Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In defense of helping the vole

Photo credit: Peter G Trimming via / CC BY
The RSPCA is under fire for providing anesthesia and tooth clipping to a wild vole so it could be re-released into the wild. The argument seems to be that because the animal is short-lived and eaten by predators it should have just be left to suffer or euthanized.

I admit to having a soft spot for voles, which I regularly see on my walk to work. And as a pet rat owner I am partial to rodents in general.  But everyone has their different favorites and squicks when it comes to animals.

And anyway, how do you weight the cost-benefit ration of helping a particular wild animal in distress? From the animal's point of view it has a life. A vole spends the extra time it gets from veterinary treatment having the good and bad life experiences that come with being a vole, and perhaps contributes to the next generation of voles.

To some humans a vole may be a of no value whatsoever, and to some animals it may be just food, but to a vole being a vole is everything.  So I would argue that is it totally valid to have a policy of giving needed care to any wild animal in distress with the capacity for a full recovery. They each have their place and they each experience a life.

After all, if it comes to deciding which animals are "good enough" to help, a totally impartial alien observer might not put humans at the top of the list.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

An old dog and a young dog

When you have an old dog and a young dog it's like you can see the full spectrum of love.  The young dog is so keen and ready to go on adventures.  The old dog is starting to stumble over his limitations, but the spirit is still strong.  And maybe he falls over sometimes and maybe he pees on the carpet. But he represents a whole era of your life, and he trusts you so much now that the world is getting dimmer and more confusing. And when the young dog stops to let him go through the doorway first you are so grateful. Because she understands.  An old dog is a repository of so many years of love.  And it does not matter what he can no longer do, because of all those things he had already done and because of everything he is now. And she may not have been there for most of those years. But somehow she still understands.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Guess the Pun

What is the point of making stuff if it does not allow one to also make terrible animal-related puns.  Can you guess it?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dear Meijer Fish Department Customers

Fish Bowl "Tip" number 1: This is a goldfish, probably a fantail.  That is a glass bowl holding approximately one gallon of water.  The two should never ever, ever go together.

A fantail goldfish is, like any goldfish, a form of carp.  Even at this size it needs an absolute minimum of 10 gallons of  actively filtered water.

If you plan to not kill your new pet prematurely, which seems like a reasonable assumption to me, it will grow to 8 inches in length and need a minimum of a 30 gallon tank or preferably a small pond.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dear MSN this is not a wild mouse.....

This is not a mouse, and this is not eve a wild animal, this is a domesticated rat.  If his rather large bright white-colored rat was in your bag of spinach you would know about it longer before you served it into a sandwich.

Istock has plenty of pictures of wild mice if you feel the need for a largely irrelevant illustrative picture of  mouse that is not actually the mouse in question. Just in case the reader does not know what a wild mouse looks like, which might seem implausible if not for the fact that someone thought Jumbo the Rat fit the bill.

You can see the actual mouse in question here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mystery Box Shopping: -- no product sent

When you search for mystery box sellers online tends to appear near the top of the search engines listings. However when my September 1st order resulted in payment being processed but no email confirmation, tracking info, or the package within the promised 2-4 time span.... well.  I lodged the complaint with Paypal whose two emails to the vendor also went unanswered.  So I got my refund, but no box.  Disappointing.

Mystery Box Shop may just have experienced a glitch, but their last Facebook post is in May and in April the business was listed for sale on Craigslist.  So my warning is, this business may be in trouble and I would advise potential customers not to risk it.

Rating 0% -- F

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Animal Maltreatment Book

I contributed a chapter to the upcoming book "Animal Maltreatment: Forensic Mental Health Issues and Evaluations" edited by Edited by Lacey Levitt, Gary Patronek, and Thomas Grisso (Oxford University Press).

This title will not officially launch until Movember 2nd but is available for preorder (Amazon). If you are interested in buying a copy contact me for a 30% off discount code.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Problem with Search Engines

What Bing thinks New Zealand is:
Seriously? Not even Stewart Island?
See, it's right there.
  What Google thinks New Zealand is:
Huh, kinda vague.
 What New Zealand actually is:
Bing and Google, making Wikipedia look like a bastion of accuracy since 2009.

Mystery Box Shopping: HevenJX, What's in the Box

I have a weakness for buying "mystery boxes" that goes back to childhood when stores put all the old crap they are trying to get rid of and put it in paper bags for a dollar.  Man, I lived for those bags.

So now I am going to post whenever I try out a new purchase of a "mystery box" a.k.a. a box of unspecified products.

HevenJX, What's in the Box $9.99

Presentation and Packaging: 7/10
Although their spelling is terrible I like the message on their Amazon page which reads in part: "What we sell is not a specific item but perception of life."  Also the actual physical box I received, wrapped in copious amounts of bubble wrap, was cute.

