Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Update on greyhound welfare

Racing greyhound coats.
SAT reported previously that the NSW Legislative Council's Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in NSW would report on a parliamentary inquiry into this industry. Whether you support greyhound racing or not, this is an interesting issue because it raises important ethical questions - if we are to use animals in entertainment, what conditions are required such that this is just and fair use? Do we have obligations to animals used to such ends and what are these? There is no escaping the fact that greyhounds in this and other countries have been appallingly mistreated, and there is hope that the current review will lead to changes that have a positive impact on the welfare of these animals.

Dr Rosemary Elliot, from Sentient: The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, reviews the Committee's first report below.

Greyhound racing in NSW inquiry (advocacy)

The NSW Legislative Council’s Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in NSW released its first report on 28 March 2014. The outcome of this parliamentary inquiry has been disheartening to all of us advocating for the welfare of greyhounds. 

Its bias towards industry was evident in a forward by the Committee’s Chair (and Shooters and Fishers Party MP) Hon Robert Borsak, who opened the report by claiming: “the greyhound racing industry in this State has a proud history.” 

Not surprisingly, the majority of the 18 recommendations arising from the inquiry focus on ways to improve the structure and oversight of Greyhound Racing NSW. A second report is to follow, with recommendations for improving the economic viability and long term sustainability of the industry. 

Only seven recommendations directly address animal welfare; these include increasing the number of drug swabs collected, two-yearly kennel inspections of all licenced premises, an independent inquiry to investigate the frequency and number of litters permitted for each breeding female, inclusion of socialisation in the animal welfare strategy, the development of best practice industry standards for race track design and maintenance and the provision of veterinary services, inclusion of kennels in Section 21 of the POCTA 1979 to ensure allegations of live baiting can be properly investigated, and “that Greyhound Racing NSW and/or the NSW Government commit greater resources for greyhound rehoming”. 

Whilst these recommendations could result in incremental improvements, in most instances there are no specifics provided and they cannot be enforced. Further advocacy by animal welfare organisations will be needed to encourage both Government and industry to act on these recommendations. Considering the multiple firsthand accounts of extreme animal welfare abuses presented to the inquiry, the Committee’s response appears tokenistic. 

It has missed the opportunity to propose strong reforms that would hold Greyhound Racing NSW accountable for the enormous ‘wastage’ of dogs through overbreeding and callous ‘disposal’, the low number of dogs rehomed, failure to track the whereabouts of greyhounds throughout their lives, high injury and death rates and the live export of greyhounds to new markets in Asia. 

Most significantly, it has failed to challenge the ongoing self-regulation inherent to the greyhound racing industry that allows these abuses to continue.

You can download the full report from this link. Thank you Dr Elliot for sharing this report with us. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Can we ever see the world from a cat's perspective?

This is Jingle, who was staking out a backyard BBQ when this photo was taken. But were we looking at the same things?
Here's an interesting thought: when we try to understand how non-humans experience the world, we often focus on shared qualities. Its a tad anthropomorphic but we do it with humans and that works nicely for us. However, in a recent paper reseacher Kara White argues that we can only get closer to the feline gaze if we appreciate our differences.

White is clear: "We cannot, without a doubt, know what it is like to be a cat" (although as Hero currently sleeps on my desk while I type, I have a fair idea that it can be pretty fantastic). But her point is we don't have to prove they have minds that work just like ours.

White is not a big fan of the term "minds" anyway, contaminated as it is with Cartesian dualism which seems to privilege the mind over the body (with the body being just a convenient vessel for our pure minds). No, she says, feline subjectivities are mediated by their bodies - and in case you hadn't noticed, those bodies are a lot different to ours.

For example, I would personally struggle to do this.
The sensory apparatus of cats are different (to that of humans) - in some ways ours are better, in some ways theirs are better. (If you've ever been home alone with a cat at night, and they suddenly see something over your shoulder that you can't, you will know what I mean. Alternatively, consider the cat who goes to ground the moment you lay hands on the cat carrier in preparation for a trip to the vet. They're not even in the same room, but when you touch that cage they sense it somehow and off they go).

White sees these differences, and the different sensory world of cats, not as a barrier to communication but a rich field for exploration.

