2005年3月24日 (木)

Loyal pet dogs offer comfort as society grays


Loyal pet dogs offer comfort as society grays


A letter that appeared in Asahi Shimbun editions distributed in Tokyo and its suburbs caught my eye a while back because it had a unique title: ``Motomu Yoken Homu'' (Looking for a home for pet dogs).

It was about a married woman's concern about the future of a puppy that her aged parents, now prone to injury and suffering from eye problems, had adopted after their previous pet dog died. What would become of the new pet when her parents grew too old to take care of it? The question weighed on her mind.



Many elderly dog owners presumably share her concern.

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, more than 12 million dogs are kept as pets nationwide. Approximately one in four ``elderly households'' (where one of the couple is 65 or older) keeps a dog.


In ``Inu no Iru Kurashi'' (Life with dogs), author Koji Nakano writes: ``A dog in your old age is something more than just a pet. ... It is an animal that needs your care and protection. Above all, it is something that you can love with all your heart, without worrying about going too far.'' (The book is available as part of the Bunshun paperback series.)


Nakano himself had a dog called Halas, a Shiba breed. His book, which describes his life with Halas, was a best seller. After Halas' death, he found life without a dog unbearable, and so he looked for a replacement. When the author died last summer, two Shiba dogs, a mother and daughter pair named Hanna and Nana, were living in his house.


Answering my call, the author's widow, Hide, 77, said, ``These dogs are 8 and 5 now. Both are in very good health.'' Even now, she said, when they hear footsteps outside her home, the dogs race toward the gate, thinking perhaps that their late master has returned.

``I think my husband was concerned about the future of his dogs right to his last moments,'' the widow told me. ``I feel obliged to keep on living until after the dogs live out their natural life span.''


When it comes to old age, humans can learn a lot from dogs, says Yoshihiro Hayashi, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Tokyo. ``Even as they grow old, dogs neither lament their physical decline nor worry about their future,'' he says. ``They just live on, content with the present.''

I have a feeling deep in my bones that, in this age of low birth rates and a steadily graying society, it is very unlikely that the numbers of elderly people living out their remaining years with such virtuous companions will soon decrease.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23(IHT/Asahi: March 24,2005)

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