Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What’s going on with Small Animal Talk?

Hero, three legged cat, tripod, cat grooming
Whatever I do Hero will be there to ensure that my desk is pretty much unusable because he will plonk himself in the middle of it and demand my undivided attention. Here he is doing his impersonation of a meerkat.
Well, folks, I will be posting a little less regularly. The reason is that I’ve committed to a very large animal welfare and ethics project, one that I hope will make a difference and - in some ways - consolidate a lot of the work I am doing. And I needed re-evaluate my commitments.

I don’t want to reveal too much at this stage, but I will keep you informed as it progresses.

I will still continue to post, just not three times per week as previously. I suspect that, in this era of information overload, it won’t be a big deal. Nonetheless there are some regular readers who have kept up with just about every post and sent me suggestions and comments.

Please keep the ideas coming, and I look forward to keeping in touch.
One another note, earlier this year I was asked to write an opinion piece for Sydney Alumni Magazine. I wrote about how we can make a difference with personal choices. You can read it here.

Finally, Perth based artist Helen Norton (interviewed by SAT earlier this year) currently has an exhibition called "Dog" on in Sydney until November 11 at Michael Commerford's Gallery. Find out more here.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Do animals get bored?

boredom, bored dog
How do you tell if an animal is bored?

Do animals experience boredom? Those of us who cohabit with companion animals are generally convinced they do, but science is catching up.
In a review article(Burn, 2017) looking at boredom in non-human animals, Charlotte Burn claims that “chronic inescapable boredom is neither trivial nor benign.”

Burn argues that boredom includes sub-optimal arousal and aversion to monotony.

She discusses triggers of boredom, like spatially and temporally monotonous situations, confinement, and its effects - like frustration, stereotypic behaviour, disengagement and cognitive impairment. We know that for bored humans, time seems to drag. We know that monotony causes some individuals to seek novelty, even stimuli they might normally avoid (in humans, boredom is one factor associated with addiction). Chronic, inescapable boredom is “extremely aversive”, and under-stimulation can reduce physiological and behavioural flexibility.

Despite its significant welfare implications, animal boredom has been neglected by science, which is concerning given that most animals studied by scientists are confined in relatively barren environments for their entire lives. Yet we know that to develop neurologically, most animals need species-appropriate stimulation.

Boredom perhaps has an evolutionary advantage in motivating animals to seek stimulation and learn. It might even motivate some animals to leave their homes and seek new territories, or try new foods, or new behaviours.
Restricted periods of boredom may be helpful in motivating us to learn. But prolonged, inescapable boredom has negative effects, including damage to the central nervous system (the brain can literally shrink).

Environmental enrichment may alleviate boredom, but only if the enrichment is perceived as stimulating and relevant to the animal.

Burn’s article documents significant evidence that boredom exists in animals. She summarises various studies which highlight potential indicators of boredom (for example preference tests, escape behaviour, negative cognitive bias), indicators of sub-optimal arousal in humans and animals (for example, decreased HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) and SAM (sympathetic-adrenomedullary) activity, and EEG (electroencephalographic) patterns) and other indicators including time perception, disrupted sleep, and abnormal, repetitive behaviours.

Some may consider the study of boredom to be a bit of a “luxury” compared to study of other established animal welfare problems like pain and stress. Burn does not agree.

She writes: “Given the intense distress that prolonged boredom can cause in humans, and the cognitive damage to which under-stimulation can ultimately lead, it is potentially a severe and highly prevalent animal welfare issue neglected too long.”

There is a need, she argues, for scientists to investigate the biological basis for boredom, and to evaluate techniques and strategies to combat boredom in humans and in animals.

The implications for anyone housing animals are huge. That includes people working in laboratories, zoos, aquariums, sanctuaries, farms and companion animal owners. Which species are most susceptible to boredom? How do we ensure that confined animals experience appropriate stimulation for their development? Which interventions can offset boredom?

This is a paper worth reading in full. In terms of companion animals there are a number of ways we can offset boredom. Interacting with them in a meaningful way – whether it’s going for a walk, engaging in training, petting or grooming, providing appropriate environmental enrichment or even companionship with their own species can all help to offset boredom.

Different animals at different stages in their development may require different 
types and levels of stimulation.