"While our sharedness can be important to emphasize, we should not over-rely on our desire for similarity with other species due to what we can miss. Rather, by acknowledging and seeking to understand alien as well as familiar sensory experiences, we can get even closer to the feline gaze."

In short, cats have a radically different way of experiencing the world to us - and just because they don't talk about it or use language the way we do, doesn't mean that they don't possess an "embodied consciousness".

[Speaking of animal senses, it reminds me of this post where veterinary ophthalmologist Cameron Whittaker spoke about what pets actually see. Read here].

Jingle used his senses to locate the BBQ snacks...and his gymnastic abilities to reach them.
White, K (2013) And say the cat responded? Getting closer to the feline gaze. Society and Animals 21:93-104.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My favourite egg moments

Eggs from a mosquito (image courtesy Fabrizio Montarsi).
As a small animal practitioner you know its Easter when you get calls about dogs raiding Easter egg stashes. I met two unfortunate pugs yesterday who happened upon a bag containing Cadbury chocolate-mousse filled Easter Eggs. They couldn't believe their luck and although the bag was placed out of reach, they were able to reach the handles and work together to pull it down and open its forbidden contents - which were naturally gorged rapidly.

They presented to me shortly after, and I had the joy of inducing vomiting and confirming that yes indeed, the eggs had certainly been ingested, but looked a lot less attractive on expulsion. I felt very sorry for the pugs as they came into the clinic looking particularly chuffed and were clearly on the hunt for more treats. Those warnings about chocolate toxicity that vet clinics release around Easter aren't empty words!

But on the topic of eggs I thought about some of the happier (or in some cases more interesting) egg moments I've experienced, so this post is more of a photo album of egg-related incidents. 
This chicken presented straining to lay an egg (egg-bound). After treating her I took her home and watched her - and in the morning she produced this in my bathroom. 
Warning - this pic below looks distressing but the bird is anaesthetised (note mask over head and beak area) and is in this position because she is unconscious. She made a full recovery.
My colleague Steve removed this egg from an egg-bound Indian ringneck. If you don't, or you don't do it right, you can cause egg peritonitis which can be fatal.
The eggs below were removed from a bearded dragon with follicular stasis, a condition commonly seen in these reptiles.
Bearded dragon eggs that have been surgically removed.
The above image does remind me of gall-stones. When I was growing up - before the advent of the internet and pay-TV [it wasn't that long ago, kids!] - the best thing at school was show-and-tell. I am not sure if it was peculiar to my school, but one of the highlights was when kids used to bring in their parents' gallstones for show and tell - in the same yellow specimen jars. The stones were about the size of those eggs, and sometimes there were a few. I was so jealous that my parents didn't have gallstones to show and tell. Now I know where they come from and how much pain they can cause, I'm happy my folks didn't have them (I'm also somewhat relieved that mum didn't have follicular stasis, although an egg-laying mum would have blown everyone else's show and tell out of the room).

But back to follicular stasis, this happens when fertilised follicles become stuck, usually when active ovaries develop mature follicles that fail to ovulate (preovulatory follicular stasis or, for those in the business, PFS - very different to PMS). Treatment involves surgical removal of the eggs and speying. You can also get post-ovulatory follicular stasis (also PFS - some potential for confusion here), where eggs just stick together because they are not properly calcified - this creates a massive conglomeration of eggs that is impossible to pass. Treatment is the same. (For more info check out Robert Johnson and Brendan Carmel's fantastic book here).

Snakes can also become egg-bound and may require surgical intervention.
Ultrasound of a gravid carpet python (the outline of the eggs is visible, with two eggs here - one on the left, the other smaller egg is to the right).
For those readers who aren't keen on seeing images of surgery or reptiles, apologies - there are some pics of python surgery coming up.

Dr Robert Johnson removed an egg from an egg-bound carpet python.
This python had a lot of eggs that she couldn't move.
This is a selection of the eggs. Note their irregularity and very soft shells. The patient made a full recovery but her eggs were nonviable.
Her wound post-op looks very neat. Note that one doesn't incise through the middle of the ventral scales - always try to incise between.
So there you have it. Eggs in all of their raw beauty. The chocolate ones just don't really compare, do they?

