Friday, November 4, 2011

The Limp is a Lie?

Avon says: No one ever believes me
My dog has a limp, and it isn't a fake limp. This isn't always easy to tell because if there was an Oscar for best canine limp in a supporting roll, he would win it. He acquired this fake limp after cutting his front foot on some farm machinery.

He quickly learned that limping made people sympathetic and attentive.He even managed to briefly convince my sister who is a veterinarian who knows her way around the musculus-skeletal system.

His "tell" was that he would forget which front foot he was limping on. Also as soon as he got the chance to walk or case a ball, the limp would go away. But for a long time any time he got the idea you were annoyed with him the limp would come out.

But this new  limp was on the back leg and continued through the walk. The down side is that as an animal psychologist, as soon as he has a real limp, it is outside of my area of expertise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Now available for preorder:

Handbook on the Psychology of Violence
Editor(s): Hugh R. Cunningham and Wade F. Berry
Including my chapter: The Causes of Violence towards Animals: A Review

Friday, August 12, 2011

Vet Joke: The Clever Horse

A man riding out in the bush fell from his horse and broke his leg. He was a long way out, so the situation looked pretty grim.

Then the horse grabbed the man's belt in his teeth and dragged him to the shade of a nearby tree. He made the man as comfortable as he
could and then galloped off to get help.

The man discussed the incident a few weeks later with a friend, who--very impressed--praised the horse's intelligence.

"He's not so smart," said the animal's owner. "He came back with a vet."

Researcher Welfare

There is an editorial in Nature (issue 7343) about the death of an undergraduate student working late, alone, in a laboratory. The author comments on the need for better data about lab accidents and better safety precautions.

Of course, Nature has always had a rather strong "micro" focus where the only research environment seriously consider is the bench laboratory. I hope that any initiatives that develop will recognize that students and researchers in all environments frequently put themselves at risk during their everyday activities..

Working in a pig barn I found myself inhaling fine dust that was coughed up for days afterwards in a phenomenon the technicians blithely refer to as 'pig lung'. On the weekends personnel often work alone as the muck out, feed, and carry out any other necessarily activities like giving an unappreciative pig an antibiotic injection (which, based on their reaction, is not a pleasant experience). Even on busy days a research farm is large enough that you  could be trampled by a pig and pretty much eaten alive before anyone noticed.

In over a decade of research I encountered a safety officer only once. This individual walked passed hand-built (slightly smoking) equipment powered by a rank of car batteries, piles of equipment infested with mice, and a loose wall panel from which the wiggly tails of maggots peeked, to repremand a student for standing on a sow stall wall to adjust a camera. Quite why a free standing ladder with legs small enough to slip through the slats was considered a safer perch than than a steel structure bolted to the floor, well, I don't know.

Research is hazardous partly because each research project is unique and has idiosyncratic hazards. And there is strong pressure for those that carry out the hands on work to 'make do' with whatever resource are available.

We are all now quite accustomed to carefully considering the welfare of our animals as we design our experimental programs--perhaps it is time to take the welfare of our students, technicians and researchers just as seriously?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pets Help Avoid Allergies, Even During Pregnancy

Christine Cole Johnson has found that having pets in the home during pregnancy reduces a babies level of the immunoglobulins that contribute to the development of allergies.

Her result are presented in a paper titled: Effect of prenatal indoor pet exposure on the trajectory of total IgE levels in early childhood, to be published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Animal Welfare and the Precautionary Principle

The concept of the precautionary principle came out of environmentalism, but is now phrased more broadly.  For example, it is defined by UNESCO as:

"When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm this is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid of diminish that harm."

While this principle is often phrased to include only humans and/or the environment I feel it is equally important in the field of animal welfare. Many of the things we do to animals (such as surgery or close confinement) might reasonably be considered to cause some harm, although the scientific evidence is often missing, contradictory or ambiguous.

