|Research Presentations Show the Wide Range of Ways
Humans Benefit from Pets
10th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions
Held in Glasgow,
|U.K. host country demonstrates advanced understanding of animal
European nations of animal welfare
The 10th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions was held from October 7 through 9 in Glasgow, Scotland, providing researchers with an opportunity to present the latest findings on the wide range of beneficial health effects derived from pets. Hosting the event was the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO), an international organization formed by numerous national associations and other organizations with a common interest in the study of human-animal interactions.
Titled "People and Animals: A Timeless Relationship", this year's triennial event occupied three meeting venues and included eight plenary addresses. A total of 57 oral research presentations and workshops were given, having been selected from numerous entries. Attendees included nearly 460 participants from approximately 30 countries, comprising researchers, veterinarians, medical practitioners, educators, and animal welfare specialists. The exhibit space included 79 poster presentations of research findings, and participants voted to determine the recipient of a "Best Poster" award. A "Children's Pets" art competition for local children around Glasgow was also held, with the top prize going to Yasuko Sato, a 17-year-old Japanese exchange student.
The research presentations tended to focus in academic and scientific ways on a wide range of scholarly findings in fields such as the benefits derived from human-animal relationships, particularly by children and the elderly. In her plenary presentation titled "Human-Animal Interactions and Health," Dr. Cindy Wilson of the United States spoke on methodological research issues and potential solutions, as did Dr. Lynette Hart of the University of California, Davis, in her presentation, "Community Context Affects the Impact of Pets on People." Both speakers gave useful recommendations and illustrative examples of methods for more effectively and scientifically presenting research results, heightening expectations for future research.
Pets and the elderly, pets and children: More new evidence of benefits from interaction with animals
The presentations included findings in a number of areas, such as the human health effects of pet keeping, managing the environments in which pets are kept, the role of pets in education, pets in the community, and service animals. "Progress is being made in the physiological measurement of the beneficial effects that animals can have on people through interactions like animal-assisted activity and therapy," said Dr. Yoshie Kakuma, a lecturer at the Department of Animal Science, Teikyo University of Science and Technology. "We saw numerous examples of research approaches that provide medical explanations concretely and in detail."
The following are summaries of some of the outstanding research results presented at the conference.
The effects of animal-assisted therapy on Alzheimer's patients
Debra Buttram of the Italian service dog group AIUCA reported on animal-assisted therapy carried out at a facility specializing in treatment for patients with Alzheimer's disease within an Italian nursing home for the elderly. Residents were allowed to freely participate in twice-weekly 90-minute interaction sessions with dogs, with activities including walking, watering, and brushing. "Attention spans among participants were extended and relations between patients improved markedly, and we also saw a reduction in their problem behavior," she reported. These changes were noted when the dog was present even if not directly interacting with the patient.
School attendance rates are higher among children with pets
Meanwhile, Dr. June McNicolas, a health psychologist of the Department of Psychology at Britain's University of Warwick, reported on her study of beneficial effects of pet ownership on child immune function by investigating salivary immunoglobulin A and school attendance. This work produced intriguing results on the relationship between pets and children's health. (Immunoglobulin A levels reflect a subject's health by indicating resistance to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.)
The study of 256 students aged 5-11 at three schools in England revealed that children of households in which pets were being raised were absent from school due to illness far less often than others. This trend was particularly prominent among children aged 5-7. Compared to children from households without pets, preschoolers with pets attended 18% more frequently, while first-year students with pets attended 13% more frequently. Thus, the children from households with pets attended school a total of about three weeks more per year than those without pets. Dr. McNicolas also confirmed that the children with pets tended to have more stable levels of immunoglobulin A.
"Recent research has already made it clear that interaction with animals has a marked positive effect on health by, for instance, reducing the future risk of problems such as allergies and asthma," Dr. McNicolas said. "But what was so surprising about this study was the finding that children from households with pets have such better school attendance rates compared to children without pets."
