By the levee of the Missouri River in Fort Benton, Mont., stands a bronze statue of a vigilant sheepdog. It commemorates Shep, a dog who appeared at the town’s Great Northern Railway Station one day in August 1936 while workers were loading a casket onto a train. The dog watched the train depart, then turned and trotted off down the tracks.

Thereafter, for five and a half years, Shep would appear on the platform to meet four trains a day, scanning the passengers who alighted and then retiring under the platform. His master still had not returned when in January 1942 he slipped on the rails and disappeared under an engine.

A cynic might wonder how much of this story is tied up in Montana tourism. But plausible it certainly is: Essentially the same thing had happened 12 years earlier in Japan.