Dogecoin: The Japanese rescue dog who became the unlikely face of a crypto sensation

Kabosu, a Shiba Inu adopted by a kindly nursery school teacher near Tokyo, became internationally famous as a meme before finding herself fronting a spoof bitcoin challenger whose popularity is no longer a joke

Joe Sommerlad
Saturday 25 May 2024 13:26 BST
What's going on with Dogecoin?

This article was originally published in 2021

For a cryptocurrency originally conceived as a joke, a satire against bitcoin and the whole crazed online gold rush of the last decade, Dogecoin has had an absolutely extraordinary year.

In late January, its value skyrocketed by 800 per cent in 24 hours to $0.07 as Reddit users and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk roped it into the GameStop short squeeze battle to thwart Wall Street traders attempting to capitalise on the downfall of the beloved high street retailer.

Dogecoin continued to climb gradually throughout the spring, hitting $0.45 by mid-April, thanks in no small part to the cheerleading of eccentric self-styled celebrity investment gurus like Musk, Snoop Dogg and ex-Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, before hitting an all-time high of $0.72 on 5 May and registering a market capitalisation of $85.3bn.

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At the time of writing, it’s worth about half of that, but honestly, who knows where this volatile proposition will go from here?

If you ask Musk, he will say there’s no reason it can’t become the future currency of Mars.

The coin was launched on 6 December 2013 by software engineers Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer, of IBM and Adobe respectively, who based their spoof of the cryptocraze on the dominant meme of the moment: a Shiba Ibu dog posing quizzically for the camera.

The photograph had blown up over the last three years, spreading across the web and pleasingly imagining the animal’s inner monologue, expressed in ungrammatical Comic Sans annotations (“Wow such tempt”), its face sometimes superimposed absurdly onto inanimate objects like Twinkies, stacks of Pringles or giant boulders.

The face that launched a thousand memes
The face that launched a thousand memes (Reddit)

Accelerated by the popularity of the Shiba Confessions Tumblr started in June 2012, the meme would eventually become so widely known that even Republican congressman for Texas Steve Stockman was using it to lampoon his own party’s state senator John Cornyn for being insufficiently right-wing (“Wow support Obamacare funding”) by the time Markus and Palmer’s coin was unveiled.

Dogecoin would swiftly draw together a community that was originally dedicated to prank fundraising, making enough money to send a Jamaican bobsleigh team to the Sochi Winter Olympics and to sponsor Nascar driver Josh Wise, as well as bankrolling worthier initiatives like bringing water to drought-stricken communities in Kenya.

The picture on which all of this was centred turned out to have been first uploaded on 23 February 2010 by the dog’s owner, Japanese nursery school teacher Atsuko Sato, who had started a blog eight months earlier to post regular updates about her pet, christened Kabosu for its face shaped like the round citrus fruit of the same name, whom she had adopted in November 2008 after the puppy mill the dog had been born into was shut down.

The original photo used in the doge meme was part of a series
The original photo used in the doge meme was part of a series (CC/

Her blog, also featuring the family’s cats Azalea, Ginkgo and Onigir lounging around their apartment in suburban Tokyo, is still running to this day and remains hugely popular.

Kabosu is not the only Shiba to appear in the meme though. Sometimes a photo of another dog named Suki, looking elegant in a fetching pink scarf and owned by San Francisco-based photographer Jonathan Fleming, appeared instead when a haughtier tone was needed.

Speaking to The Verge in 2013 at the height of the meme’s popularity, Sato described her reaction when she first became aware of how popular her faithful friend had become in the west.

“I was taken aback. It felt very strange to see her face there. It was a Kabosu that I didn’t know,” she said.

“To be honest, some pictures are strange for me, but it’s still funny! I’m very impressed with their skills and taste. Around me, nobody knows about the doge meme. Maybe I don’t understand memes very well, because I’m living such an analogue life.”

On why Kabosu in particular had proved to be so appealing to the online community, Sato suggested that her pet “is very different from the typical temperament of Shiba. She’s very gentle and calm; she loves being photographed.”

Kabosu is often pictured and filmed with her pet pals
Kabosu is often pictured and filmed with her pet pals (YouTube/ かぼすちゃんとおさんぽ)

Shiba Inu are known as a highly energetic breed of traditional hunting dog in Japan, so the Dogecoin icon certainly appears to be an exception to the rule.

Kabosu “was not loved when she was little, so I want to shower her with love as a member of my family”, her owner said, explaining that she originally started her blog to raise awareness about the dubious ethics of commercial breeding operations like the one from which her pet and 19 other Shibas had sprung.

Rather cruelly, China Central Television ran a hoax story announcing the death of Kabosu on April Fools’ Day 2017, perhaps in the hope of causing a ripple in the cryptocurrency markets, but the truth is that the world’s most famous Shiba Inu is still alive and well at the grand old age of 15, presumably blissfully unaware of her improbable crypto celebrity.

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