If we let lack of data always translate into lack of action this suppresses animal welfare research. The status quo becomes easy to protect simply by not providing the resources or access necessary to carry out definitive research. If, instead, we say that a reasonable expectation of harm obligates us to find a way to end the practice, those wishing to defend the questionable practice are obliged to present data proving harmlessness to continue to use it. The power balance shifts from those wanting to continue business as usual, to those calling for an end to a plausibly harmful practice.

And this obligation goes beyond showing an immediate need for the questionable practice, for example that beak trimming is necessary to prevent the even greater harm of peck injury and cannibalism. The precautionary principle clarifies that the use of a lesser harm to prevent a greater one is not ultimately satisfactory, and that progress must be made towards a system where our method of caring for these animals does not predictably cause significant harm to the animal--because even when the immediate cause is a conspecific, the ultimate cause is a breeding/housing situation that causes the animals to severely injure and kill each other. And removing the beak, while it mitigates the harm in the short term, is not solving the problem in a meaningful way.

The precautionary principle is often misinterpreted to mean: if in doubt, do not act.  But its true meaning is: if in doubt 1) act to prevent possible harm and 2) act to reduce doubt. It reminds us that doubt creates an obligation to act, not an excuse to accept a situation, even a situation where lesser harms are done only to prevent greater harms. Because acceptance of mitigation as the end point of welfare science leads us down the path of accepting that these fundamental ethical problems are 'normal' or that it is morally acceptable to live with them rather than act to bring them to an end.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Problem with Prezzy Cards

Prezzy Cards are a Visa-supported gift card provided by New Zealand Post. I decided to send one to a family member and began the following Odyssey.

Jan 26: Purchase card from NZ Post website

Jan 27: Receive email for the following extra information: "Your Photo ID (Drivers licence or Passport)... The Credit Card or Debit card used to purchase the Prezzy Card- please only show the first 6 and last 4 digit numbers."

Jan 28: I send a scan of my passport and my debit card number with the middle number block removed.

Jan 30: They ask again for "a copy of the credit card".

Jan 31: I send my full debit card number.

Feb 1: They ask again for "an actual copy of the credit card"

Feb 1: I finally realize they want, for reasons that elude me, a scanned picture of my debit card, which I send.

Feb 2: They notify me that the order has gone through.

Feb 7: I get a feeling that they sent the wrong amount ($100 rather than $500) and request a receipt.

Feb 16: They refuse to send a receipt with the vague statement that "Your card would have been debited once we approved your order" (as, indeed, it should). They direct me to look at the amount debited from my account some time between the order being accepted (Feb 2) and card being dispatched (Feb 4). I inspect my account and find no the debit. Some time later I do find a debit, for the correct amount of $500, actually occurred on Feb 16.

April 26: I receive an email where they admit that although $500 was debited from my account, only $100 was loaded on the debit card. This error has now, according to them, been corrected.

So, in summary, they require documentation not mentioned on the ordering website, do not give a receipt, debit my account 12 full days after dispatching the card, deduct $500 from my account but put only $100 on the card, and despite my specific query do not notice the error for 47 days.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

DO NOT BUY the Natural Aquatics Frog Aquarium with 2 Frogs

For some reason Amazon saw fit to recommend a product to me that is called the "Natural Aquatics Frog Aquarium with 2 Frogs". (Similar products called the Frog-o-Sphere or eco-aquarium is also available)

My reaction to this product is as follows:
  • It does not provide adequate housing in size or design.
  • It is described in an inaccurate and misleading way.

This product, as sold and use as the manufacturer recommends is cruel. They suggest:
  • A four inch cube is an "eco-system"
  • The tank is "self-cleaning"
  • You only need to change the water twice a year
  • you only need to feed a few pellets each week,

In my opinion, the truth is:
  • Dwarf African frogs require a minimum of 1 gallon (6 cubic inches) per frog--preferably two gallons or more.
  • Water should be changed at least once a month or as required.
  • In most areas they will require an aquarium with a water heater to maintain a water temperature of 70-80 degrees.
  • They require a hiding place to feel secure.
  • They require feeding and as a result require cleaning--thus this is not a self-contained ecosystem and not self-cleaning.
  • Feeding should be as much as the frog will immediately eat every day or every other day.

