Cat cafes seem to be another peculiarly Japanese phenomenon (although the first one opened in Taiwan). After paying an exorbitant fee I was given what was possibly the worst cup of coffee I have ever had, and then ushered into what was really just a house with several rooms. There were 20 or so cats wandering about with a few more sitting in cages. Apparently they get stressed by too much stroking and need some down time to recover, so cats are rotated through the café.
As soon as I sat down I was pounced upon by a ginger and white feline wearing an Elizabethan collar. It could obviously tell that I was a veterinarian. Not being a cat person, it intrigues me that whenever there are a group of people in a room the cat always heads straight for me. The admission price gave me an hour to interact with our furry friends. According to a number of reports all this stroking is supposed to lower my blood pressure and alleviate stress (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/98432.php). I find that being unable to get up for fear of upsetting the cat in my lap does exactly the opposite.
There was also a dog cafe around the corner but, instead of being a place where you could pat a dog, throw a stick, and get your groin licked, it was actually somewhere you went with your dog where the two of you could enjoy a romantic dinner together.
I assume these sorts of places exist in Japan because of space restrictions that force many people to live in small apartments that do not accommodate pets. This started me thinking about the whole concept of pets. Although no other group of animals has attempted to domesticate another species (unless you count ants farming aphids) I can understand why humans did it. Cats kept vermin out of grain stores, dogs helped with hunting, horses provided transport, cattle gave milk, chickens laid eggs, sheep made wool and they all (depending on the society you lived in) provided a readily accessible source of protein.
What I have trouble grappling with is when the domesticated animal, often a dog or cat, transcends its utilitarian purpose and becomes a surrogate child. At the risk of generalising, this phenomenon seems to be more common among childless middle aged women. Many wildlife carers fall into this bracket and, while they all say they are only looking after the animal or raising it so it can be released back to the wild, in many cases this does not happen because the animal has become that person’s child.
I find this disturbing for a number of reasons. Presumably these people are lacking love and affection of a human kind and so seek it from a different species, a species which apparently never complains or criticises and just gives unconditional love. At least that is what they would have you believe. The reality is, unfortunately, quite different. Animals are held in a human environment and expected to conform to human rules and standards. They are no longer allowed to hunt, mark their territory, or roam free and seldom have the opportunity to socialise with their own species. It is ironic that many of the animals that are taken to veterinarians because of “behaviour problems” are really only attempting to act as nature intended. Because that does not conform to our lifestyle many of them spend their lives on animal versions of antidepressants.
There is also the disease aspect. I remember a carer who brought her eastern grey kangaroo joey to me because it had intractable diarrhoea. We cultured Campylobacter from the joey. Interestingly the carer subsequently developed diarrhoea caused by the same bacteria. On further questioning it transpired that she took the joey to bed with her each night. Recently 15 people in a Canberra nursing home also developed Campylobacter gastroenteritis, this time courtesy of a healthy but infected puppy (http://www.smh.com.au/act-news/puppy-ban-over-aged-care-illness-scare-20130318-2gbkb.html).
The problem is that we are trying to force our animal friends to live human lives, when they wish to live animal lives. It is a shame that the value of an animal always seems to be measured by what it can do for us. Why can we not just enjoy them for who they are and co-exist on this planet without constantly having to touch, fondle and otherwise manipulate them?
Dr. F. Bunny