Letter from CAIRC
November 2000 Vol.4 No.5

CAIRC Contribution to Study of Human-Animal Relations
Receives International Recognition With IAHAIO Affiliation

In October, the Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC) was formally recognized as an affiliate member of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO). All of us at CAIRC are proud to announce our new membership in IAHAIO.

We believe that this formal recognition of our affiliation with IAHAIO stems from the value placed on CAIRC's contribution to the study of relations between humans and companion animals, as well as the close accord between our objectives and those of the international organization.

IAHAIO is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with international recognition in this field, which received official backing by the World Health Organization during its Prague Conference held in 1998. The Japan's national member of IAHAIO is the Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA).

Today, the study of human-animal relations is gaining increased recognition as a scholarly field. The social, psychological and physiological benefits that humans derive from relations with companion animals have been made plainly evident. We believe that our affiliation with IAHAIO will provide us with an excellent opportunity to further enhance our contribution to the development of this field.

Please contact JAHA or CAIRC for guidelines on submitting papers for presentation at the 9th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 13-15 2001.

IAHAIO President Dr. Dennis Turner Visits Japan
Holds Press Seminar Organized by CAIRC

CAIRC organized a press seminar on Nov. 2 at Hotel the New Otani, Tokyo, on the occasion of its new membership in IAHAIO, featuring Dr. Dennis C. Turner, president of the international organization. Dr. Turner is a specialist in animal behavior who received Doctor of Science degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1974. He is currently director of the Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology (I.E.A.P) in Hirzel/Zurich, Switzerland. He also heads the IEMT-Konrad Lorenz Trust, and is a Senior Research Associate and Lecturer at the Zoology Institute of the University of Zurich, where he conducts research on Companion Animal Ethology and serves on the teaching faculty at the university's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Turner has introduced a number of innovations that have furthered research in this field, and his presentation included the following remarks.

"In the past decade with scientifically controlled studies, researchers of human-animal relationships have discovered many more benefits of social interaction with companion animals than ever suspected. When we speak to and stroke our cats and dogs, our faces and voices show a number of stereotyped changes that indicate a relaxed status. We all know the results of studies showing that stroking an animal indeed reduces our pulse rate and lowers our blood pressure.

"But such calming effects of stroking a pet dog or cat can only be expected where past experiences with such animals have been positive. A colleague of mine in the United States was also able to show that the effect was strongest when one's own dog was being stroked, rather than a strange dog — even though all participants liked all dogs. There is definitely something personal about the human-pet relationship.

"A few years ago Professor James Serpell published a landmark paper in the British Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine showing an increase in measures of quality of life upon acquiring a dog or cat and a significant reduction in the number of complaints about minor health problems such as headaches, hay fever, vision problems, lower back and back pain.

"Five years ago Professor Warwick Anderson discovered in a study with a sample size of over 6,000 that male dog and cat owners showed significantly lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners — all other heart risk factors such as smoking habits, amount of exercise etc., being the same in the two groups.

"Four years ago, Professor Garry Jennings from the Baker Medical Institute in Australia announced that pet owners sought out their private physicians less often than non-owners (8% less often for dog owners, 12% less often for cat owners) and required significantly less medication."

As the elderly proportion of our population increases, it will become all the more important to ease the symptoms of those who suffer minor ailments. Through ongoing research, it may be possible to show that this can be accomplished through maintaining relationships with companion animals. If we can demonstrate that pet ownership can help people cut down on hospital visits, and keep blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels down, the health benefits of keeping pets should become even clearer — as would their ability to help reduce medical costs as well.

76% of Cat Owners Rate Their Own Cats "Ideal"

Dr. Turner continued the seminar with a presentation of his own research findings.

"For many years now, I have been studying the human-cat relationship, combining ethological (or observational) and psychological methods. In one project, we asked several hundred cat owners to assess their cats and relationships to their cats with reference to 31 traits such as 'proximity' and 'curiosity' by placing an 'X' along the continuum at that point between the two extremes of 'very weak' and 'very strong' which they felt best described their animal.

"After completion of the form for their actual cat and relationship, they were asked to fill it out a second time using circles to mark where, in their opinion, the ideal cat and ideal relationship would be found. We could then measure the difference between the actual and ideal values, the idea being that large differences and/or a large number of differences would give us an indication of less harmonious relationships.

