Letter from CAIRC
October 1998 Vol.2 No.6

"8th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions"
800 People Gather for Meetings Held on the Theme of
"The Changing Roles of Animals in Society"
99 Japanese Join the Conference in Prague

Research and investigations by 42 countries from around the world on a wide range of topics such as the relationship between companion animals and children and the elderly or animal-assisted therapy to the actual condition of animals in relatively unheard from countries.

Last September 10 - 12, the "8th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions" (hereafter referred to as the Prague Conference) was held in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The conference was sponsored by the IAHAIO (International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations), an international organization made up of the domestic cooperatives and associations of many countries for researchers concerned with the relationship between humans and animals. 800 people from 42 countries such as scientists, animal welfare specialists, veterinarians, psychologists and so on, who are taking part in the research of the relationship between humans and animals, gathered to present reports on various topics. In the previous Geneva Conference (1995) only 20 people from Japan participated, but at this conference 99 participants, second only to the 134 people from the Czech Republic, took part, showing the growing interest in this field of study among the Japanese people.

At this conference, reports were presented and opinions exchanged from a variety of angles and points of view on the topic of "The Changing Roles of Animals in Society." Reports were presented at five halls on a total 80 topics ranging from the efforts being made regarding the relationship of the elderly and companion animals, school education on pet care, animal-assisted therapy, pet loss, managing pets in large cities and such in developed countries to the efforts being made regarding the conditions and background of animals in countries which have previously been relatively unheard from such as China, Brazil, South Africa and so on. Also 46 topics were presented through posters on the walls and it was common to see those attending the conference carefully reading the panels one by one or amicably chatting with the presenters.

As mentioned before three "CAIRC Human-Companion Animal Interaction Research" scholarship recipients from Japan attended the Prague Conference. We asked Ms. Yoshiko Uchida (Assistant Professor of Rakuno University) to act as a representative of the three members and provide her impression of the conference in the following.

"There were so many dogs at this conference. I was deeply impressed by the sight of so many seeing-eye dogs and assistant dogs laying calmly on the floor in the middle this conference and I hope the day will come that the same may be seen in Japan. I really listened to presentations continuously for 3 days from 8:40 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but to my regret there were so many programs running simultaneously that I was not able to hear everything. Among all the presentations, I was most impressed by the special lecture from Warwick University, UK, on pets and autistic children and patients. Research has shown great changes in sick patients in regarding their relationship to pets and those toward their families. People who resisted human physical contact took great pleasure in hugging and petting their own pets. I would like to conduct similar research in the near future, and make observations from a veterinarian's perspective on this contact from the animal's side. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in such a fantastic conference."

The important role animals can play in the upbringing of children and the problems inherent in an aging society

Many presentations referred to research into the role played by pets in regards to the problems of an aging society. Professor Parminder Raina of the University of British Colombia, Canada, presented a report on whether or not there is any difference in the health of senior citizens who own pets. Senior citizens who did not own pets used medical services around a total of 37 times in a year, whereas those who did own pets averaged around 30 times. Additionally, non-pet owner hospital stays averaged 13 days in contrast to pet owners whose stays did not exceed eight days. In Canada seniors (over 65 years old) incur 40% of the costs of health care services annually. This shows that pets do play a role in health maintenance for the elderly, and in the future it is possible that pets could take part in reducing rising medical costs.

A poster presented by Professor Marie-Jose' Enders-Slegers of the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands pointed out how the keeping of cats by senior citizens suffering from dementia living in nursing homes can create a warmer more comfortable environment for the elderly, staff, visitors and so on. If this research is successful, we could expect it to have a major effect in Japan where the average life expectancy is already passing beyond 80 years.

Professor Emeritus Yoichi Shoda of Tokyo University (President of the Companion Animal Information and Research Center) took part in this year's conference and has the following to say.

"Companion animals will have a large part in the consideration of an aging society. "Human-Companion Animal Interaction Research" scholarship recipient, Mr. Masaru Uechi's (doctoral student of Tsukuba University) research, "Effects of Companion Animals on the Health of Shut-in Elderly," also delves into the problems of an aging society. We can all anticipate respectable results to arise from this type of research."

Reports on the importance of pets in the upbringing of children also attracted a lot of attention. The previously mentioned research into autistic patients by Warwick University and the presentation by Professor Gail F. Melson of Purdue University, USA, on "The Role of Pets in Family Support" are linked to this topic. Professor Melson spoke on her conclusion that "pets are the lubrication in a family." Pets particularly display an impact when families gather for weekend events or such. According to Professor Melson's investigation, 42% of children answered of their own accord that "pets play a role in supporting the children themselves."

The elderly, child rearing... It seems that pets play some part in the mental health of society's weak such as children and the elderly. There is no doubt that need for Human-Companion Animal Interaction Research will only grow larger in the future.

Co-sponsor, WHO, Working for the Highest Level of Health for the
People of the World

The WHO (World Health Organization) co-sponsored this year's conference drawing the attention of a great many people. Now, it is said many people in this modern age who are not ill, cannot be called healthy either due to stress. However, it is the aim of the WHO to provide a true meaning for health. It is to that end that the WHO is taking a position in cooperation with IAHAIO. With the goal of maintaining health at the highest level for people throughout the world, the WHO is joining hands in this field and there is no doubt that this will be the start of new developments. In countries around the world various methodologies are making progress in animal-assisted therapy. Additionally, researchers in this field along with veterinarians and other groups are leading the way to clarify a definition in order to resolve "Guidelines for Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapy."

Animal behaviorist, Dr. Bruce Fogle, well known for his many publications, spoke in his keynote speech on the transition of the role of animals which is undergoing in Europe. After a long history as a source of material for food or clothing, the role of animals as beasts of burden is decreasing and changing in the present to one of companion or partner. Today the phrase "into home and heart" is used about animals. We now allow our animals into our homes while bringing them into our hearts at the same time.

We at the "Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC)" also prepared a booth at this year's conference. Along with introducing the activities conducted by the CAIRC, we informed people about the situation in Japan on the matters of keeping pets in communal living areas and so on. Of course our booth was a location for the exchange of information with other people attending the conference. We met many other people and the participation of American and European medical practitioners such as doctors, social workers, and so on was clarified for us. Veterinarians have taken the lead in the field of "Human-Animal Interaction Research." Now, though sociologists are also beginning to conduct research in this area. It is becoming increasingly important today for medical practitioners to take part in "Human-Animal Interaction Research" with their research field also included. We at the CAIRC believe that through these efforts "Human-Animal Interaction Research" will become an even more clearly defined field of science, leading the enhancement of human health.