Value for Money: 5/10
Good.  I guess this stuff is probably worth about what I paid for it.

Surprise/Enjoyment Opening Experience: 8/10
Adorable!  Happy surprise!

Long Term Usability: 9/10
I have already worn some of these several times.

Overall squidgy Score-Fixing Happiness Factor (May be changed to ensure between box ranking seems appropriate): 5/10
Who knows?  This is the first one.

Overall Rating: 68%  -- a solid B+

So... Here's what was in the box!  Animal-themed jewelry; it's like they know me!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cavalcade Glasses

Because a nice set of these costs too much money at $5-$14 each, I am picking them up one at a time at the Goodwill store.  So far I have... two.

 Libbey Glass Company
Cavalcade pattern (1953-?)
"Cooler" size
Design by Hazel Marie Weatherman

Technically the minimum authentic set is the 8 piece "Hostess" set.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Sacrifice and Semantics

Many years ago the term of choice when killing laboratory animal at the end of a study was "sacrifice".  It was a word choice that got dropped not only for being euphemistic but also just ridiculous; conjuring up images of robed men and chanting as the rats were laid on top of the granite altar of some kind.

But the word has reappeared strangely in some reports of apparent murderer Vester Lee Flanagan's previous killing of his pet cats.

"There were arguments and confrontations at work, periodic eruptions, including a road rage episode captured on video and a sacrifice of his two pet cats, killings that Mr. Flanagan said he carried out because of anger at his firing."

At least in the case of scientific research there is some amorphous idea of what the animals' lives have been sacrificed to or for.  But in the case of violent, rage-fueled animal abuse, I struggle to see how this word applies at all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Effect of Human-Animal Interaction on Human Cardiovascular Health

Now available online (full text, pdf): The Effect of Human-Animal Interaction on Human Cardiovascular Health

"More than 2,150 Americans die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) daily, an average of 1 death every 40 seconds (Go et al., 2014 ). In any given year, approximately 620,000 Americans suffer their first coronary attack, and 295,000 have a repeat attack. Even though rates of CVD declined between 2000 and 2010 ( Go et al., 2014), its impact on healthcare costs and the lives of affected individuals, their families, and the community is substantial. In an attempt to further reduce rates of CVD and improve myocardial infarction (MI) survival rates, researchers extensively studied the effects of various medical and social variables on cardiovascular health, including human-animal contact."

A lit of the other HABRI Central Briefs (peer-reviewed summaries of research on the benefits pf the human-animal bond) can be found here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Give a bat a bad name....

This very rare Bolivian nectar bat has a pretty impressive tongue. But I am wondering where the name Anoura fistulata came from? I guess the meaning of "fistula" in English has become more specific than just referring to the tube-shaped lips of this bat.

You can follow along with the expedition that found this unusual animal here or on their Facebook page.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dead piglet posed in a Walmart: cult or gross joke? I know where I would bet my money.

Sometimes a pig is just a pig--USFWS/Southeast
There seems to be a real "cult" culture in the American police forces.  Anything even slightly weird starts getting referred to cult activity and strange messages.

So, what is the most likely explanation for dead feral pigs being posed outside a Walmart in the middle of the night?  Well, picture this.  I mean, someone shoots some pest pigs that are tearing up some farm land.  Then they think: what will I do with these pigs?

Some (probably drunk) dudes think this is funny. And the way the police are reacting will probably just make is seem more funny to them, and more people will in fact start doing this.  And then the media will report it as a spreading plague of animal-sacrifice-Satanism-who-will-think-of-the-children?!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Denver Museum of Natural History Plate

I just had to rescue this plate from the 50c pile at Goodwill.  But I have not been able to find out much about it from the usually-helpful archives of Google. Maybe someone out there in internet land will know more?

My best guess is that it is from the 60s or so.  I am not sure when the museum name changed from "natural history" to "nature and science".

The back is marked "Fine Staffordshire Ware by E[?]ce National New York NY. Made in England. Underglaze detergent proof".

Edited to add: It had the name "Denver Museum of Natural History" from 1948 to 2000.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Was there ever a Milwaukee lion?

Nothing is certain in life, but I for one an willing to bet there is no African lion loose in Milkwaukee.  And no mountain lion either. The human brain is fallible, suggestible, and in some people, attention seeking.  Psychologically it is most like;y that a case of mistaken identity based on distorted sense of scale that snowballed into a lion panic. More and more people claim to have seen the beast, but only one image exists and it is anatomically more consistent with a domesticated animal than a lion or cougar.