Carmel B & Johnson R (2014) A Guide To Health & Disease in Reptiles & Amphibians. Burleigh, QLD: Reptile Publications.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Advice from Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Doherty

This photo was taken about eight years ago when I met Professor Doherty at a book signing. He very good-naturedly posed for a photo, possibly for the 50,000th time that day. (Mind you, how does he manage to look so relaxed and professional while I look like "Nerdsville: Population - Anne"? I think its the backpack full of library books).
It isn’t every day that one gets to converse with a Nobel laureate, but I had the opportunity to interview immunologist, author and Nobel prize-winner Peter Doherty this week for The Veterinarian Magazine

Professor Doherty has a long-standing interested in infectious diseases and zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals). He is also passionate about pandemics (understanding and preventing them, that is).

In July this year he will be addressing the AustralasianSociety for Infectious Diseases (ASID) Zoonoses Conference.

Professor Doherty trained as a veterinarian then did an MVSc at the University of Queensland and worked as a veterinary officer before moving to Scotland to pursue a PhD at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

In 1996, Professor Doherty and colleague RolfZinkernagel (Switzerland) shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the way the immune system recognises virus-infected cells.

Professor Doherty has over 20 honorary degrees and has published 397 peer-reviewed papers. (I had to change the toner in my printer just to print his CV!!!)

As I learned in his biography, “The Beginner’s Guide toWinning the Nobel Prize: a Life in Science”, with big prizes come huge responsibilities. Dinners with prime ministers and dignatories, public lectures, school visits, honorary degrees. In 1997 he became Australian of the Year, a title which came with more responsibilities. In addition to that Professor Doherty continues to read and write about immunology and infectious disease, including most recently “Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know” and “Sentinel Chickens: What Birds Tell Us About OurHealth and The World”.

Sadly, Professor Doherty doesn’t currently have pets as commuting across the world and working as a tireless ambassador for science requires too much time away from home to make it work, but he did have some great advice for veterinarians, vet students and scientists: TALK ABOUT SCIENCE. You don't need a Nobel Prize to do it (and - not his words mind you - if we all did our bit, it might give the actual Nobel Prize winners the odd moment off to tend to their houseplants and get to the supermarket).

Science can only work well when people are convinced of its value, and we are ethically charged with the duty of promoting science. Particularly when the science sector is facing challenges from every which way.

Vets need to think of themselves as scientists…there are so few people in the community who have real scientific training. By that I mean taking an evidence based view of the world, not just belief. Anyone that deals with diagnosis has to take evidence based view…they have to be good observers and come to rational based conclusion.

Everyone who has got some sort of science training – and I keep saying this when I talk to professional groups – can be an ambassador. Learn how to talk about it in simple and clear terms, talk about it at school board meetings, stick up for science, and try to explain to people how things work.

Clear communication about the risks and the risk perception around infectious diseases can be particularly important. Needlessly scaring the socks off people can lead to harmful consequences, while failing to inform them can have just as dire consequences. 

Professor Doherty is also passionate about citizenscience

The citizen science movement…is powerful. Vets might think about that in terms of getting citizens involved in observations that are important. We’re already seeing citizen science working with the bird community, looking at beaches, marine animals and pollution. If you can get people organised – they all have cell phones with cameras – they can collect data. We need to involve people, not tell people. We not to stop lecturing and start involving, if we can do that will do a lot better job of communication.

If you’d like to hear more about Professor Doherty’s concerns about zoonotic diseases, sign up for the ASID conference in July.

You can register, and read about the 2012 Zoonoses Conference, here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Building a business to help animals

Michael McTeigue left the rat-race to set up a business that helps rescue dogs. Here he is with his Lab aka Chief Tasting Officer Buddy. (Note to self: write pets into business plan!!! Genius).

Here at SAT we like to try to help animals every which way. We support various animal causes, we aim to provide info for vets/vet students/pet owners, we volunteer our time, and we try to shop ethically. Heck, we even adopt them sometimes (in a sign of just how helpful we are, one is warming his little tushy against the computer as we type). The philosophy we try to live by is one of harm minimisation/benefit maximisation in life, and we're always interested in different approaches people take to help animals.

So we were interested to learn about a guy who threw in a major corporate job to put his eggs into the basket of a startup company to support rescue dogs. SAT spoke to Michael McTeigue about his company, SavourLife, and how it all works.

You left a successful corporate career for a startup venture designed to help dogs in need. What was your previous job and did anyone suggest you were crazy at the time? 