If well cared-for your frogs should live for five years or longer and you should hear them 'singing' in the evenings. Instead of spending $30 on this inadequate habitat I would suggest people who wish to keep frogs to go to a local pet store and get two frogs ($5)and a five to ten gallon aquarium ($10) for half the price.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Have Tail, Will Travel

Rodents can live just about anyway, apparently including on a Delta airplane. Health inspector noted the location of rodent droppings "too numerous to count" in various areas of the plane.

Delta said the plane was cleaned and back in service within days.  They say they "humanely caught" the frequent flyer. No word on what type of critter it was, and personally I would be skeptical about there being only one...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bacon Cologne

I could probably get behind the almost literally tongue-in-cheek campe charm of a bacon inspired cologne, if not for one thing.

A logo that seems to rest heavily on the notion of making a nude woman look like a rasher of bacon.


But still, I am kind of intrigued.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My latest invention....

Banana sugar cookies. Raw banana in the batter and a dried slice for decoration. Not bad.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rat Fashion

Apparently this fashionable little number made from faux rats (I hope they are faux, anyway) appeared in a spread called: The Vagaries of Fashion by Miles Aldridge in Italian Vogue (May 2008). [Click on the picture to enlarge].

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hartz Collar and Lead Combo

ALL IN 1 COLLAR & LEAD COMBOI would like to sound a note of caution about the Hartz Collar and Lead Combo, which I see is know stocked in quite a few supermarkets and grocery stores.  I use this product myself for a single purpose.  Every time I pop out to the mail box or laundry room my dog wants to come with me.  He walks at heel but there is a leash requirement within the apartment building, so I keep this by the door.  I can put it on and take it off one handed easy than a leash with a latch.

That said, I would never use this as a leash for going on a walk more than the twenty meters or so to my mailbox and back.  I would not use it outside and never with a dog that would pull.  In the package you could mistake this for being a budget-priced collar and leash.  But actually it is a single nylon rope with a hand loop on one end and a noose style arrangement with a metal sliding ring on the other (see picture). This style of slip or kennel leash is rarely sold in retail stores because it isn't a great idea to use them other than for short, indoor transfers of animals.

A small leather tab is provided but the illustration on the package suggests this is intended to stop the noose end from opening far enough for the dog to slip out, not (as I had assumed) to stop it from closing too tight and choking the dog.  It is not very effective for either function. 

In my opinion the Hartz All in 1 Collar & Lead Combo should not be used in place of a normal collar and leash for dog walking due to it presenting a potential choking hazard for the dog. This lead should certainly never be used as a tether. It seems to me that the fine print disclaimer on the packaging is in no way sufficient when it comes to make the limitations of this product clear.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sisterhood is Powerful

This is just too cute.  A same-sex, mixed-species househoud wear a bantam hen is helping to raise baby rabbits.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Previous Appearances

