Letter from CAIRC
July 2003 Vol.7 No.2

The 5th CAIRC Research Scholarship Program for Advancing the
Study of Human-Companion Animal Relationships
-Entering its 5th year, the event attracts intense interest with a diverse range of research approaches-

Researchers present results of six scholarship-assisted projects

Since 1998, the Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC) has conducted the CAIRC Scholarship Program for advancing the Study of human-companion animal relationships. The following six presentations of research projects were presented at the most recent fifth annual event by the scholarship recipients.

The research results were presented on June 20 at the Japan Press Club in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward. Participants included the most recent scholarship recipients Nobuko Catherine Okamitsu, Toyokazu Kubota, Mutsuhiro Nakao, Hideo Akiyoshi and Taeko Sakai, as well as previous scholarship recipient Yuko Kubo representing fellow joint research participant Hiroaki Yamamoto. Also in attendance were selection committee members Prof. Mitsuaki Ohta of Azabu University, Prof. Yuji Mori of the University of Tokyo Graduate School, as well as CAIRC Chairman Yoichi Shoda, an honorary professor of the University of Tokyo.

Chairman Shoda’s opening remarks

Chairman Shoda delivered the opening address at the event: “The CAIRC Scholarship Program for advancing the Study of human-companion animal relationships has now completed its fifth year, bringing the total number of researchers supported to 28. Once again, we received a wealth of diverse research proposals from a range of fields in the most recent scholarship. In addition to projects based on biological themes, experiments on child education, cultural outlooks on living things and animal-assisted therapy (AAT) also produced some extremely interesting findings. Despite the fact that each scholarship is limited to a single year of research, we are very grateful that every project presented is the culmination of many years of work.

Next year, the IAHAIO conference that serves as the primary international forum in this field will be held in Glasgow, Scotland. Two scholarship recipients were selected to present their findings at the previous event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I hope that some of these latest wonderful research results will also be presented at the conference in Glasgow.

“Each annual scholarship has received proposals from a wide variety of scholarly fields representing a wealth of diversity that has broadened its intellectual base. This time, as during the previous year, one of the presentations is by a physician who conducted an AAT research project. The latest crop of research projects includes unique work such as experimentation with the use of animals in child education and comparative research on the views of life in South Asia and the West, indicating the vast potential for this field. It is clear to see that this expansion in breadth of research is an indication that the science of relationships between humans and companion animals is an increasingly necessary pursuit in Japan.”

Pursuing an understanding of feline fur color patterns at the genetic level: first light shed on the long history of coexistence between cats and humans

Research theme: Expression of Fur Color Patterns in Cats: Understanding the Formation of Individual Characteristics in Companion Animals

By Yuko Kubo
doctoral student majoring in the Department of the Developmental Biology and Neurosciences, Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University

Presented by the joint researcher, Hiroaki Yamamoto
Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University

For many years, Ms. Kubo, Yamamoto and their research partner Urara Fukuzaki, have been studying how genetic characteristics manifest themselves in the fur color of common mice. The extension of that research to fur color in cats was a fresh departure for them:

“The purpose of our research is to shed light on the mechanisms by which pigment cells are generated, and how that mechanism has evolved. It is a well established fact that pigment cells help protect against ultraviolet rays, but this is not their only function. We know that their other functions include nuptial coloration, camouflage and that they play a role in the senses of sight and hearing. Melanin pigment is also known to absorb a wide range of chemical agents, and it also functions as a radical scavenger. The genetic products related to these functions have an influence on the metabolism of energy as well as the immune system. We are also focusing attention from a biological perspective on how factors such as stress can bring about changes in the crucial pigment cell system. The fact that any sudden or major changes in pigment cells due to mutation show up immediately in an animal’s coat and can be distinguished at a glance is one of the great advantages of this line of research. Even if these changes occur, the research does not lead the subject to death in most cases.”

