animals in our lives

Domesticating animals is a long part of human history. It is speculated that there are and will be more pet dogs than children in some parts of the world. My sister declared that her lifetime partner will be a Russian blue cat, not another human being. Her mother, in the hope of persuading her, argued: “imagine you will get sick one day – your cat cannot help you with anything.” My concern for her is more about the discrepancy of the life expectancy between humans and cats. One of major reasons why modern city dwellers have pets is for emotional attachment. In that sense, you may say their roles will not change much, but here are two provocative scenarios of ‘useful pets’:

Networked dog in Brinkland: my ex-colleague and design ‘futurescaper’ anab worked on a concept of networked dogs with implanted chips that turn them into mobile hotspots and digital data storage (you may remember Anab from her yellow chair story as i did, from ubicomp 2005 in tokyo).
Life support: Using human-friendly animals for life support, replacing the role of non-functional organs in human bodies through the ones in living animals, was shown in last year’s graduation show in RCA designing interaction, by revital cohen.

Did you think about the lives of these animals when reading through these scenarios? Would you argue that this may make their lives ever more meaningful for them and their owners? How would you compare this to the currently wide-spread practice of castrating house pets? Human race has genetically modified or influenced the evolutionary development of domesticated animals for a long time. Furthermore, we have started to see genetically cloned animals. I cannot yet form my opinion around the topic of modified and ‘enhanced’ non-human life forms, but it will surely be a space to watch.

Back to the present, I found some photos of animal-related signage that highlight public behavioral issues living with pets.

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Warning of potentially hostile dogs can be an important safety issue – or ensuring the effectiveness of employing the dog. In Japan, each household is asked to put a sticker indicating there is a dog in the house. A new sticker is issued every year, so you can guess the age of the dog by looking at the number of stickers.

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The most common sign about dogs is to indicate whether dogs are allowed or not in that space, in an attempt to promote the right behavioral norm suitable for the space.

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Sometimes, dogs are conditionally allowed if they are kept on a leash. Service or ‘working’ dogs are typical exceptions. I once saw a ‘working’ dog in the underground helping a blind person. He was impressively calm and controlled in the extremely crowded tube. I don’t know how they are trained and qualified, but they certainly seemed to deserve a special treatment.

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In Helsinki, public parks have dogs’ playgrounds. These playgrounds are usually divided into two different kinds: Big dogs’ and small dogs’. There are a huge variety of dogs people have domesticated, and many of them still have the perfectly preserved instinct to kill.

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It is not so common but there are occasional facilities prepared for dogs. Some Helsinki supermarkets have hooks on the wall to tie your dogs or metal cages outside the entrance. In Tokyo, I saw a water fountain named “dog bar”.

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Dog waste disposal might have had a leaping progress over decades but I don’t think I have witnessed it in my lifetime yet. Considering the elevated level of hygiene standard, it is unbelievable that some dog owners let their dog soil the neighborhood under their surveillance. After all, it’s the density that makes the waste disposal a real problem. So as pet dog population increases, we may see stricter rules about this in more places around the world. In places where dog walking is popular, you will see dedicated bins only for dog waste.

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Perhaps your dog will one day be your guide to behave properly in public space?

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The text-heavy orange sign below is a request from the district health center asking residents to forbid dogs from marking in the neighborhood. Considering that marking is a fundamentally instinctive behavior of a normal dog, it is an indirect message to tell the residents that they should either not walk in the neighborhood, or seek surgical solution.

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A disturbing phenomenon of all this is that there are a lot of pets that are discarded by humans. In Kamakura, a quiet neighborhood outside of Tokyo, I found this sign saying that throwing pets away is a crime subjected to a fine of 300,000 yen (~1800 pounds).

I recently watched the movie A.I. (artificial intelligence) with bitterness. As appearance can be deceiving, robots that perfectly replicate human children would always spark up much more debate and emotional reaction than (hypothetically) equally-able teddy bears, thus making it humane vulnerability. A mighty robot engineered to pursue its dream without any constraint subjected to the rules of its environment seems fundamentally violating the basic rules of the robot engineering, or the very virtue of all ‘beings’. More so, if the appearance had no bearing on what it can be capable of, as it will defy our own human instinct that we developed over the long path of evolution. Will our relationship with pets change? Will the functions of the pets get ‘enhanced’? Will we adopt new species of pets of our own creation? How will we evolve our notion of ‘the right thing’ to do when it comes to treating and living with non-human beings?

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This last photo was taken in Seoul a few years ago. She is selling puppies on the street. She didn’t have much business going on, but surely playing with all her puppies kept her busy.

I am looking forward to my sister’s cat, Summer, next week in Seoul. Even though I have cat allergy, I always look forward to having him lounging around me.

3 thoughts on “animals in our lives

  1. Jenna

    Pretty nice post. I just came across your blog and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

  2. Ying

    When a couple wants kids, they think about the future they want to have, it’s about sharing. When a person wants a pet, it’s about owning.

    I just want to add the spiritual aspect of animals in our lives. In Chinese spiritual beliefs ( I don’t agree that this is a Buddhist point of view), humans, animals and all forms of lives are a part of the reincarnation system. Each living matter gets its chance to do good. The reward is to be promoted to a higher form of life. The punishment is to be demoted to something less significant or live with more sufferings. A farm cow that has to work all day long and get slaughtered at the end of its useful life can be considered as someone who may have done bad things to the farmer in its previous life, therefore paying back in this life. A kid born with a silver spoon may become an ant in his next life if he becomes doesn’t keep up with his good karma. This is a very interesting perspective of life. When everything is interconnected with the good and bad deeds, when every thing will be held accountable, people’s behaviors change. This also puts the relationship between humans and animals in a very unique perspective. It’s therefore in the lives of people, but in the basis of ethics.

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