  • May, 207: What a Rat Knows: Rat Cognition ad its Implications for Environmental Enrcihment. QUAD AALAS 
ABSTRACT: "Cognitive enrichment" is a topic that is currently experiencing  a resurgence of interest, but is rarely a systematic part of rodent enrichment programs in the laboratory. Enrichment options that include all parts of the operant "three term contingency" have special benefits in that they exploit the animals species-specific form of intelligence to create positive states of anticipation and promote an "optimistic" orientation.  Examples include properly designed examples of free operant training, foraging, nest building, exploring/investigation, social contact and positive handling protocols.
  • July 28, 2014: Environmental Enrichment for Companion animals--from lab to lap. AVMA Annual Convention.
  • May 16, 2013: Reporting of Suspected Animal Abuse by Veterinarians . The Chicago Bar Association 
  • May 21-22, 2013: Companion Animal Welfare
    Of Pugs, Pigs, and Pandas: Animal Welfare at Home, Farm, Lab, and Zoo
  • June 5-6, 2013  Beyond the Human-Animal Bond
    Zoo Animal Welfare: Innovations & Future Directions  
  • October 28, 2013: Animal Welfare within the AVMA. 64th AALAS National Meeting.  
  •  October 30, 20132013 AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals. 64th AALAS National Meeting.  
  • March 18, 2013: Update on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Panel on Euthanasia.  2013 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference
  • September 4 2012, at Veterinary Assistant - Continuing Educations, Harper College. On the topic of The Human-Animal Bond.
  • August 4, 2012, at 2012 AVMA Annual Convention. On the topic of: Institutionalization Of Neglect And Abuse how Does It Happen?
ABSTRACT: 'Animal abuse' is a term that describes any act that causes suffering or death of an animal and is not socially acceptable. Increasing, acts of abuse occurring in a workplace (e.g. farm, laboratory, breeding facility, shelter) have been recorded and widely publicized. Theories relating to workplace violence help to illuminate the multiple causes of workplace animal abuse and suggest strategies for reducing risk, and areas in need of further research.  
  • March 20, 2012, at PRIMR  2012 IACUC Conference. On the topic of: Update on the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia.
  • February 12, 2012, at Bioconference Live. On the topic of: Beyond environmental enrichment--providing good environments for experimental animals. [Full details here].
  • August 22, 2011, at the the 8th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences. On the topic of: Sensitivity of animals and application of the Three Rs (presented by Marylin Brown). 
  • July 31 - August 4, 2011, at the annual meeting of the International Society for Applied Ethology. On the topic of: Animal Abuse and Cruelty: An Evolutionary Perspective.
  •  April 14, 2011: the Third Annual MSMR Enrichment Symposium "ALL CREATURES BIG AND SMALL ...Animal Enrichment in a Laboratory Environment"--Horizons of Enrichment: the History, Accomplishments and Aspirations of Environmental Enrichment. 
  • January 20th, 2011: Animal Law Committee of the Chicago Bar Association--Animal Abuse, Mandatory Reporting and the Veterinarian.
  • October 16th, 2010:  KVMA Fall Conference--Animal Welfare, Animal Rights, and the Role of the Veterinary Profession.

Business Cards

In the end I went for something simple and fairly traditional:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Break with "Breaking"

"Breaking" is an archaic term for training and animals, specifically "to train (an animal) to adjust to the service or convenience of humans" [Merriam-Webster]. But it is time to put this term to bed.  Not only does it has connotation of damage and violence, it is out of tune with modern ethics that both human and animal should benefit from living or working together.

This obsolete term jumped out at me from a Chicago tribune report today.  The article was covering the prosecution of Muddy paws Dog Rescue owner and operator Diane Eldrup.  Eldrup clear succumbed to some kind of 'break down' herself in allowing at least eighteen dogs and three birds to starve to death in their cages.

Four dogs were recovered alive and are being carefully rehabilitated, including feeding them back to a healthy weight and house-training them.  A wonderful activityy that is jarringly referred to as: "house-breaking".  As if these dogs have not already been sufficiently 'broken'. Locked in a enclosure and not even given food and water in return.

Now they are being prepared a home, care and love.  A contract which in turn requests that they be calm and defecate outside the house.  An agreement based on co-operation, commitment, and a promise that--this time--should not be broken.