The ability to conduct research that does not kill the subject enables us to obtain long-term data that accompanies the aging of the subject. Small animals that are easy to handle, such as mice, therefore have long been used as subjects for research all over the world on fur color and pigment cells.

“Thus far, we have learned from our research that there are only two types of cells that produce pigment cells in mammals. One of these is a neural crest cell that is particular to vertebrates. This is a cell that spreads throughout the body from the dorsal region and then differentiates to determine characteristics such as hair, fur and skin color. More than 100 genes related to this process have been detected, and several dozen among them have been analyzed to the extent that their base sequences are known. Two of these genes have been firmly established as being related to the color yellow. Since it can be expected that a common component of the basic mechanism for hair color formation in mammals is encoded and preserved in this gene, this research experiment was an attempt to find this gene in cats. Hair color is a major expression of individuality in mammals, and we therefore also hoped to produce clues to the relationship between humans and the cats that have coexisted with them as companion animals for such a long time.”

In reviewing the research, Prof. Mori made his evaluation while also introducing a relevant research project conducted in the former Soviet Union on foxes.

“In order to produce a fox that could easily adjust to the presence of humans, they conducted hybridization experiments throughout 20 generations in which foxes with docile dispositions were selected,” Prof. Mori said. “The result was a success in that they did produce an inherently tame fox, but also noticed that among the products of the experiment were foxes with spotted coats. It thus became evident that there must be some kind of link between temperament and fur color. I think the research on thoroughly domesticated cats by Mr. Yamamoto, with his extensive experience in research with mice, holds a lot of promise.”

Engaging fieldwork provides an opportunity to deepen the concepts about human-animal relationships

Research theme: Philosophy of “Life” and “Principles of Coexistence” in South Asia; Toward the Anthropological of Relation between Humans and Creatures

By Nobuko Catherine Okamitsu
M.A, a Doctoral Student at the Department of Anthropology in Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University

A student of cultural anthropology, Okamitsu tells us that her fieldwork in India regarding the relationships between humans and animals left a lasting impression on her. In South Asia (India), humans are considered as a part of nature. As fellow living beings, humans and animals are not placed in a hierarchical relationship and neither is considered absolutely or inherently superior over the other. In the West, on the other hand, the merits of culture are thought to transcend nature. Thus, there is an evident construct in the West based on this way of thinking according to which humans, as “cultural” beings, subjugate and control animals, which belong to “nature.” These Asian and Western cosmologies have been seen to differ completely. Okamitsu decided to focus her attention on the question of whether there are therefore differences in ways of thinking about animals as companions (i.e., pets). In order to look into this question, Okamitsu conducted a month and a half of fieldwork in the Southern Indian province of Kanniyakumari, and presented her findings:

“India lacks the kind of rigid hierarchy that characterizes human-animal relationships in the West. Rather, my impression was that Indians locate themselves on the same plane of existence as other living things. Ancient Brahmanism divided living things into four categories: Jarayuja, Andaja, Svedaja and Udbhidja. Jarayuja comprises the mammals, born of the womb. Andaja, refers to animals born of eggs, such as fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds. Svedaja is a category of life thought to originate from moisture, comprising the insects. Udbhidja denotes living things originating from sprouts, indicating plant life. No hierarchy or relative merit was implied in these four categories.

It goes no farther than to demarcate the collective whole of life based on biological traits. As fellow living beings, humans and animals were less rigidly linked, and in some cases animals were the objects of human veneration. In the Hindu religion, of which 80% of the population are believers, worship is offered to deities such as Ganesh, with the head of an elephant, Hanuman, who appears as a monkey, and Naga, in the form of a cobra. It is not unusual for animals themselves to be worshipped as deities, and for humans to therefore be forced to give up some of their freedoms. In the capital Deli, for instance, the number of wild monkeys has soared in recent years as have cases in which they have attacked humans, and there seems to be no end in sight to the ongoing damage they cause. But since many believe monkeys to be manifestations of gods, measures such as extermination cannot be carried out.