Neither academics nor police helped people keep this in perspective as they elaborated on how such an animal might end up in Milkwaukee, as if this was actually very likely.  And making statements like " was a 100% confirmation that it was a lion-like animal" as if eye witnesses are never incorrect and people don't mistake domestic animals for lions. Meanwhile the media continue to illustrate Milwaukee lion stories with stock photographs of real lions, because... well, it looks cool I guess and who cares how misleading it is?

A somewhat credulous belief in unusual beasts seems to be just part of human nature, with the United States being home to many mythical large cats and media flare ups about alleged sightings.  However in this age of cell phones, even low quality pictures remain a rarity. Like any good scientist I am ready to be proven wrong if the evidence comes along.  But until then this one just goes into the bulging file of Charismatic Megafauna That Never Were.

This is now being added as a label on this blog; expect to see more.  I will keep a tally of how many of these creatures are ever demonstrated to exist.

Edited to Add: On a related note, no these murders are not "witchcraft" and have nothing to do with the blue moon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Part of my latest online bestowing of doggy wisdom....

Patterson-Kane said it's important that people give thought to touching any dog, because, unlike primates, dogs are not genetically programmed to think hugs are good. Many dogs learn to be hugged and petted, she said, but not every dog is friendly or receptive to touch.

She said all people, not just kids, need to put themselves in the frame of mind of an animal and think about how they would feel if someone loomed over them, petted them while they were sleeping or aggressively initiated touch. In addition to making thoughtful decisions, Patterson-Kane said people should ask dog owners before making physical contact as a means of ensuring safety.

"We're not saying don't interact with dogs, but think about it a little bit before you do first," Patterson-Kane said."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fruit Fly Fear

A recent report on the presence of "fear-like" states in fruit flies made interesting reading.  It included a summary of the evidence that a state is in the nature of fear, specifically that it lasted after the stimulus that caused it was removed, and was more intense when the stimuli was more intense.

But it did reintroduce that old canard that emotion can only be scientifically studied in humans, specifically: "“We can only know that by verbal report,” he said. “So we can’t scientifically study feelings in any creature but a human.”" I would make two comments to that.

Max xx / Photo / CC BY-NC-SA
Firstly: self report is not scientific.  Science is based on the agreement of observers and self-report is by its very nature telling us about the experience of only one individual.  Or or possibly a lie. Therein lies the rub.

If we place special value on verbal language-based self-report this is a choice made for reasons other than science, and brings with it the assumption that pre-verbal, non-verbal, or even people speaking other languages may not have real emotions.  This exact prejudice that has historically deprived babies and various foreigners the benefit of anesthetics during procedures whether it would be considered inhumane for adult in-group members.

Secondly, if we deem all emotive communications to be essentially similar in their scientific value, which do you really find more convincing, a grammatically correct sentence expressing some kind of suffering... or an anguished scream?  I cannot speak to the issue of fruit flies, but I think the days when we felt it at all questionable that other mammals (capable of emotive communication) experienced basic emotions like fear, frustration, or anxiety.

When we consider animals very unlike us such as invertebrates, insects or amoeba, I do not know that the question is really: do they feel fear?--so much as what would fear feel like to them? How morally relevant to us would that experience be?  That is the question we will long struggle to answer, and so long as we consider self-report the gold standard of scientific data we will not even begin to make progress towards answering it.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Coming Up

Just went to the Press:

Patterson-Kane, E.G. (in press). The Relation of Animal Maltreatment to General Aggression. In L. Levitt, T. Grisso & G Patronek (Eds.), Animal maltreatment: Forensic mental health issues and evaluations. Oxford University Press. .

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Level 257 -- Restaurant Review

I was a "beta tester"
Level 257 is a new Pacman themed restaurant that soft-launched this week, opening for evening dining by reservation only. They promoted this a "beta-testing" and gave each guest a pretty card on a lanyard.  Like many things in this restaurant design, it was for show only.  There was actually no specific effort to get feedback from us about our dining experience. So I guess I will just share it here.

Overall I would describe dining at Level 257 as slightly quirky but surprisingly conventional.  To begin with I had to work out the restaurant was up the unsignposted stairs.  Later I saw a chilled staff member posted at the bottom to help people figure this out.

The menu is fairly  limited with many upscale elements and priced to match. My chicken carbonara came with a raw egg broken on top, and a waiter with a block of cheese to grate over it and a pepper grinder. It did not however come with very much chicken or bacon.  This mixed high end/cheap end message pretty much carried through the entire dining experience which ended with a nicely made latte that was barely tepid.  The bill for two people (two dinners, one dessert, one glass of wine, two coffees) came to $68 without tip. Which is more than average but less than outrageous.

