Sunday, April 17, 2016

Famous Pet Rats: Roosevelt's Jonathon

We often hear about presidents dogs, or even horses, but what about rats? I came across this in a 1922 Saturday Evening Post:

"We went across the hall from the old cabinet room into the nursery, where there were two or three little beds. Roosevelt went into a corner and brought out a big piebald rat, with a tail some six or eight inches long. He put the animal on his shoulder ... he offered to let me hold Jonathan, but I declined!"

The reporter Mr. Kohlsaat \was not very comfortable around rats, but Theodore Roosevelt clearly was.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Back to the Future with Environmental Enrichment

In many areas the story of the animal sciences is one of ongoing improvement.  Whether it is slow and incremental or in fits and starts, we learn to do better.  But when it comes to designing environments that suit the psychology of animals ("environmental enrichment") I think we would gain a lot by going back to some of our earliest efforts.
Take for example this dog room photograph from the annual report of the Animal Rescue League from 1907.  I am sure it might have had some potential disadvantages in the areas of safety and hygiene, but in terms of psychology and behavior it ticks all the important boxes.  Conspecific social contact: check. Room to move freely: check. Comfortable and secure resting area: check. Source of natural light and fresh air: check.

In many ways this facility from over a century ago greatly exceeds the minimum standards required, and actual conditions achieved, within a great many dog-housing facilities today.  Some of it is because of the pressures of the modern world in terms of security and disease control... but it goes to show, there might be as many good ideas in our history as our gleaming scientific data of the future.  After all, what a familiar domesticated animal like dog needs is often more a matter of common sense than objective data. What differs is our willingness and ability to properly provide for those needs.

From this same report, consider the bright airy space offered to convalescing cats. Compare this to the average quarantine or treatment room.  If I was a cat I know which one I would prefer.