A true animal technician
Epitaph in katakana
Meeting Anne's mother
Visiting Anne's grave
In Japan, owing to advances in medical technology, the situation with regard to intractable diseases once thought to be incurable has been steadily improving, which benefits many patients. Heart transplants, after a hiatus of several decades, have been resumed here so that patients suffering from severe heart disease may await a transplant in their home country, without relying on treatment overseas. Advances in gene therapy are also inexorably penetrating the unknown details of dread diseases.
I have been working close to, and yet far away from, this kind of medical environment for nearly forty years, as an experimental animal technician at a national university. In our lives, we often go through bittersweet experiences, and repeatedly meet and part with many people. Prominent among these encounters is a woman I shall never forget. Her name is Anne Ross. She was an English woman who suddenly appeared in front of me, and then just as suddenly disappeared. I have written this story so that readers may contemplate, through Anne's example and her way of being, what is truly important in the relationship between human beings and animals, and recapture "something important" we Japanese seem to have forgotten.
More than thirty years ago, the science of working with experimental animals was still at its dawn. With only workshops and no associations existing, it was not fully systematized as a science. Experimental animal services in universities were only breeding facilities called “animal houses” and there were few actual laboratories. Researchers and technicians had to work soiled with waste, in an environment without air-conditioning. As a rule, the animals used in experiments should be genetically and microbiologically controlled, but such animals were extremely expensive. With the low budgets at that time, we had to rely on mongrel animals. Rats and rabbits bred as a sideline by farmers, dogs and cats collected from municipal animal pounds were the kinds of animals used.
This was when Anne came to Japan. In Western countries, specially bred animals were already being used in experiments. She came from England, where legislative provisions for animal welfare had been made half a century ago, and the conditions she witnessed and experienced here surprised and agonized her. Still, through her work, she strived to highlight the importance and preciousness of animal life to all within reach. Unfortunately, she became ill and passed away without fulfilling her ambitions. Yet the seeds she sowed in Japan did not fall on barren soil, but eventually sprouted and took root. The existence of this foreign lady in Japan has long since been forgotten, but it would please me if I could pass along, to everyone reading this story, her thought that “human life rests upon immeasurable sacrifices by countless experimental animals”.
I first met Anne in the postoperative recovery room that housed dogs after experiments, located on the rooftop of a former tuberculosis ward. At the time, as the animal laboratory manager, I was in charge of maintaining the equipment and cleaning each room. That day, after finishing cleaning the operation laboratory, I climbed the stairs to clean the recovery room on the rooftop. When I reached the rooftop, I saw an unfamiliar foreign woman washing the room with a hose in hand. I first thought that she was one of the foreign students or foreign researchers who came up from time to time, but I had never seen a student or researcher actually cleaning up the place.
She noticed me standing there, and greeted me with a smile. Of course she spoke in English, so I had no idea what she was saying. I only smiled back awkwardly and returned to the management office, feeling somewhat disconcerted. And she was there again the next day. Not only was she again cleaning the room with a broom, she was also feeding the dogs with canned food and milk. Since I was in charge of the management of those dogs, and they were my responsibility, I half resented her feeding the dogs more than necessary, but I was not able to communicate due to the language problem. I therefore sought help from a professor in the animal management committee, and discovered that she had come to work under the auspices of another animal committee professor. I was told that a corporate animal welfare organization had unofficially requested that Anne’s wish to come to Japan be accepted, and so it was.
Anne was a member of the Royal Society of Animal Welfare in England, but was also registered as a member of the Japanese Society of Animal Welfare. Both Societies, having the same objective, were in touch with each other and made Anne’s visit to Japan possible, though she traveled almost completely at her own expense. Beginning with the “top universities” of Japan, she then engaged in educational activities at universities in the Tohoku area, and later came to the university where I worked. I heard that before coming to Japan she had worked in Western countries, where animal welfare policies were still in their infancy.