"Out of the 31 traits, 18 were selected for more detailed analysis and included both positive and negative traits. The percentage of persons who rated their actual cat/relationship at exactly the same place along the continuum that their ideal cat/relationship would be found, was, averaged over all traits, 76%.

"We found a highly significant positive correlation between self-reported level of affection towards the cat and self-estimated level of affection by the cat towards the owner. That is, the deeper an owner's affection for a cat, the more affection that owner felt to be returned by the cat. Level of affection towards the cat also correlated positively with general cleanliness of the cat, regular use of the cat toilet, curiosity, playfulness and predictability.

"The estimated affection of the cat toward the owner correlated positively with the cat's suspected enjoyment of physical contact with the owner, its general proximity to the owner, its predictability, its general cleanliness and its 'likeness to humans'. That's what goes into our assessment of how much our cats love us."

Human-Cat Relations Are About Give-and-Take

"One goal of my research has been to determine an ethological measure for relationship quality. In one research project, I calculated the proportion of intentions to interact (defined as a physical approach to, or a vocalization directed at the counterpart) that were successful for the cat and for the person in each relationship. I then attempted to correlate these values with total interaction time over all human-cat pairs. I found a significant negative correlation for the data for the people. Thus, the more successful the person is in initiating interactions, the shorter the total interaction time with the cat.

"Then I found that the higher the proportion of successful intents to interact that were due to the cat, the more time was spent interacting. From all the households visited for observation, my assistants had recorded over 6,000 intents to interact by either the owner or the cat, and for each human-cat pair, whenever the cat showed an intent to interact, I could calculate the proportion of 'starts' due to the owner, or, the owner's willingness to comply with the cat's wish to interact.

"It became clear that when a person complied with the cat's wishes to interact, then the cat complied with the person's wishes at other times. More importantly, the more the person complies with the cat's wishes to interact, the more the cat complies with the person's wishes. In other words, the more an owner complies with the cat's wishes, the more interaction the cat will allow the owner to initiate.

We may think we are controlling the interaction by initiating it, but in fact it is the cat that controls the duration of interaction. This is truly a relationship based on the give-and-take of partnership, rather than the coercion of one-sided mastery.

Cats Are There When the Depressed Owners Want to Interact

Dr. Turner also touched on aspects of the relationship between animal companionship and mental health.

"Gerulf Rieger and I conducted a recent study of about 100 single persons living together with a cat and 31 single women who were former cat owners, but no longer had an animal. Just before we observed the interactional behavior of the single cat owners on one evening each, they had to complete a standard psychological tool used to assess their mood by describing their momentary feelings with reference to 13 "mood" subscales.

"Both men and women showed more social behavior toward their cats when they were feeling 'less active', 'more sensitive', 'more fearful' and 'more depressed'. We also found that when the person was in a depressed mood, the cat 'rubbed her head and flank' with increasing frequency if the person became increasingly depressed in the course of the two-hour observations.

"The comparison of moods of current single cat-owning women, with those of former cat-owning woman indicated that those who no longer kept a cat felt 'less active', 'more sensitive', 'more introverted', 'more fearful' and 'more depressed'.

"Are cats then to be considered a 'substitute' for human companions? As indicated by a further study of 64 women, in which we found no differences in the human-cat interactions between the women with large social support networks, and the women with small social support networks. And from analysis of psychological data on a larger sample of 330 women, we found no relationship between the amount of emotional support the woman felt she received from other persons and the amount of emotional support she felt she received from her cat.

"From these results, we concluded that cats are not a substitute for another person in the social network, but rather an ADDITIONAL source of emotional support for people, especially for those who have a strong attachment to their animals. Therefore, cats are good for you — if you like them.

Cats have an existence that transcends human perceptions of "cuteness", and if owners consider the diversity of personalities among cat varieties, and respect their various needs, cats can be pets that make a household a warmer, more affectionate environment. That requires factual information on two levels: that of the lay person who loves and wants to understand more about cats, and that of the professional veterinarian and animal behaviorist/animal psychologist, who advices cat-owning clients.