I was a marketing executive at one of Australia’s biggest companies, it was a great job working at a great company, working with some very talented people. I’m sure people still think I’m crazy (!), but I’m doing something I’m passionate about and I think we are really making a difference. The bigger we get, the more we’ll be able to help and that really excites me. 

There are plenty of good causes worthy of our attention. What is it about rescue dogs that inspired you to take action? 

I grew up with dogs and have always been a big softie when it comes to them. I guess I’ve been really affected by the innocence of rescue dogs. They are there through no fault of their own and are powerless to change their outcome. I wanted to be able to do something to change that situation. 

A happy rescue dog.
Why did you make the leap instead of donating cash to an animal charity? 

From a personal perspective, I thought I could use my own money to create a business that could eventually deliver many more donations than I, as an individual would ever be able to. Kind of like planting a seed for someone and watching it grow. I wanted to build a business that would continually be able to generate donations for animal welfare groups. From a wider perspective, not everyone has the means to donate cash to animal charities, so I thought if I could create a way for people to lend a hand to a great cause just by buying something awesome for their own dog, then everyone would win. 

How big a risk is it for a startup to donate 50% of profits? 

It’s a big risk, we are a family company, we are not backed by some big investors with lots of money, and like every start-up, yes sometimes it’s a struggle. But we are in this to help rescue dogs, so really that’s what it’s all about and I feel very strongly that we are doing a really unique and great thing. The support from people we don’t even know has blown me away; we just love it when people help us spread the word. I know we’ll be successful with the help of people just like the ones reading this blog; they’re the kind of people who are going to make us a success. 

How does SavourLife help rescue dogs? 

We partner with four, medium-sized pet rescue organisations throughout the country, you can check them out in detail on our website. We chose them very carefully, all are no-kill organisations, which was important to us. They are the experts in their fields, I just hope to facilitate them in doing their work even better. 

So there’s a few way we help. There’s the direct assistance we give in the form of donations to our partners, that goes to things like vets bills for example which make sure the dogs have the best health, no matter what background they’ve come from.

We also give them our products for them to use with their dogs, whether it be for playing, training, feeding or just simply for rewards. Which really helps makes rescue dogs a great choice as the new addition to your family, you know that they are in good health and they even get basic obedience training!

[Ed - if anyone doubted the trainability of rescue dogs, check out this article about the fantastic display courtesy of Dave Graham and the Australian Canine Sports and Training Centre in The Australian].

And then lastly we help promote the dogs through the unique “See Who You Helped” code on each of our packs. The 7-digit code from your SavourLife pack is your key to seeing the picture and profile of a real-life rescue dog, just like the ones your purchase is helping. You can sign up for updates on how your dog is doing and even share his profile with your friends. You never know, by sharing him you might help us find him a new home! By doing this we are getting these dogs in front of thousands and thousands of people who would otherwise not have seen them, so we know that helps drive more adoptions. 

Are there any non-humans in your life and can you tell us a bit about them? 

Ah, yes our CTO (Chief Tasting Officer), Buddy! He takes his work very seriously! He was the inspiration behind SavourLife and you can see him on the back of every one of our bags of treats. He is an 11 year-old yellow Lab and the world most perfect dog, he has the best nature of any dog I have ever met, I could be biased though….He’s hilarious, or at least I think he is, he’s got a very funny personality and loves his routine. I know what time of day it is, literally, by looking at him and what he’s doing. He is my mate, he’s been with me through thick and thin. 

Here's Buddy again in case you missed him.
How do you spend time together? 

He comes with me pretty much everywhere. He’s with me all day in the office which is great; but when I am not working (which is not very often at the moment!) we love walking as a family, so we’ll all go out and just wander for a couple of hours around where we live. He’s a Lab, so he loves the water, so I take him for a swim at least once a week. He’s also got the most incredible tennis ball radar, he’ll smell one from 50 metres away, I swear, so he loves playing fetch with those. 

What could we all do to improve the lives of non-human animals in Australia? 

There’s so many things you can do. You can volunteer at your local shelter, you can donate goods or money, you can be a foster carer for an animal. I know people are time poor, so simple things like telling your friends what a great option a rescue dog is instead of purchasing one from a pet shop is a great thing to do. When you buy SavourLife, just the simple act of buying something awesome for your own dog, will in turn help rescue dogs across Australia.