The experimental animal environment in Japan at that time was a total disaster. Breeding rooms and laboratories had no air-conditioning, so both human and animals stayed together in boiling heat in the summer and freezing cold during the winter. Leftovers from nearby markets and from the staff cafeteria were cooked in large pots as food for the dogs and cats. Since the leftovers were not carefully screened, cigarette butts and pieces of cups were often mixed in. In the summer, the food would quickly turn rancid, filling the room with an awful stench. In such an environment, the dogs and cats we received almost free of charge were not long able to survive and many died daily, even before experiments could be carried out. Often, those that survived and were used in experiments died before meaningful results could be achieved, and were disposed of.
The breeding house for dogs on the rooftop was windswept, with no protection. Some dogs froze to death, while a sweltering heat from the floor incapacitated others. There was not one dog that seemed healthy. Since there was no quarantine system, once distemper or any other disease broke out, infection spread unchecked, and many puppies were lost. This sad situation was reported to the Society of Animal Welfare headquarters via the Kansai Department, by outpatients, inpatients, and people living near the facilities, and a request for improvement was made several times. However, in a situation where rubber gloves and bandages used by human patients were repeatedly washed and reused for experiments, and surgical knives and scissors were all rusted, special consideration for experimental animals seemed out of the question. This situation was not only present in the university I worked for, but was more or less the same in universities elsewhere. If such was the situation in the medical school of national universities, you can imagine what it was like in other universities. Anne heard about this situation in England and simply could not stand still. She just had to come to Japan and see the status of the experimental animals herself, and make any improvement she could.
A true animal technician
Three months had passed since Anne started to come daily. When we met, I would say hello to her, but I was still wary. One day, I heard a dog leashed in the treatment room shrieking. I thought, “Oh, not again!” and headed for the treatment room. Three researchers were holding the dog down and trying to give it an anesthesia injection. The dog was frothing at the mouth, and its eyes were bloodshot. The wire wound tightly around its neck seemed liable to break. They probably had tried several times as there were syringes on the floor, all with bent needles. I had lots of experience and was quite confident that I could perform the anesthesia procedure, so I told the researchers to step aside. I shortened the wire around the dog’s neck, strongly pulled its hind legs, and was about to make the injection when I heard a voice from behind yelling, “Stop!”
I turned around and saw Anne standing there with a very sad face. In broken Japanese and with gestures, she told me to step aside. She also asked me to hand her the syringe. I also used gestures to tell her that the dog was very excited and too dangerous for her to handle, but she did not listen. After repeating her argument, I had to hand her the syringe. I decided to watch close by, so that I could help her if the dog tried to bite. Anne put the syringe into the pocket of her lab coat and sat near the dog. The floor was soiled with feces and blood, but she seemed not to care.
Holding her body lower than the growling dog, she started talking to it. Since it was in English, I did not understand what she was saying, but I imagined she was saying something like, “You poor thing. Sorry to have frightened you,” or “I am not going to hurt you.” She kept on gently talking to the dog and gradually went closer. When the dog began to calm down, Anne spit saliva onto her hand and put it in front of the dog. What a surprise! The dog that had kept on growling for so long licked Anne’s saliva. As the dog was licking, she patted the dog from the top of its head to its back and the dog became completely tame. The anesthesia procedure then was done smoothly using its front leg, without any resistance.
That sight struck me like a blow to the head. I had believed that I was the most proficient practitioner of this kind of procedure in the entire university. I thought I had a technique even beyond that of doctors, but after seeing how Anne so skillfully handled the unpleasant situation, I lost confidence in my technique and was utterly crestfallen. Anne’s humane and sensitive actions made me notice how ignorant I had been and from that day forth, I became her follower.
I sought advice from her not only about anesthesia techniques but also on anything related to working with experimental animals. As a result, I started to have grave doubts about the content of the Japanese technical books I had studied. We still had communication problems, but I could understand her belief and true objective that “even technicians should be concerned with animal welfare, and should aim for animal experiments without cruelty.” As I spent time with Anne, I was able to naturally learn a new attitude towards animals, which I had never even imagined before, such as; “rather than trying to tame the animals, try to be friendly with them,” or “even if you know that the animals are going to die, do not handle them badly,” or “similar dogs are loved by their masters for their whole life,” and so on.