“Cattle are believed to provide transportation for gods, or to be manifestations of deities, so it is not only forbidden to eat beef, but there is also a movement to prohibit the slaughter of cattle. Cattle, goats, chickens, ducks and other animals are raised in rural villages. These animals are generally left to graze or feed freely during the day, and are generally not tied up, penned or kept in coops. This provides us with a glimpse of the Indian view on the symbiotic relationship between humans and animals. Cows, for instance, eat the garbage and leftover food that humans discard, and in return provide humans with milk to drink.”

Okamitsu says that there is much we can learn from the Asian view on living things:

“In Western societies, companion animals, or pets, are adopted into human society, given unique names and not excluded from public places. This gives the appearance of a cosmology in which there are no barriers between humans and their pets. But an important distinction is made between pets and other animals such as wildlife and livestock. In order to be accepted into human society, pets must undergo a stringent regimen of training analogous to the learning of etiquette and manners among humans. That is, pets are animals that have been inculcated with culture. In order for humans and animals to coexist in urban settings, it is necessary to take into consideration a number of practical problems such as hygiene. At the same time, I think there is a need to learn from the Indian view on living things, and the cosmology evoked by the mandala, an emblematic representation of a universe in which all of life is regarded as a collective whole.

“Through my research, I came to think that human-pet relationships in the West have been influenced by Christianity,” Okamitsu noted after her presentation, adding that she plans to continue the work. “If we delve further into this topic, I think that we will learn more about human-pet relationships in the West. From that perspective, I think that this is a very major research theme.”

“These are very interesting observations,” Prof. Mori said in his review of the project. “This will provide an opportunity to deepen the concepts about human-animal relations. I would be interested in seeing if something could be done to generate quantifiable data in this area.”

Acquiring real knowledge through real experience: Encountering sheep with all five senses, using wool in children’s education for a fresh experience of the five senses

Research theme: The Development for Sheep-Interacted Child Education

By Toyokazu Kubota
Instructor at Tagata Agricultural High School
in Shizuoka Prefecture

It has recently been pointed out that in education, children need to be introduced to the appropriate experiences at the appropriate ages. And from the point of view of integrated learning, an increasing emphasis is being placed on the shift from conventional lessons in which the teacher is the source of all relevant knowledge to those in which the instructor facilitates the child’s learning experience or educational play activity. As one such solution, Kubota has developed children’s educational programs such as activities carried out at sheep ranches and lesson materials that make use of wool, demonstrating the potential for sheep as learning facilitators:

“In the portion of our high school class program involving plant life, we conducted horticulture therapy program, which we had students planting cotton together with preschool students. As the culmination of the same class program, we brought a sheep that is being raised at the school to the preschool yard so that the children could interact with it, and we used cotton to make sheep toys with it. By thus providing the children with an opportunity to actually experience the voice, smell and feel of the sheep, such as the fluffiness of its coat, with all five senses, we genuinely got the feeling that we had planted in them the seeds of knowledge. It was an experience that really brought home to us the potential that sheep hold as educational facilitators.

“Sheep are essentially domesticated livestock, and the animal’s quiet disposition, fluffy coat and likeable appearance lead us to believe that they are well suited for use as petting animals. And unlike other livestock species, they can be put to commercial use without the necessity for slaughter. This makes them ideal for teaching children about coexisting with animals, and the lifestyles shaped by the sacrifices of those who raise and tend them. Wool can also be used in rehabilitation through occupational therapy.

“Modern education often uses simulated experiences such as television and books, which the student reflects on by writing compositions or drawing pictures. That is, the original experience is largely visual, and so is the review of it. In fact, more than 90% of the information in conventional lessons is visual. There is a clear lack of knowledge gained through real-world experience. This is what makes interaction by sheep so important.”