The economic benefits of keeping pets: Calculating human healthcare costs
Associate Prof. Bruce Headey of Australia's University of Melbourne and his team compiled a major study of large-scale German, Australian, and Chinese research projects on the link between pet ownership and human health. Headey reported his finding that people living with pets visited medical institutions 15% to 20% less per year than did subjects without pets. Preliminary calculations of medical cost reductions were 754.7 billion yen in Germany and 308.8 billion yen in Australia. Thus, the economic benefits of pet ownership are coming to the fore as we confront the aging of society. The Chinese study looked into the state of affairs regarding pets in the rapidly changing environment of modern Chinese society. It comprised research into the health benefits of pet ownership among empty nesters.
Toward a better environment of coexistence, from improvements in the pet breeding industry to lifelong care for elderly pets
The United States is an advanced country with respect to the pet industry, with much progress being made in areas ranging from improving the environments in which pets are bred to lifelong care for animals. Other conference presentations introduced ways in which issues of aging among both humans and companion animals are being coped with, as well as administrative programs aimed at bringing about improvements in the commercial pet industry.
Shelters for aging pets: A need that is expected to grow
One consideration that occurs to an elderly pet owner is the thought that "If I should go first, then what will happen to my pet?" Elizabeth Clancy of the Bide-A-Wee Home Association in New York reported on facilities that assume care for pets orphaned in such circumstances.
According to her report, a facility was established in New York six years ago that will agree to provide lifelong care for elderly pets when their owners die or are incapacitated by severe illness. The facility includes an interior that models a home environment, indoor and outdoor exercise areas, and a full-time staff. Admittance requirements include that the pet must be 8 years or older, and must be free of zoonotic diseases. The facility also gives priority to pets that have difficulty being placed in ordinary animal shelters. Approximately 1.08 million yen must be paid in advance for lifetime care costs at the facility, which has admitted 33 cats and 26 dogs to date.
The need for such facilities in Japan is considered likely to increase in the future.
Introducing educational programs to improve the quality of the commercial pet industry
Betty Goldentyre, an Animal Welfare Act (AWA) inspector in the Animal Care Unit within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), developed the Canine Care Program operated by the U.S. government in 2001. In cooperation with local veterinary hospitals, the program holds workshops for the commercial pet industry to convey knowledge and information regarding proper canine care. Its activities have a particular concentration in states such as Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, which have an especially high density of commercial puppy breeding companies. Participants are issued a certificate intended to boost demand for the program. This certification program serves as a standard for consumers purchasing pets.
The influence of pets on troubled youngsters manifested in diverse ways
Numerous beneficial effects--both psychological and physical--of raising pets have been documented, and a number of programs were presented at the conference that hold promise of such benefits for troubled youth. Among drug-addicted homeless youths, children in correctional institutions, and those who have dropped out of school, caring for pets and participating in dog training have been shown to help eliminate recidivism and assist youngsters in once again returning to society as productive citizens.
Domestic violence (DV) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have become significant social issues in Japan in recent years, and it appears that pets have a beneficial effect on people suffering from these problems as well. The winner of the award for the best poster session presentation provides a good example.
Dogs help abused children open up (Best Poster Award)
It is, of course, essential that the abuse of a child be investigated as should any other crime. To children who have lived through such suffering, however, it can be extremely difficult to describe the experience to an investigator who is a total stranger to them. It is for this reason that Nelly Creten, a Belgian Federal Police investigator of violent crimes, began conducting animal-assisted interviews with children in 1995 with the help of two female Labradors. In the subsequent five years, she conducted investigations with 100 children (an average of two to three per week) of ages 3-14, and the animal mediation technique was used with 80% of the subjects. The presence of dogs who seem to ask through their behavior to be petted on the head reduced fear and aggression on the part of the children, contributing to the creation of an environment in which they could more easily speak freely.
Research utilizing the special abilities of animals is also drawing attention
The most well-known roles for dogs in helping humans are those of guide dogs for the blind, for the hearing impaired, and other service roles. One presentation at the conference showed research findings on how the acute canine sense of smell can be used to assist in the early detection of bladder cancer.
Canine olfactory detection of human bladder cancer
A group formed by members of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and Amersham Hospital staff members in Britain's Buckinghamshire exposed six dogs that had undergone clicker training to the odor of human urine in order to determine their ability to detect transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). The results showed that the dogs succeeded in detecting the cancer by smell 41% of the time, a significant improvement over the expected random detection rate of 14.3%.
