Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are the contents of a dog private? and other questions regarding the property status of dogs

dog snow terrier jumper
Poppy, who had nothing to do with the court case discussed below, is enjoying the winter sun in snowy New South Wales. 

What is inside a dog? Given that dogs are property under the law, is performing a blood test for the purposes of establishing a case of neglect an invasion of the owner’s privacy?

Not, thankfully, according to the Supreme Court ofOregon, US, which had to decide on this matter following conviction of a dog owner for second-degree animal neglect. The dog was seized and examined by a veterinarian, who found the dog in poor body condition (1.5/9 - ideally should be 5/9). Blood was drawn to establish whether the animal had a medical condition, e.g. metabolic disease, to determine if the emaciation could be explained this way. It could not.

The dog owner attempted to suppress the blood test results, essentially on the grounds that the dog was her property and looking inside that property without a warrant was like opening a car boot.

The judgement provides a fascinating summary of different analogies used by both sides in the case – is taking blood more like test-firing a gun to see if it works, versus simply opening a car boot? Or is drawing blood from a dog similar to medical examination of a child taken into protective custody on suspicion of abuse? Is the drawing of blood by a veterinarian different than the drawing of blood by a stranger in the street? (Yes, they found, it is).

The status of animals as property under law poses some interesting challenges, played out in this case. Ultimately the court decided that while animals are property, and can be lawfully owned, they are subject to protections (such as anti-cruelty legislation) to which inanimate objects are not. They are capable of experiencing pain, fear and distress -inanimate objects are not.

Juno, the dog, was not like “an opaque container” and her “contents” consisted of “the stuff that dogs and other living mammals are made of: organs, bones, nerves, other tissues, and blood…And the chemical composition of Juno’s blood was a product of physiological processes that go on inside of Juno, not ‘information’ that defendant placed in Juno for safekeeping or to conceal from view”.

In the words of the prosecutor at trial, inside of the dog was just “more dog”. (Why are there not TV courtroom dramas based on these kinds of cases?)

The judgement is a fascinating read because it touches on the deeper philosophical issue of the consideration of animals under the law, and suggests that anti-cruelty legislation (which has existed in some cases now for hundreds of years) supports the notion that animals are not property in the same way that toasters and cars and sunglasses are. Owners, and indeed persons responsible for animals, have obligations to animals that they do not have to toasters, cars and sunglasses.

You can read the full judgement here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spare a thought for pets and owners sleeping rough this winter

Pets in the Park
The winter cold bites.

It might be summer in the Northern hemisphere, but downunder it what we call freezing* (*our threshold for cold might be slightly higher). My family has it good – I get up early, feed them and turn the heater on and there they sit, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug, in their little warmth comas. But not everyone has the luxury of a home. Spare a thought for our homeless and at-risk-of-homelessness populations.

Pets in the Park is an organisation that supports these people and their companion animals. I know I’ve blogged about it before, but yesterday I was reminded just how important PITP is. It was a tad chilly in the outdoor clinic – not that I was complaining - and one of the clients said to me (without any hint of bitterness) “at least you can go inside soon”. He and his dog are sleeping rough. PITP supports people who really are in need. Not only were animals vaccinated, wormed, flea treated and treated as needed for other conditions, the PITP volunteers were also giving out blankets and doggy jumpers to keep everyone warm.

So if you need any reminding about Pets in the Park or the fab work they do, or you want to support this important work, check out our links below.

Their facebook page which you can follow.

Friday, June 24, 2016

How does human behaviour change help animals?

Have you ever known, for solid reasons, that you should or shouldn’t do something, but gone ahead and behaved differently? (Confession: I had chocolate before breakfast). Have you ever come to the realisation that your behaviour may be having a negative impact on others, despite your best intentions? Humans are complex critters. We spend a lot of time generating and acquiring knowledge, yet we often don’t behave in accordance with that knowledge. In other words, just LEARNING or KNOWING something doesn’t mean our behaviour will change. Which has huge implications regarding animal welfare. As Professor John Webster has said before, “what matters to animals is not what we think, it’s what we do.”

What we do is influenced by all kinds of things – knowledge, emotional states, attitudes and internal physiological states. Suzanne Rogers is organising a conference on Human Behaviour Change and AnimalWelfare in the UK in September. I asked her about the connection between animal welfare and human behaviour change.

Why is human behaviour relevant to animal welfare?

The root cause of arguably most animal suffering is human behaviour, whether directly or indirectly. Traditional approaches to improving animal welfare, however, have focused on providing a service (such as accessible veterinary treatment), or campaigning for people to change their consumer habits. The understanding of why people do what they do, don’t do what you’d like them to, and usually do not change their behaviour, is the holy grail of anyone with something to sell, a campaign to promote or a desire to improve the world whether for humans or animals. 

For animal welfare programmes to be efficient and effective we really must start to put more emphasis on the root causes, and the key root cause is human behaviour. 

How did the idea of this conference come about?