The decor is a mismatch of odd elements. Studded leather chairs, colorful banners over bowling lanes, stuffed moose head on the wall. Individually rolled cloth hand towels were provided in the bathroom to dry your hands. All around the dining area are areas to play games, which the wait staff barely mentioned although they provided generally very attentive and affable service. I left not knowing whether they function as a normal bowling alley or this is available only to those coming for fine dining. The extensive game playing areas were not occupied other than one couple who had found a vintage game of battleships in the far corner and were putting it to use.

My best guess is that they are aiming for higher income people who either remember Pacman nostalgically or are drawn to it for the ironic kitch-cool factor. Nevertheless most of the tables around me included at least one boy in the 7-10 age group.  So it seems early adopters are expecting this to be a good place to bring children, which on balance it really is not. Stem ware perched on the edge of tables (one was broken while I was there), food is of the normal types but leans pretentious (green tea ice cream etc), there are lots of steps and levels, and most of the games are either mounted at adult height or vintage and clearly mean to be handled gently.  Not to diss any particular 7-year-old boy, but in general I don't think this environment was made with that demographic in mind.

In the end we had a somewhat pleasant but far from perfect conventional dinner, and wandered around the 40,000 square foot space without engaging with any of its game-play features. On the way out we browsed a small, gift store store staffed by two very under-occupied people.  Here I discovered that my lanyard retails for five dollars.  Which symbolizes as well as anything the gap I feel exists between this restaurants premium-priced expectations in contrast to the quality of the experience they are actually providing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why I still feed my dogs Beneful

Image: Nestle
Purina Beneful has been in the news recently due to a class action suit clamining it is toxic and kills dogs.  Pretty alarming right?

Well, not to me.

As a conscientious consumer I realize propylene glycol in in Beneful. I also realize it is in no way a dangerous amount of what is a pretty benign chemical.  One I knowingly eat myself in products like Betty Crocker cake mix and Blue Bunny ice cream.

Contrary to some reports, propylene glycol is not in standard poisonous types of anti-freeze, that is ethylene glycol.  If that was in my dogs' food I would in fact be very alarmed.  Forms of anti-freeze that substitute propylene glycol for ethylene glycol are referred to as "non-toxic anti-freeze" and for good reason.

The reason my household, of both species, eat food containing propylene glycol is because I deem the government rating of food grade propylene glycol as "GRAS" or "generally regarded as safe" to be trustworthy and correct in relation to this food grade chemical.

I feel that the adverse effects people have noted in their dogs some variable time after feeding them Beneful were caused by other factors.  Beneful is a very widely feed diet and coincidental sickening, including poisoning from other sources, could easily occur on the scale being reported without the diet being at fault.

New data could change my assessment, but then that is always the case. And as things stand I am confident that the ingredients of the Beneful diet are not toxic in type or amount unless there has been some huge adulteration and fraud, which I deem to be no more likely for Beneful than for any other brand. In fact I feel Beneful's ingredients are better than most comparable products especially in relation to their relatively high protein levels (for a conventional kibble).

You may, of course, disagree--but to suggest my decision to keep feeding Beneful is out of ignorance or lack of care for my dogs would be utterly, utterly incorrect. So I want to put my reasoning for continued confidence in this brand and product out there.  And to clearly state that I have no relevant conflict of interest whatsoever and am simply stating my personal assessment and opinion on the matter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mississippi House Bill No. 1261 Criminalises dogs.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier -- Dave
A bill being introduced in Mississippi would allow a warrantless search of any household containing "American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog, and any other pure bred or mixed breed dog that  is a combination of these dog breeds" specifically "a law enforcement officer, at any time, may enter the premises where a dangerous dog is kept, or is believed to be kept, for an on - site inspection of the premises"

For reference pictures of these dogs are included in this post. If that looks a bit like your dog and you live in Mississippi, you would be giving up the right to object to a unwarranted search of your home.  You would also be subject to a myriad of specific rules about how long your leash is (maximum three feet) an require posting a warning sign stating that your dog is dangerous and living with the fact that if it every escapes your property police are fully within their right to shoot it.


American Pit Bull Terrier -- Marthy

American Staffordshire Terrier -- Demon975

American Bulldog -- Jamie Lantzy

Monday, January 26, 2015

Are you a New York Animal?

Animal is seeking NY based freelancers. Looks like a cool opportunity for people who understand science and/or culture and know how to discuss it in normal (plain spoken, popular) terms. Which is a skill more animal scientists need to develop if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pet Art: Vera

My first attempt, combining acrylic paint, decoupage, and stenciling.

Pet Art

On of my New years not-really-a-Resolutions is to get back into art.  I thought I might start with portraits of my critters and with that in mind joined Creative JumpStart 2015. Stay tuned to see the dubious results of my attempts at animal art!