

  • Catson

    Hey… I was born in Gulfport. And I lived two cities away from it until about a year ago..
    Even though it’s a really really sad story, it’s kinda cool feeling like I was so close to an abstract piece of Japanese history… :)

  • Brandon McL educator

    I’ve been to Ship Island actually. It’s pretty shit. The sand is black as well as the water looking like squid vomit.

    I’ve also been to Biloxi, the nearest “city”. The water is still disgusting.

  • Michael Collins

    The Japanese Internment program during WWII was based on fear and ignorance and also the clear fact that the Pacific Coast was undefended and indefensible without a mass re-allocation of resources from the European and Pacific War efforts. Unlike today, the major West Coast cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle were small and relatively underpopulated You only have to watch old movies from the 1930s filmed in Los Angeles and San Diego to see that these cities were primarily agrarian with very little industry nor large populations. Between those cities, there is 2,000 miles of coastline where a small military could easily organize and harass a population not capable of defending itself. Please remember that the US had completely disarmed itself after WWI and did not have the most basic necessities required to fight. The Army and Navy were still using planes with fabric wings at the start of the War.
    San Francisco was the only city on the West Coast with a large population, large manufacturing presence and actual military defenses in place within view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The West Coast population itself was very poor, largely unskilled, and not well educated. In their own way, they were simple people who had been ravaged by the American Depression and many had been displaced more than one time due to economic circumstances. I know these people because I spoke to them and not one harbored racist thoughts about any race, including Japanese. They felt very sad that their Japanese friends had left their communities, but, they were scared, as was the President at the time.

    So, please research history and the people who lived in that history before you pass judgement on the people of that era. There were thousands of people of all races who lost their lives so Japanese and Europeans would not live under military dictatorships. Please respect their memories and do not call them racists.

  • Porno Grigio

    wow you are right. i feel really terrible for the things those civilians did to the army because they were asian. i will try my best not to call their policies for what they were: racist.

  • Porno Grigio

    so where is yours? AHHAAHAHAHAAHAHahahahahAHAHAha

  • Porno Grigio

    anyone who had to suffer through the use of fabric wings must not be socially fucked in the head.