In other words, Kubota noted, we’re converting virtual reality into reality. He added that in general, much of animal assisted therapy consists of passive activities in which the animal may approach the subject, be placed on the knees, or lick the subjects hand. But with the use of sheep, more active experiences become possible:

“I’d now like to introduce the basic program that we have developed. First of all, we introduce the sheep, enabling students to encounter it with all five senses. They observe, touch and smell, and in some cases the child backs off in the presence of an animal bigger than he or she is. We therefore have the children familiarize themselves with sheep as much as possible beforehand with the use of picture books. Next, we have them feed the sheep, and then sheer off a bit of wool. This gives them a taste of the give-and-take relationship involved in raising livestock and helps them understand the significance of animal husbandry. The next step is to have the student fashion something out of the wool that he or she has taken. For this step of the exercise, we have devised four products adapted to the various ages of the students. One is a sheep-shaped toy, another is a felt ball, another is a felt paperweight, and finally we made yarn and a coaster out of it.

Thus, in the review stage of the lesson, rather than just the visual sense involved in writing compositions or drawing pictures, we put together a series of activities such as manual arts that deeply engages all five senses. We also conducted this program to the students from schools for disabled children. As a result, we found this program a potential one for rehabilitation and for generating healing effect of the so-called sheep therapy.

Awareness of sheep as companion animals is still poor, and few schools have yet to begin raising them. In the future, we hope to spread the utilization of our basic program while also conducting workshops on variations of it in order to spread the use of sheep as educational mediators.”

“A great amount of interest has been communicated to us on the crucial nature of child education and of the effectiveness of animals as educational facilitators,” said Prof. Mori. “This is why this research project has been highly valued for the results it has produced through the use of sheep. I think this is unique research that will have much impact. But most convincing of all were the smiling faces of the adorable children shown in the videotape portion of the presentation when interacting with sheep.”

An invaluable report from the clinical front lines on the effects of animal therapy

Research theme: The Relaxation Effect of Companion Animals
on the Patient with Psychosomatic Illness

By Mutsuhiro Nakao
M.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor, Teikyo University Center for Evidence-Based Medicine, Department of Hygiene and Public Health & Division of Psychosomatic Medicine

Despite the fact that the relaxation effect produced by companion animals is increasingly in the media spotlight, there isn’t much research evidence to back it up. The presentation of just such evidence by Nakao, an expert in psychosomatic illness, is therefore all the more important.

“The subject of this case study is a patient in her 30s with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a collagen disease,” noted Nakao. “Among the characteristics of this disease are both physical and psychological symptoms, including red patches on the face, hypersensitivity to sunlight, inflammation of the joints, hematological abnormalities and delirium. In the case under study, the patient was transferred from the department of internal medicine to the department of psychosomatic illness after complaining of joint pain and depression. Medical examinations subsequently resulted in the diagnosis of SLE, but we also learned that just before the emergence of her illness, she had experienced the death of an indoor pet dog with whom she had been living for many years. After that she had begun living with another indoor dog, whereupon her symptoms had improved before worsening again when that pet was lost. This history led us to believe that companion animals can have a strong influence on SLE symptoms.”

Nakao then obtained the patient’s consent to carry out research on the physiological changes involved in her relaxation response to the presence of a companion animal:

“We began by measuring the frequency and amplitude of the patient’s alpha brain waves, the electrical resistance of her skin, skin temperature, heart rate and respiration rate while at rest. We conducted two measurement sessions in an out-patient examination room. One was taken with the patient resting with her eyes closed. The other was taken while she rested with her eyes closed and concentrated on a mental image of embracing her pet dog. The fluctuations in her heart rate were divided into high (HF) and low frequency (LF) elements, with HF used as an index of the parasympathetic neural function, and LF/HF indicating sympathetic neural function. As a result, we observed significant increases in both alpha brain wave amplitude and the HF indicator of parasympathetic neural function when the subject shifted from an ordinary state of rest to a state of rest in which she imagined embracing her pet. Also, after the first out-patient measurement session, we fitted her with a Holter monitor to measure the fluctuations in her heart rate at home until she went to sleep. This observation revealed an increase in parasympathetic neural activity accompanied by a decrease in sympathetic neural activity while feeding and playing with her dog.