In 2007 I was employed by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA, now World Animal Protection) to develop our working equine projects in a more sustainable way than they were at the time. There was frustration that helping horses seemed like pouring money into a bottomless pot and although there were education elements to the projects the communities were not seeing a lasting change in management and practices that were causing compromised animal welfare. I researched how other sectors attempt to create sustainable changes and discovered that behaviour change of humans has been studied by experts in marketing, psychology, development, and health and education programmes - the knowledge was out there and could be applied to what humans do to animals but had not been fully utilized by most of us working in animal welfare.

As I was working on changing the equine programmes towards a community-based participatory approach to improving welfare I realised that the underlying principles are relevant to all animal welfare issues and I started working on other topics. I had a mouthful of a job title at one point "Programmes Manager for Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare" and worked on many different programmes at WSPA.

I realised that other people in other organisations were thinking the same way as me but often working in isolation. I built some strong contacts, a small community of peers all thirsty for knowledge about human behaviour change to apply to our work, many of whom will be at the conference in September. 

In 2011 I left WSPA to work independently as an animal welfare consultant. The first Human Behaviour Change workshop I organised was called 'Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare Campaigners" and took place in 2012. The second one in 2014 focused on people working in 1-1 situations to change people's behaviour - vets, behaviourists, animal trainers etc. And after that event I was ready to organise a larger conference, and here we are!

What are the key themes?

Changing the world for animals - one person, one community and one world at a time!
The themes overlap as some principles, techniques and tools for changing human behaviour apply whatever the scale.

What are the intended outcomes?

The importance of considering human behaviour change (HBC) will be highlighted and better understood by those organisations and individuals working to improve animal welfare.
Core elements of HBC theory will be covered through key presentations from leading experts.
The practical application of the key theories will be discussed and shared between delegates through real life examples.
The embedding of HBC in inter-sectoral collaboration, innovation and policy will have been encouraged. 
Novel methods for the monitoring and evaluation of HBC approaches will be explored and evidence-based information illustrating its value will be put forward.
A better way of describing the outcome is through this saying "Tell me and I forget, Show me and I remember, Involve me and I truly understand" Anon. This conference is aiming to involve people in an interactive fun engaging way so that delegates truly understand the importance of addressing human behaviour to drive change for animals.

Any other messages you'd like to get out to veterinarians and veterinary students?

A common misconception about how people process information is that raising awareness leads to behaviour change. Consider nutrition campaigns – it is thought that the majority of the population in the UK know that it is recommended to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day but a poll by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) in 2012 showed that only one in five people actually do. Knowing something does not often lead to a change in behaviour and this is worth exploring because a significant part of the vet’s role is to cause the client to do, or not do, something for the benefit of their animal.

Thank you Suzanne. For more information about the conference click here

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Help animal and human victims of domestic violence

Glass dog; fragile dog
Humans and animals are vulnerable to domestic violence.

Today’s post is a community service announcement about something we feel is very important. We’ve discussed the link between domestic violence and animal abuse previously. Later this year, Lucy’s Project is hosting a two day conference on this issue in Sydney, and this one deserves to be sold out.

As with all wicked problems, both domestic violence and animal abuse require a multidisciplinary approach. The organisers invite veterinarians, veterinary nurses, medical doctors, nurses, police, psychologists, sociologists, social workers, domestic violence workers, animal welfare workers, students and academics.

According to the organisers, this is an opportunity not only to learn about the issues but learn how to help solve them. 

Keynote speakers are Dr Frank Ascione (Pets in Peril, USA) and Dr Freda Scott-Park (The Links Group, Scotland). The conference will also feature speakers from Australia discussing both animal and human perspectives.

The conference will be hosted on the weekend of November 5 and 6 from 930am-5pm. Early bird tickets (available until 30 June) are $285, with general tickets $350 after that. The concession rate is $250. And the catering is cruelty free. Book here:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do we know what companion animals need?

Poppy loves people, but she also needs to socialise with other dogs regularly.
Do we know what companion animals need to enjoy good welfare, and are they getting it? In studying animal welfare it’s fascinating that there are extensive standards, guidelines and codes of practice regarding the care of farm animals, laboratory animals, animals used in entertainment and teaching, but few guidelines when it comes to the care of companion animals.

I believe this is because of a fundamental assumption that companion animals are pets, they’re loved, so they’re being looked after – we don’t have to worry so much.

But affection for companion animals can be misinformed and misguided. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) produces an annual report based on the “five needs” of companion animals.

What are these five needs anyway?
  1. The need for a suitable ENVIRONMENT
  2. The need for a suitable DIET
  3. The need to express normal BEHAVIOUR
  4. The need to LIVE WITH or APART FROM other animals

The PDSA report is not a quick vox pop. The PDSA surveyed 53 THOUSAND pet owners (you can download a PDF of the report for 2015, and those of previous years, here).

The bad news is that there is a high prevalence of preventable welfare problems in companion animals.
“So many problems that are seen by animal welfare organisations across the UK are entirely preventable. People continue to make misinformed choices at every stage of their pet ownership journey, and consequently pet welfare is being compromised…love is not always enough. Pets deserve a life where all their physical and emotional needs are provided for, so they can live healthy and happy lives.”
The good news is that these reports provide really valuable insights, and suggest areas for potential improvement.

