The Study of Human-Animal Interactions Benefits We Derive from Companion Animals Dogs and Cats as Companion Animals
Dogs and Cats as Companion Animals
October 1997
Dr.Yoshihiro Hayashi

Professor of Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Science
/the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Tokyo
Return to Nature

Japan is one of the countries with the fastest increase in the number of dogs and cats in the world. I think that this has something to do with the fact that the Japanese people want to live together with dogs and cats, and also has some relationship to the environmental problems of modern society. It may seem strange to bring up the issue of environmental problems in this context. The Office of the Prime Minister once conducted a survey of the natural settings that Japanese people prefer and, as a result, it was found that the sort of nature that Japanese like is pastoral scenes and fields.

When you look at a picture of a pastoral scene, it only really comes "alive" if people are depicted out working in the fields and there are some cows and horses. The same is true of fields. There are children out in the field and there are dogs; the nature of fauna and the nature of flora converge and it then becomes something extremely vibrant for the first time. Though it is nearly impossible to live with cows and horses in modern society, it is possible to live together with dogs and cats. This is truly a return to nature. One of the reasons for the overwhelming increase in dogs and cats in Japan is that the Japanese people are seeking nature - this can be seen as the phenomenon of returning to nature.

This is a tendency that is not only evident in Japan but is seen throughout the world. The nature that people like is not the original, primitive nature but is the manmade fields and meadows, artificial nature that offers us peace of mind. Dogs and cats, too, are animals that we have tamed and which also give us this same feeling of security. I believe, therefore, that this will enable us humans to go on living comfortably and securely. Of course, we also have to preserve the primitive wilderness. What I mean is that, in our lives, nature that has been molded to a certain degree by human hands and has a sense of harmony offers the most livable environment and that is actually what most people like best. Animals, the dogs and cats that are our companions, are there, too, fitting perfectly into that milieu. The desire for dogs and cats has become a factor in our return to nature. This is an external factor.

Spiritual Factor — Dogs and Cats as Therapists

Another element is the spiritual factor, which is an internal factor. Modern Japan is a society marked by shrinking families and the advance of aging with fewer children are being born and more elderly citizens. Dogs and cats often become friends and a spiritual support for children and the elderly. In the society of the future, mental distress is sure to increase. It can be said that dogs and cats will come to play a role as therapists even for those of us who just lead ordinary lives.

I think that the Japanese people have a desire for dogs and cats in both respects, the factors of "nature" on the outside and the "heart" on the inside.

Quality of Life

Currently, there are more than ten million dogs and seven million cats in Japan. Since the human population of Japan is about 125 million, that means one animal for every seven or eight people and this will probably continue to increase hereafter. When that happens, we will also see an increase in the problems of real life. In order to make it possible for people and their companion animals to live more comfortably, there are two rules that must be observed. One of them is giving consideration to those people who do not like dogs and cats. It is important for pet owners to have this awareness and to control their dogs and cats. The other rule is consideration for the companion animals themselves. Though they have the capacity to adapt themselves to human society, we have to remember that they are different from humans. We must comply with this rule after we gain an understanding of this fact. It is necessary to control dogs and cats while showing respect for their innate disposition.

As long as these two rules are observed, it may even become possible for those who dislike dogs and cats to learn to like them instead. This will make it possible for dogs and cats to live their lives more actively and vigorously in accordance with their true nature. When that happens, we will probably come closer to a society in which there is one dog or cat for every five people. In order to upgrade the quality of our own lives, we must improve the quality of life for dogs and cats. I believe we should also aim for the realization of a society that will make us feel happy that we can live together with our companion animals.