“From these results we learned that not only can interaction with companion animals produce a relaxation effect, but that the effect can be obtained merely by imagining interaction with a pet. However, the data indicated a less potent relaxation effect when pet interaction was merely imagined compared to the results produced when the pet was actually present. This result suggests a need to place utmost importance on designing activities in which patients genuinely physically interact with animals rather than simply looking at or imagining them. The task we now face is establishing the standardized methods for treatment and evaluation that will enable us to begin accumulating high-quality data on the improvement in patients’ physical and psychological states.”

In a question-and-answer session after the presentation, Nakao fielded queries on the healing properties of pets and the damage resulting from the loss of a pet, noting that these are issues that will have to be addressed in the future.

“We are extremely fortunate to have research on animal therapy that was conducted by a physician,” said Prof. Ohta. “The content is intriguing and I have high hopes for future developments. I hope that this project will serve as a springboard for expanded research in the future.”

Successful confirmation that dogs behave abnormally when sensing electromagnetic waves that signal impending earthquakes

Research theme: In search of the Hidden Abilities of Animals:
A Consideration of the Ability of Dogs to Forecast Earthquakes

By Hideo Akiyoshi
D.V.M., doctoral student in the Laboratory of Veterinary Surgery, Graduate School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Osaka Prefecture University

According to a study conducted after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake that struck on January 17, 1995, dogs and cats in the Kobe area near the epicenter were reported to have been acting strangely. Akiyoshi thought that this might be caused by their ability to sense earthquake precursor phenomena:

“It wasn’t just dogs and cats, but also birds, fish, insects and other animals that were seen behaving abnormally before this earthquake. We thought that they might be reacting to electromagnetic wave disruptions that precede an earthquake, and conducted research on the hearts of rats and bullfrogs based on that hypothesis. Electromagnetic waves were found to be able to reduce adrenaline levels in the blood of rats, while the heart rates of bullfrogs were reduced. We began our project by observing the behavior of eight laboratory-raised beagles while bombarding them with electromagnetic waves. We were, however, unable to recognize any significant differences in this experiment. There are several conceivable reasons for this. The beagle, a dog breed that is often used in laboratory experiments, has undergone so many manmade modifications that it has lost many of the characteristics of the dog species, including individual characteristics. In addition, the artificial stress of laboratory conditions such as living in cages and the extraction of blood samples could easily have outstripped the stress of the electromagnetic wave bombardment. We also decided that it would be necessary to adjust the intensity of the electromagnetic waves as well as exposure times in order to simulate the wave patterns that precede a real earthquake.

By keeping those problems in mind, Akiyoshi conducted the second experiment by using the dogs that were trained in the environment similar to the general pet dogs.

“We therefore changed from a continuous wave to a pulsed wave and varied the intensity among several stages of bombardment. We also got rid of the cages, enabling the dogs to roam freely throughout the laboratory and opted for stress-free urine testing methods instead of extracting blood samples. Experimental results included behaviors that were abnormal for these dogs, such as scratching of the body with the hind legs, and biting of the forelegs for about 30 seconds at a time. Changes in levels of catecholamine and noradrenaline in the urine were also detected. Of course, it goes without saying that animals exhibit individual variation, so these biological responses were not uniform. I do believe, however, that we have confirmed abnormal behavior resulting from the fact that animals are somehow able to detect phenomena that presage an impending earthquake.”

Prof. Ohta is also a researcher who has worked in this field, and a supporter of Akiyoshi’s work: “After seven years working on this topic, we were unable to reproduce the pre-earthquake abnormal behavior. I think that his tackling this tough subject and reproducing that abnormal behavior makes this epoch-making research extremely valuable.”