My initial suspicion of Anne was totally resolved, and we had many chances to share coffee or tea together in my office. She never showed off her techniques. She only helped me when it was necessary. I heard from the persons in charge of breeding that she did not even take Sundays or holidays off, but would come to clean up. There were about seventy dogs on the rooftop and ten in my management area. Taking care of nearly one hundred dogs could easily take up a whole day but in addition to cleaning, if you include walking the dogs and their postoperative care, she worked everyday until nine o’clock. I sometimes slept over at the office to help during experiments, but when I woke up at eight o’clock the next morning, she would already be at work.
Soon, it was almost a year since I first met Anne. One day she, who was so very committed to her work, suddenly did not appear. I first thought she might be sick in bed, but she did not show up for a whole week. I asked a professor who knew her whereabouts well what had happened. He told me that she was ill and had been admitted to a hospital somewhere, but he did not know where to get in touch, so I could not even visit her. After a while, one Monday morning, the person in charge of breeding called me and said, “I forgot to tell you, but a friend of Anne’s came over on Sunday and left a box to give to you. She seemed to be in a hurry.” I rushed over to the breeding office and picked up the box from Anne. Inside were a pack of Hi-Lite cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey, together with a letter.
The letter was written in awkward “katakana” (a phonetic Japanese alphabet) saying, “Satoh-san, thank you. I am going back to England. Please take care of the dogs. Anne Ross.” For a second, I could not understand what it meant. I wondered why she had to go back to England. Maybe she had some urgent business or something. At that moment, I could not begin to imagine that she had to return because of a severe illness. I was initially optimistic that she would return to Japan but as I read her letter over, I started to think that perhaps I would never see her again. If she thought she would come back, she probably would not have written, “Please take care of the dogs.” I reread her letter many times, until the letters began to blur, and tears kept falling from my eyes. How did she feel when realized she had to go back? I can now easily imagine how she felt to have to leave the dogs behind but at that time, I was totally in a daze. Her physical and mental strength had probably been stretched to their limits.
My heart was full with memories of from when I first saw Anne until the time she left. She never showed bad feelings towards me, even though I first took such an arrogant attitude towards a respectable English animal technician such as herself. On the contrary, every time we met, Anne would smile and say good morning and hello in the Japanese she had learned. I told her to wash the blankets and bandages soiled with excrement using the washing machine in my office, but she said that she did not want to cause me any trouble, and would take them to the rooftop and wash them using a metal basin and washboard. In winter, her poor beautiful hands would become chapped and frostbitten. She would stay up all night nursing postoperative dogs that were progressing poorly and were about to die. A flood of such memories flashed before my eyes.
Even after we met she had trouble with certain breeding technicians and researchers, as she would feed the dogs bread and milk she had bought herself, in addition to the usual solid food. She was always quarreling with those people about her feeding the dogs, because they gave what she though was an absurd reason for not doing so, namely that the amount of droppings would increase and would be bothersome to clean up. Researchers complained that they felt uneasy because Anne would point out their poor handling of the animals every time they tried to perform experiments. Knowing the way experimental animals were treated in her home country, Anne was probably in a quandary about why people in Japan did not understand what she was trying to accomplish.
With increasing frequency, she would visit my office after work, sit in a corner chair, and smoke and drink whiskey heavily. If I had been able to speak English, I would have been able to listen more attentively to her agonizing. She looked very sad, drooping her head and slouching while she drank. The gift that she left me might have been a sign asking me to speak up for her.
I had heard of an episode where, before she came to our university, a TV station found out about her activities and asked her to appear on a program. Even during taping, she would say, “Right now, while I am sitting here, dogs are suffering,” and would offer the interviewer heartfelt remonstrations. This shows how deeply she worried about the plight of the animals. Perhaps she was resigned that no matter how vigorous her appeals about the present sorry state, only a few Japanese would understand her. Anne was a perfectionist with all she did, and hated dishonesty. So, taking her personality into account, the fact that she had to return to England meant that she must have been severely ill, but at that time, I thought emotional entanglement, rather than disease, was the reason.
Due to the emotional and physical strain of her work, Anne weakened her liver, and had to return to England. Then a year passed without any news about her. During that interval, to spread the word about how wonderful a person Anne was, I took advantage of several opportunities to talk with staff members at magazines dealing with the subject of experimental animals, and with other people involved in the field. I also went around the country to talk about how behind the times Japan was in matters of animal welfare.