Thanks Michael. I love this idea for a business and I like the idea of a business based on giving back. 

Speaking of rescue dogs, this is a beautiful account about a dog named Bran who was rescued by some compassionate and dedicated peeps.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh, rats!

Hi everyone. 
Today's big job at the Sydney Royal Easter Show (at least for the small animal vets) was the vetting of around 475 rats and mice before breakfast. This was a somewhat challenging task, on account of the fact that most exhibitors entered multiple animals - presented in groups like this.
The rats were relatively easy to count. But mice? Not so much [NB these are not the containers the mice and rats were displayed in - they were just used to hold during the vetting process].
We were checking for general health concerns - dermatophytes, lice, traumatic injuries or respiratory tract disease. The condition of the entrants was excellent. Clearly the exhibitors are passionate about their pets. One observation is that naming pets when you have 30 or 40 becomes an excercise in creativity. Entrants clearly trawl TV and movie credits, novels and the bathroom cabinet to come up with names like "Moriarty" and "Midnight Mojo".

Containing the entrants was at times tricky as a few wanted to explore.
Vetting mice before the show.
As a vet I can declare that I've never met such a number or variety of rats and mice in one session. 

Every one of these mice had an individual name and exhibition number which had to be cross-checked.
This kind of set up made identifying and catching mice much easier.
Dr Chris Tan and veterinary student Jess Graham inspect some rats prior to the show.
It was another educational day. Professor Rosanne Taylor and veterinary neurologist Dr Georgina Child attended to observe the vet student program (if you are a vet student and have the opportunity to volunteer at the show, take it up!). Its always interesting discussing conditions like syringomyelia and neuronal ceroid lipofucinosis with the experts (even if one's own participation is more at the listening end of the spectrum).
Professor Rosanne Taylor (far left) with Dr Chris Tan (second from right) and neurologist Dr Georgina Child (far right).
The big shock of the day was a meeting in the dog pavillion with a representative of the breed that Phil most closely resembles, according to a DNA test. The Maltese. Believe it or not, Dr Phil is related to this lady (pictured below), although his haircut wouldn't suggest that.
Indiana the Maltese.
Dr Phil. See the resemblance? Neither did I!!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Visiting the Sydney Royal Easter Show

"Do NOT pat this bull! ...he does not like it at all!!!" - looks like someone patted before checking first. (Ascertaining an animal's preferences about patting or not - whatever the species - is always good practice).
This week I am fortunate enough to be a member of a team of veterinarians and vet students volunteering at what is effectively one of, if not the largest, veterinary "clinics" in the Southern Hemisphere - The Sydney Royal Easter Show.

The best thing about being a part of something like this is the opportunity to mix with colleagues in different areas within the veterinary profession - large animal vets, mixed animal vets, rural-based vets, city-vets - and to learn more about the husbandry and welfare of species I engage with less commonly. It is also an opportunity to meet the widest variety of dog and cat breeds and breeders.

At the show veterinarians and veterinary students have multiple roles: swabbing (testing competition animals for banned substances), first-aid and veterinary care (for example, in the event of a calving, a colic or lameness), overseeing veterinary treatment of animals, assessing that animals are fit to be shown and addressing husbandry issues that can arise when multiple animals and humans conglomerate in one area.

Its one of the few places in inner-Sydney where one might cross paths with horses.
Everyday the veterinarians meet for rounds, and the amount of planning and attention to detail is far beyond what I think most people would expect for an event that runs two weeks.

Dr Robert Johnson shows a third-year veterinary student how to vet the cats before the show.
Aside from the volunteer duties, the show is an opportunity for the non-rural based to see domestic species normally relegated to properties well beyond the bounds of the city. And its a nice chance to see one's patients in action. It was great vetting the agility dogs this morning and watching their absolute delight as they checked out the course and peed on designated hay bails.

Its also an opportunity to check out some of the more impressive cakes you'll ever see (unless you are in the cake decorating game). This cat-vs-yarn entry by Erin Lidbury was awesome.
On another topic altogether, SAT reader Mick sent a link to a series of beautiful photos - although I should warn that they are attached to a sad story. Have a look at the work of Jessica Trinh here.