Exploring the thoughts of dog owners who dress expensive pets in expensive clothing — a fascinating comparative study of 19th-century England and the modern Japanese boom

Research theme: Why does one dress a pet in clothing? Studying the Dog Fashion of the Contemporary Japan from 19th-Century England

By Taeko Sakai
M. Phil., Associate Professor, Faculty of Integrated Arts and Social Sciences, Japan Women’s University

In modern Japan, and in urban settings in particular, pet owners walking with dogs dressed in clothing has become a common sight. What are the origins of the practice of dressing dogs in clothes that seem unnatural for animals? Sakai focused on 19th-century England in her endeavor to shed light on the phenomenon:

“In the West, people tended to take a passive attitude toward nature until around the end of the 17th century. At that time nature was the object of wonder and fear. It was 19th century Britain that brought about major changes in this traditional view of nature. During this period, modernization, industrialization and urbanization progressed at an unprecedented pace in England. At the same time, nature was transformed into the object of manipulation by humans through the application of knowledge and technology. And the older view of animals as beasts to be feared also changed. At the time, dogs were widely employed throughout Europe to pull milk carts. In England, however, this practice was abolished in the mid-19th century as they came increasingly to be thought of as companion animals, or pets. As the practice of keeping dogs as pets spread, strong concern and even an excessive affection for the animals manifested itself in the phenomenon of humans dressing their dogs.”

Sakai investigated 19th-century fashion magazines as well as general interest magazines in order to provide an overall picture of the English dog fashions of the day:

“In researching magazines for mass publication, I was able to determine that the practice of dressing pet dogs was not an isolated fad. Rather, a relatively broad range of social strata, from the upper classes to the more well-off middle class, cherished and dressed their pets. According to these magazines, clothing for dogs was not bought ready to wear in pet shops, but tailored by specialized craftsmen. The pet clothing was often made of high-quality velvet and silk to match the owner’s outfit, with special coats for walking and special coats and even goggles for driving. Pets were dressed in various outfits appropriate to the time, place and occasion, such as morning wear, afternoon driving wear and travel wear. There were also accessories made of real and simulated precious metals. In place of collars, bracelets and anklets were in vogue, and the magazines introduce the appropriate types for various dog varieties, such as plain gold bracelets for black poodles and highly polished metallic anklets for terriers, with their longer coats.

“The clothes in which people dressed their pets were clearly a symbol of social standing. At the same time, they were also a way of highlighting the quality of the animal’s breeding. As dogs were increasingly categorized according to pedigree rather than the type of work they did, their economic value also increased. What’s important to remember here is the fact that dogs had now become products that were being placed on the market to be sold specifically as pets. Dogs with a high market price were frequently the targets of burglars, and as merchandise, they were to be coveted or discarded as the market dictated. That is to say that insofar as the pet itself was a status symbol of its owner, it was transformed into an accessory — a commodity that could be exchanged whenever it became tiresome to the owner. Dogs bred as pets had been physiologically modified by humans, and lived highly cultured indoor lives. Pets were thus dogs that had been willfully wrested from nature and forced into a world of regimentation and dependency. It makes sense to say that clothing pets in this state represents a visual manifestation of control (by pet owners) and submission (by pets) and the total victory of order (human beings) over chaos (nature).

“This type of phenomenon is very similar to the current dog fashion fad in modern Japan. A look at the latest fashion magazines reveals an abundance of material introducing expensive luxury items such as designer dog coats, carrying cases and leashes. In other words, in modern Japan, dressing pets in high-priced luxury clothing has become a status symbol. But rather than being an attempt to humanize the pets, dressing these animals is a means of trying to conceal the last lingering signs of the final vestiges of their natural origins. And the fact that dog fashions in Japan are primarily an urban phenomenon is thought to be related to this point.”

“This was interesting research,” said Prof. Ohta. “There is a widespread opinion that in modern England people have arrived at an ideal relationship between humans and pets. Considering that this transformation has followed the period described in this research project, it may be that Japan is currently en route to an ideal situation. The headline in one of the latest Japanese fashion magazines says: ‘Do pets really want to be fashionable?’ It was the question mark that I found heartening because it demonstrated that the editors have common sense.