Upcoming Appearances

June 24, 2017: Vehicular heatstroke in dogs: a case of cognitive error. International Society for Anthrozoology Conference. Davis, CA.
Abstract: Leaving dogs inside vehicles during hot weather can cause them to suffer from heatstroke, which is often fatal. While public campaigns have raised awareness of this issue, incidences continue to occur. An analysis of over 200 media reports of occurrences of fatal vehicular heatstroke in dogs revealed that the dog owners involved differ from those that carry out other kinds of animal abuse. They are frequently experienced and highly-bonded dog owners or in dog-related professions, but nevertheless chose to leave their dog in a high risk situation (high temperature, extended time periods). Publicity campaigns around leaving dogs in cars have to date have emphasized the suffering caused to the dog, including reporting of how temperatures can increase in parked cars; videos of people reacting to the heat in a parked car; graphic images and videos comparisons of a parked car to an oven; and public shaming via social media. These campaigns have had good penetration and their major messages are well-known in the dog owning community and may already have significantly reduced the incidence of at risk behavior. The authors include a psychologist and communications expert who developed profiles of the types of people, dogs, and situations implicated in recent fatal canine vehicular heatstroke events. They identified a mismatch between the likely motivations of these offenders and the fear/threat-based publicity campaigns currently used to discourage this behavior. A theoretical framework was drawn from “Protection Motivation theory” and its application in other situations where the more experienced and competent people in a target population are paradoxically exposed a greater risk of adverse events. Evidence from a range of public health campaigns shows that messaging emphasizing the severity of the adverse event may be rejected, while increasing the perception of the probability of that event and the efficacy of a protective response is more likely to motivate people to adopt safer behavior patterns.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Book Project

I am working on a new book proposal and things are going pretty well.  I am about half way through the first sample chapter.

I know the subtitle of the book will be something like: PSYCHIC DOGS AND THE PEOPLE WHO STUDY THEM.

But I am completely stuck on what to use as title.  DOG PSI? THE DOGS OF WOO? PARANORMAL POOCHES?

 Any ideas?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Animal Welfare Group: Linked In

If you are on LinkedIn and involved in animal welfare you might want to join this group. Having a few spare minutes I whipped up a basic logo for them (right).  I bet someone out there can come up with something better.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Rainbow Bridge

One of the most common euphemisms used for the death of a pet is 'crossing the rainbow bridge'.  I must confess that I generally find this kind of imagery cloying.  I had long been considering posting a blog about letting those of us with a more 'matter of fact' approach, do things our own way.  The rainbow and angel imagery of pet loss can become rather cloying for some people.

But then I heard this 'pep talk' given by one of those motivation-slash-management experts.  He was addressing a room full of veterinarians and related one of the most meaningful things he experienced in a veterinarian's office.  It was after he and his wife has their beloved ailing old dog euthanized, and someone in the clinic gave them a copy of 'the Rainbow Bridge'.

I guess it helped me realise that what might seem like trite imagery to a cynic like me can be genuinely helpful to people in a time of need.  And sometimes sentimental image hits exactly the right note.  So I shall try and be less 'bah humbug' about the rainbow bridge from now one.  The full text, author unknown, is as follows:

The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.

There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Open Source Exploitation

Since leaving the halls of academia, but not the activities of science, I certainly have come to miss having access to university subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals.  And while not a whole-hearted convert, I do appreciate open source journals.  So when I received  an email announcing that reputable journal publisher SAGE was launching an open source journal, I was quite enthusiastic.

Until, that is, I got to the line that said "$195 introductory author acceptance fee (discounted from the regular price of $695)."

I understand that if the reader is not monetising the system, something has to. But I absolutely reject the idea that the gap can be filled by moving to a vanity-publishing model where the scientist has to not only come up with money to do the research, and to make a living... and then even more to get the research published.  A vanity model of publishing undermines the value of the the research and undermines the neutrality of the journal's editorial standards.

Not only will I not be submitting to SAGE Open, I won't be reading it either. If SAGE cannot support this activity as a public service I would suggest that they investigate securing a sponsor, donations, grants or advertisers rather than loading yet more cost onto researcher. If Open Source journals simply cannot exist without contributor fees, then maybe they shouldn't exist at all.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

BF Skinner

I recent uncovered thiscollage, from the days when I was working on my PhD.  BF Skinner gets a lot of bad press, but I think people fail to see everyhting he contributed to the study of behavior.  Every paradigm has strengths and weakness, and every person gets to use, recombine and adapt these archetypal approaches. Learning not to idolise or demonise entire philosophies is part of growing up as an academic, and taking responsibility for your own intellect.