Detection success rates varied among individual dogs, with five of six dogs demonstrating an ability to distinguish between cancerous and cancer-free samples. Although the method is not currently practical, the potential for its application in detecting other cancers after further improvement is much anticipated.
Six researchers from Japan present findings
This year's conference included 136 of the most excellent presentations selected from among more than 230 entries. Six of the successful entries were by researchers from Japan.
Among those giving oral presentations was Dr. Akimitsu Yokoyama of the National Defense Medical College, who is actively pursuing progress in the field of animal-assisted therapy. In an experiment designed to determine whether robots can assist in animal-mediated therapy, Dr. Yokoyama conducted an international comparison of the reactions of children to the Aibo robotic dog.
Of the five poster session presenters from Japan, three were recipients of the CAIRC research scholarship. This was especially gratifying for CAIRC as we move ahead with efforts to support such researchers. A research team headed by Dr. Yukihide Momozawa from the Laboratory of Veterinary Ethology, the University of Tokyo, which received the second annual CAIRC scholarship, presented their project, "Evaluation of Behavioral Traits in Japanese Indigenous Shiba Dogs in Combination with Polymorphic Analyses of Neurotransmitter-Associated Genes." The presentation called for a heightened awareness of the need for individualized methods of raising and training dogs. This awareness is informed by the genetic background that finds its expression in the traits that make individual dogs distinct.
A fellow recipient of the second annual scholarship, Noriko Niijima of Dept. of Sociology, the University of Tokyo, gave a presentation titled "Why is recovery from pet loss so difficult?: A sociological case study in Japan using the concept of 'reality disjuncture.'" This project demonstrated how a lack of understanding among others is a major cause of the severe difficulties involved in pet loss. Dr. Nobuyo Ohtani of the New Institute of Animal Science, also a recipient of the 6th annual scholarship, presented his findings on "A Neurochemical Approach for Dog Training-Especially for Problem Behaviors." Dr. Ohtani spoke of the utility of neurological science in helping to establish the most effective training methods for domestic dogs and earlier determination of assistance dogs' capabilities.
Associate Prof. Kazuko Hara, Department of Occupational Therapy, Nagoya University of Health Sciences, presented "Influence of Service Dogs on Re-construction of Recipient's Capacities." Meanwhile, Akihiro Matsuura of the Graduate School of Agriculture, Hokkaido University, gave a presentation on "Analysis of Rhythmical Movements of Both Horse and Rider Using Accelerometer."
As these entries show, the contents of presentations by Japanese researchers have also become more diverse. Deeper interaction with their counterparts overseas was also observed at the conference. "I was able to exchange views with others in a range of fields such as psychology and veterinary science, not just sociology," said Niijima. "Having agreed to exchange reference materials and ideas for joint research plans, this has given us an excellent opportunity to develop future research potential."
Tokyo Chosen as the Site of the Next Conference in 2007!
The first of the conferences to be held in Asia spurs high hopes for research in the field
The closing ceremony included an announcement that is especially gratifying for those of us involved in the development of the study of human-animal interactions in Japan. It has been decided that the 11th triennial conference, scheduled for 2007, will be held in Tokyo. The event will be held jointly by the Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA) and the Society for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (HARS), Japan's national IAHAIO members. Affiliate members the Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC), the Japanese Service Dog Resource Academy (JSDRA), and Hill's-Colgate (Japan) Ltd. will also join forces to help ensure the success of the conference.
"CAIRC was established in 1997, and it was then that the study of human-animal relationships began to gradually come to the fore in Japan," said Yoichi Shoda, CAIRC chairman and Tokyo University professor emeritus. "The IAHAIO international conference will be held in Tokyo in the tenth year since then. I feel great pride in the fact that the activities and track records of researchers in Japan have thus gained recognition. At the same time, I sincerely hope that as the first such international convention to be held in Asia, this event will help further advance the development of human-animal relationships not only in Japan, but in the entire Asian region as well."
The IAHAIO international conference is not just for researchers. Anyone with an interest in human-animal interaction may participate. We believe that it will provide an excellent opportunity to observe the latest research from all over the world in this field.