For example, the 2015 report found that more than 2.7million dogs in the UK are not given the opportunity to exercise off lead outside the home or garden. More than 60 per cent of dogs never attend training classes within their first six months of life. Many are not microchipped.

When it comes to cats, more than half of cats had to share food and water bowls (they’re not into this) and 50 per cent had to share litter trays (a recipe for so-called inappropriate urination).

Over half (57 per cent) of rabbits live alone, despite being a species that thrives on companionship. A large number (29 per cent) are fed rabbit muesli (not a suitable diet) – but this is an improvement from 2011 when 49 per cent of rabbits were fed such a diet.

Veterinarians, myself included, do tend to focus on the physical needs of animals (ensuring they are free from pain, injury and disease and treating these conditions when they do arise) but these reports show the veterinary profession can play a role in reminding owners – and ourselves – about the five welfare needs.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Help improve the lives of Tassie devils and continuing professional development for vets

Puppy senior dog maltese terrier
Phil met (but did not endorse) a miniature version of himself last week.

Have you ever crowdfunded anything? Here at SAT HQ we’re big supporters of citizen science. The more people feel like they have a stake in science, the more they'll get it, and the more high quality, animal- and human-helping science we can do. We’re also fans of crowdfunding campaigns. For the price of a cup of coffee (or two) you can be part of something huge, and have a little ownership and insight into science that makes a difference.

Our Sydney University colleagues are raising money to travel to the remote south-west of Tasmania to study devils in the area. PhD student Bec Gooley has been able to successfully extract DNA from devil scats (the technical term for Tassie Devil crap) that were collected by a bushwalker. This showed that not only are devils present in the area, but that they have new alleles that are not found across the rest of the devil range. One of the problems with the Tassie Devil population at the moment is they aren’t particularly genetically diverse, making them terribly susceptible to diseases like devil facial tumour disease. These new genes will enable the researchers to do some genetic rescue to boost the genetic diversity of the species in captivity (for release back into the wild). If you think that’s a good cause, head on over here to be part of it.

Are you interested in continuing veterinary education? Friend and colleague Lis Churchward from the Centre for Veterinary Education is undertaking a really important survey about what the CVE offers, how they can improve and so on. Please support her by completing the survey – it will help Lis with her masters, it will help the CVE devise continuing education resources you want, and you can win some excellent prizes (call me a nerd, but the chance to win enrolment in their TimeOnline courses or a $2K CPD voucher is better than winning some sort of household appliance!!!). Check it out here.

If you happen to be in Sydney this weekend, make sure your non-human companions are warm and dry. There is yet another stormageddon predicted.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The accidentally political dog

The photo that many interpreted as Phil endorsing a particular policy. 

Last night I learned, via an email from a colleague, that Phil was named as “one of the 23 cutest animals of the election campaign so far”. He was pictured with Labor MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Anthony was meeting and greeting local constituents in Stanmore and I had some questions to ask him about the ALP’s animal welfarepolicy, and a few points that I typed up ahead of time. Politics is tricky. Because I agree with SOME elements of the ALP’s animal welfare policy (for example, the establishment of a well-resourced independent office of animal welfare) but some aspects concern me, including allowing continued self-regulation of the live export industry.

We had a friendly chat, disagreed about some issues, agreed on others, and then posed for a quick photo. The photo has been interpreted by some as an all-out endorsement of the ALP policy which it isn’t. It’s also been interpreted as PHIL endorsing a policy. Phil is a dog. He was enjoying a chin-rub. He hasn’t read any policy and can’t endorse documents.

However, given that Phil the so-called Stanmore puppy (at 13+ years old) is in the news, and live export is in the news, I thought I’d better a) clear that up and b) raise some concerns.

Politicians, producers, animal welfarists and animal rightists alike are getting issue-fatigue over live exports. Last night the 730Report aired limited footage showing that the regulatory system has failed to ensure that Australian cattle are humanely slaughtered in Vietnam.

The methods shown do not meet guidelines for humane slaughter and would horrify any farmer or producer I’ve met.

As former ALP leader and Australian Livestock Exporter's Council Chair Simon Crean said, “no animal should have to go through the fear or the pain” – regardless of whether they are Australian cattle or not.

I understand that industry fears being exposed by animal welfare groups – but it has been repeatedly apparent that groups like AnimalsAustralia and the RSPCA, charity organisations – are better resourced and more willing to act than industry regulators charged with this role. That is the concern at the heart of the issue.

I understand people’s concerns about food security. I do get fears about jobs and employment. But these cases involve appalling, unacceptable treatment of animals – five years after live exports from Australia were banned. In the light of this evidence, arguments like "its better to be in the market" are shown as flawed. And we need to do something about it. As a veterinarian and someone who cares about animal welfare deeply I therefore support the RSPCA and Animals Australia in their campaigns to end this trade. There are alternatives.