Marine, a 5-and-a-half year-old black Labrador retriever, just might be one of the world’s most unexpected heroines in the fight against cancer. Marine’s nose is capable of detecting 18 different types of cancer on a person’s breath and has already been mechanically replicated as a sensor the size of a mobile phone to detect breast cancer. The manufacturer, Seems Inc., is hoping to have the product on the market within six months and for under 10,000 yen. Marine’s supersensitive nose was discovered by her owner, Yuji Sato, 60, whose adoration for the dog opened his eyes to her incredible potential. Sato’s insatiable desire to experiment, matched with Marine’s love for him, have resulted in one of the more unusual, and fun-loving, research teams on earth.
Pets are the best healers. I used to take our smaller dogs to schools and nursing homes, and the minute the animals were placed on the knees of the very ill elderly or sick children, the pets’ healing power was apparent. Unfortunately Japan is so behind the rest of the world in this field. We are refused entry to most places and many doctors either do not accept or do not care that animals have beneficial effects on patients.
To develop your talent, you must exercise. Marine’s nose is sensitive but it is our daily exercise that makes her smelling ability exceptionally great. Every day I come up with new ideas to please her because her moods and my feelings are different daily so we never repeat things. One good exercise was buying two new glasses and letting her smell one after hiding the other on the beach among many other glass bins. She found the match immediately.
There is no manual for learning. I only graduated from high school — since then I have been working and playing around. I do not learn much from others, I have my own ideas.
To get scientifically correct data, science is not enough. I know how similar research to mine is done in Europe and in the United States: In an enormous lab, filled with million-dollar machines, a large number of staff — mostly PhDs — in white space suits work in a totally pristine environment where temperature, noise, humidity, wind and smell are all 100 percent controlled. A clean dog is let into the room where samples are placed and he or she is supposed to pick out the ones containing cancer. I, on the other hand, work in a messy beach house. Marine runs in to smell samples I place in boxes on the floor, and yet our results are super accurate and, with our help, the world’s first sensor that can detect breast cancer on human breath is already being produced. No wonder Marine and I are producing the best results: love and trust create a positive outcome, science does not.
Japanese are victims of bureaucrats who suffocate the population. When I first moved to the coast I was shocked by how many people died in the ocean every year, so I decided to train a few dogs to rescue drowning people and offered them for free to the lifeguard’s association. They loved the idea — for a lifeguard, working with a dog is the best combination: the dog drags a life preserver to a drowning person, who grabs it and is then pulled to safety by the dog. If the lifeguard swims alone to someone drowning, in their panic, the person often grabs the guard and not the life preserver, sometimes killing the rescuer. Yet the city government refused to allow the guards to pair with the dogs because, according to them, the dogs would dirty the beach. Even today, Japan has no system for lifesaving dogs.
Japanese are not good at communication so their pets develop psychological problems. Since many people rarely talk, pets cannot learn much from them. That is why dogs bark like crazy.
A dog’s smell is the greatest tranquilizer. Nothing calms me down more than my dog’s sweaty front paw. I smell it often during the day and before going to sleep. It is so sweet and the rubbery texture is great to touch. When I smell her paw, I am taken back to some ancient spot in my hypothalamus where life was all about feelings.
Even without money, one can produce incredible results. Japan is No. 1 in the world in cancer research even though neither the government nor the medical industry funds many research projects. I get no help, no money, no support from anybody, except a little bit from the sensor’s manufacturer. I cannot even get enough samples of cancer patients’ breath because, although doctors agree that cancer smells, they do not want to participate in my research. It seems that doctors do not care about saving lives, they just want to save their time. They look down on low-tech research involving a dog and an old man.
Dogs understand humans. My dog, Rose, would act according to what she heard us talk about. If we said we wanted a beer or some ice cream, she would just go and get it from the fridge. I guess she understood about 70 percent of our conversation. When she died, I felt as if my daughter had just passed away. I even wrote a book to her, titled “Rose ga Kureta Jinsei (The Life Rose Gave Me)” to tell her how blessed she made me feel.
To find happiness, we must throw away rational thoughts and follow our heart. I was making good money in Tokyo working in television and yet I quit and moved to the ocean with my wife and six dogs. I had no plan except to hang out in nature and play with them.