One day, I unexpectedly received an envelope from someone I did not know. The sender was a person in Tokyo, and in the envelope there was a Japanese letter, an English letter, a copy of a translation of a magazine article I had written about Anne, and a photo of Anne. The sender was Ms. H, a friend of Anne’s, and she had translated and sent me a letter that Anne’s mother wrote to me. It was a notice of Anne’s death. Anne’s mother wanted to let me know, so she asked around and finally tracked me down. Anne had been hospitalized after her return to England, but she did not recover. The letter said that Anne had passed away, with many friends standing by her side. It also said that Anne had worried about the dogs in Japan until her last minute, and that she regretted the fact that she had to leave her work behind. Her mother wrote, “I have read the translation of the article you have written. It is a saving grace that at least some people in Japan did understand what Anne was trying to do. Thank you Mr. Satoh.” Reading her letter, I felt very sorry, but at the same time, I also felt relieved. Enclosed were photos of Anne attending her friend’s wedding and of Anne’s tombstone with her dog sitting next to it.
Looking at the photo of Anne smiling, wearing a beautiful dress, I thought about her mother’s feelings. While Anne’s friends were getting married and living a happy life, she came to Japan alone, worked herself to the bone, and returned to her country sick. Even though she tenaciously followed her desire, and worked tirelessly in foreign countries, she must have been mortified. With nobody to talk to, she must have felt very lonely. These likely feelings of Anne’s mother stabbed my heart with pain. At the end of the letter, it said, “On the tombstone, Anne’s name is engraved in katakana also. That way, if you or any other Japanese visit England, it would be easy to find her.” I took a closer look at the photo and found “Anne Ross” in katakana. At that moment my mind was made up. I would travel to England without fail and visit Anne’s grave. I would convey to her mother how grateful I was to have met Anne, and tell her about the present situation in Japan.
Ten years passed since Anne passed away. During this time, I continued to exchange letters with Anne’s mother. At the end of her letters, she would always write, “Come and visit England, where Anne grew up.” My work place was totally renovated. The old building where Anne had worked was reduced to rubble. In the newly built research building, there was a fine animal laboratory, and in the breeding area on the rooftop of another building, a humble breeding room with cinderblock walls was built. Air-conditioning was installed to mitigate the effects of winter cold and summer heat, and the death rate of the dogs decreased dramatically.
Researchers became aware of the need for ethical handling of animals, so the death rate during and after experiments also decreased. At last, the spirit of animal protection, which Anne had aimed for, had started to flower. In the breeding section, young people were doing well, and walking the dogs around the rooftop became a daily routine. Though there was still plenty of room for improvement, we had made great strides compared to when Anne was there. If she were alive, she would have been surprised with all the changes, and would have been very happy. My desire to visit Anne’s grave in England had been growing stronger year by year, and it seemed that the time was right. Finally, I could wait no longer, and started to prepare for my visit.
Meeting Anne’s mother
A private trip to England was a costly matter. I searched around for an inexpensive tour, and decided on a plan staying in London for only two days. Since I was taking my wife and son with me, I decided to go during the summer vacation season. On the night we arrived at London, I asked our tour conductor to make a phone call to Anne’s mother. The conductor told Anne’s mother that we would be arriving at her place around ten o’clock next morning. After the conversation was over, the conductor handed the phone to me. I was a bit embarrassed, so I could only manage a brief greeting. I heard Anne’s mother’s voice over the phone for the first time, but rather than being thrilled, I was so nervous that I do not even remember what I said.
The next morning, we got into the taxi our tour conductor had reserved for us, which was waiting in front of our hotel. From there on, we were on our own, with no one to rely on for assistance with English. The driver was a South American. Though I realized he was trying to be friendly, ever since the previous night’s conversation with Anne’s mother, I felt lost in a sea of English. I could tell from ends of his words that he was talking about his family and telling us that very strict qualifications had to be met to become a taxi driver in London, but all I could do was nod.
When we first started exchanging letters, Anne’s mother was living in London city. She eventually moved to a suburb about fifty kilometers away from the city, and I had her new address. I imagined that Anne’s grave was nearby. After a two-hour drive, we came close to the address, but the driver was not sure which house was our destination. He would ask the people walking, but we seemed to be going around in circles. Finally, we reached the house way past the time I told Anne’s mother we would get there. We had reserved the taxi for the whole day, so I asked the driver to please wait for us.
I stepped up to the house and rang the doorbell. The thought of meeting Anne’s mother made me nervous, and my legs were even shaking. The door opened. A silver-haired small woman jumped out of the house and I ran up to her too. We did not need any words. We looked into each other’s eyes, shook hands, and hugged each other again and again. My long-time wish had finally come true and I could not help crying. I had imagined a large woman, but on the contrary, Anne’s mother looked rather like a Japanese grandmother, and not an English woman. She reminded me of my own mother who had passed away when I was young, so I soon felt a sense of closeness.
Anne’s mother showed us into her living room. In her letter, she said she was living in a retirement apartment, but it was actually a simple yet elegant independent house with a lawn all around it. The kitchen and bathroom were more than adequate and many niceties, typical of a welfare state, had been seen so that an elderly person could live comfortably alone. A scroll picture that I had sent her was on the wall, together with the same photo of Anne I had received. There were two cats in the bedroom. For a moment, I was worried that Anne’s mother might be lonely, but hearing that a helper came every week to take care of the lawn and that Anne’s younger sister and her family was living nearby, I felt relieved.
We enjoyed a delicious English-style milk tea that Anne’s mother prepared for us. I spoke in my broken English with a dictionary in one hand, and Anne’s mother kindly talked slowly for me. Pointing at the photos on the wall, she showed me her husband, who had already passed away, and her relatives. She then told us to wait where we were, and went into another room. She came back with a double-decker bus toy, like one we saw in London, a glass ball with coral sealed inside, and a wooden box. She handed them one by one to my son, wife, and myself, and said they were gifts for each of us.
Inside the wooden box, I found a “netsuke” (a small, carved, Japanese accessory) of two rabbits cuddling close together. The composition was similar to a Japanese wildlife caricature, so I asked about it. Anne’s mother told me that it was a gift that Anne had bought in Japan for her. I was surprised that Anne’s mother was now giving it to me, so I told her that I could not possibly receive it. I certainly did not wish to receive such a precious item, which might have been Anne’s only memento. Though I kept on telling her so, Anne’s mother said to me, “It is better off with you.” When Anne first saw the netsuke, she probably thought it expressed how much the Japanese cared about animals. She must have been shocked and saddened on seeing the actual situation in Japan. I imagine she felt and hoped that deep down in Japanese people, there must be caring feelings hiding somewhere, so she gave this netsuke to her mother. I decided to accept the gift gratefully.
We gave Anne’s mother a Japanese fan and “origami” (paper used to fold and create small figures) as gifts in return and she seemed very impressed with them. My wife taught her how to fold a crane using the origami paper. Anne’s mother folded one herself, and put it on the cupboard in the living room. Though our conversation was mainly one-sided, I felt we did not need words in order to reach each other’s hearts. I was very happy that we were able to understand each other well enough.
Visiting Anne’s grave
After our pleasant talk, it was time to go to the graveyard where Anne now rests. All four of us got into the taxi, and Anne’s mother explained to the driver how to get there. We arrived in no time. Anne’s younger sister, a beautiful woman just like Anne, was waiting for us at the graveyard. She lives right nearby and takes care of Anne’s grave. We introduced ourselves, and then headed for Anne’s grave. Suddenly, I remembered that I had forgotten something important. In Japan, we always bring flowers and incense sticks when we visit graves. I imagined that Western countries have a tradition of offering a wreath of flowers to the grave. I remembered this when I was at our hotel, but completely forgot about it as soon as we got into the taxi. As we headed for the grave, I apologized to Anne’s mother and sister about this, and soon we reached the site.
Just as in the photo I received, her tombstone was an enchanting size and had “Anne Ross” engraved in English and in katakana. I stood in silence for a while. Then, I walked up to her grave with deep emotions, my heart overflowing. I finally was able to keep my promise to Anne’s mother. While putting my hands together, I thought of the days I had spent with Anne. Tears fell from my eyes in a torrent and the only words I could find were, “Thank you. I am sorry.” She must have been waiting for a Japanese person to visit her grave for a long time. Thinking of how heart-breaking it must have been for her when nursing the many sacrificed dogs, the only thing I could do was apologize. Was there nothing more I could have done for her? I had asked myself this question daily until this visit. Now, standing in front of her grave, I could only pray that her soul would rest in peace. My four-year-old son stood bashfully beside me, and my wife also prayed in front of the tombstone. My long-time dream had finally come true.
I felt that I could never stay long enough, but soon it was time for us to go. We went back to the taxi, and took Anne’s mother and sister home. We felt the sorrow of having to part right up until our final farewell. They both were crying and waved their hands to our taxi for a long time as we drove away. This scene was seared into my memory forever.
The gift that Anne gave to us Japanese is love and friendship regardless of species. She treated experimental animals just as a doctor or nurse would tenderly treat a severely ill patient fighting a disease, perhaps with even greater compassion. She put her life on the line to care for hundreds of experimental animals that, at the time, were handled more like test tubes or beakers, replaceable things that if broken could be easily replaced. In an age when people even killed their kin, she took the pain of the animals as her own, in a country far away from home.
After Anne’s death, there was a time when I gave a few drops of water to a dog whose fate was to be killed after an experiment. I could not give a lot, for it would increase the risk of vomiting during the experiment, so only a few drops. A researcher watching this asked me, “What are you doing?” I answered, “I am giving the dog its deathbed water.” After the experiment was over, I saw that researcher praying in front of the dog’s dead body. It was the moment when Anne’s gift reached the heart of that researcher. When there are enough researchers like him, we will enter an age when Japan finally is sensitive to animal welfare, as Anne had wished. I was again convinced that human and animal welfare are inexorably linked.
It has been more than twenty years since Anne passed away. The university I work for has undergone countless changes. Both in name and reality, the number one experimental animal facility in Japan is in operation there. Not only is it the largest, it is also managed in accord with many aspects of animal welfare practice, such as air-conditioning, adequate staff, thorough educational curricula for students and researchers, and so on. At present, I am not in this department anymore, but every time I go past this facility, I always think if only Anne could have seen it.
There is no memento of Anne left in this new facility, but her spirit lives on. This is true not only in this university, but also in universities around the country. In experimental guidelines now, the words “animal welfare” are always used. However, almost none of the current personnel know that an English woman came to Japan long ago, to ease the animals’ suffering, and that experiments were done under barbarous conditions. They have worked in a clean environment from the beginning, and thus think that it is a normal thing. Perhaps it is fate that the sorry history of experimental animals, the sordid side of medical progress, together with Anne’s epitaph in katakana, might be forgotten by the Japanese people.
This story is based on a self-published book I wrote after I returned from my visit to England. I published five hundred copies and gave them for free to people for whom these events have meaning. The title of the book was For Anne and My Son. More than ten years has passed since its publication, and my book and Anne’s grave seem to have long been forgotten.
One day, however, I was looking at an Internet homepage of a person who is engaged in welfare activities for pet animals. There I found a message saying, “I am looking for Mr. Satoh’s book.” I wanted to give a copy of my book to that person, but I only had two copies left, which I wanted to keep for my son. I thought that perhaps I could use the opportunity to re-edit my book, and rather than self-publishing it, have it commercially published so that people could find it in bookshops. I wanted as many people as possible to know about Anne’s grave.
I contacted several publishers, but with the current recession and all, none seemed willing to publish this story. I then thought of a way to have many people read my story, and decided to create my own homepage. Only a few people might notice it at first, but I hope that the number will gradually grow. I am not very at home with computers so, needless to say, it was my first experience with creating Web content. I am worried about expressing my feelings well enough, but if the people reading my story feel even a slight bit of sympathy, and increase their appreciation of the sacrifices that so many animals have made for the betterment of humanity, I believe that Anne’s heart’s desire will be fulfilled.
If you have any comments, please feel free to write.
Please feel free to link to this site and spread the word.
Anne's mother is still in good health. If you would like to send her a letter of thanks or encouragement, please send me an E-mail message, and I shall let you know her address.