Reference


BURN, C. C. 2017. Bestial boredom: a biological perspective on animal boredom and suggestions for its scientific investigation. Animal Behaviour, 130, 141-151.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What happens when a vet gets sick? Interview with Dr Ian Nielsen


What happens when a veterinarian gets sick? Not 24-hour-bug sick, but full-blown sepsis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, comatose for weeks sick?

Equine veterinarian Ian Nielsen had had a bad run. The veterinarian/grazier’s practice was hit hard by drought and the equine influenza (E.I.) outbreak. Then a seemingly simple stomach ache mismanaged turned into a perforated ulcer, and a sudden, critical illness.

Ian survived, documenting his experience in Still Here: A Wild Ride to Survival. The book describes the ensuing farm and veterinary dramas, legal action, some very grim prognoses and a self-devised rehabilitation which even Nielsen admits was “insane”. All of this with a damaged brain, a failing heart and a “drunken” nervous system.

Almost ten years later, at the age of 74, Ian continues to run an equine practice, follows a strict gym program and races a single scull in master’s rowing regattas. He is incredibly philosophical about the experience, and was happy to answer our questions.

No one plans illness, but what was the impact on your practice?

It was seriously badly timed. I had had insurance throughout my life – both life and income protection insurance. But it was going to end when I was sixty-four and a half (just six months before my illness). When I pulled out of my Canberra horse practice, I had let the insurance lapse. I’d been on the farm with five years of drought already and thought if I lost my health I’d battle on, but it was an earth shattering financial situation, as you go from a pretty healthy income to zero.

We’d been through that before with equine influenza - going from a big income to stop. Suddenly, you don’t have a big turnover but an awful lot of expenses just to keep the practice going.

With E.I., I had to decide whether to take a part-time Government job with the Department of Agriculture to help solve the problem, or should I stay on and look after my clientele? I didn’t chase the money, but decided to service my clients.  We went backwards financially then. We were in the so-called green zone and all the green zone vets fell on their swords a bit. Mostly work stopped.

After I was ill I couldn’t work at all. At that stage we were lucky, my wife Trish was the receptionist and book keeper and I’d wound back to a grazier-come-veterinarian. We had no wages to pay. My workload was already less than frantic, but that wasn’t entirely by choice. We’d moved to the country away from Canberra, I wanted to scale back a little bit anyway.

I was at that stage of life where I’d upskilled enough to work at the smart end of vet practice and do lameness and reproduction and not as much ambulance stuff. I was reasonably healthy at the time this happened, just had arthritic issues. Then suddenly, crash! Bang!: I stopped and vacated the earth for six weeks. When I tried to work again people were pretty scared of actually seeing me.  I looked a little moribund. A lot of my clientele started to vacate the practice. I did a few newsletters as you do and said rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. But if you look physically 50 per cent, they imagine you’re mentally 50 percent…

Without giving too much away, reading your descriptions in the book, your physical condition sounds terribly painful.

We all have a slim memory for pain, otherwise we wouldn’t reproduce ourselves. When I look back at the things that were painful, I now have no real concept of that pain. It seems to have vanished. In hindsight I think I was lucky to have had the experience. It was an out of body one, I was just observing what happened and because I am innately a scientist, having enough knowledge to follow my own biological mechanisms and watch healing and the body’s response to forces was just fascinating. It was a great trip.

Despite surviving the ordeal you had some long-term complications including peripheral and central neuropathy, yet you continued to practice. How did you manage this?

The neuropathy was crook, and in fact I am still out of balance and easily knocked off my legs. The hardest part was that I did have – and still have – some difficulty retrieving vocabulary and sentence construction. I do this constant search in my head for the right word. There has been an amazing improvement with recovery, but you can imagine it was very frustrating not to be able to say what you could think. I was not able to say it because I’d lost large areas in my prefrontal cortex and amygdala - also affecting my short-term memory.

While doing my vet work I had to make very careful clinical notes. That was really good, it made me much more observant and careful about my clinical appraisal. My memory was jerked by re-reading notes, but if I ran into a client or they caught me unawares on the phone and said “Myrtle is better today”, I’d say “Give me a second, I’ll look in my book” and it turned out that I’d seen them yesterday!

What about the physical side of working with horses?

When I studied, equine practice was considered a men’s profession, because you had to throw horses around instead of sedating them. Even when good sedatives became available, there was a common belief that it was almost an admission of defeat and poor horsemanship that you had to resort to sedation. That belief still exists in the marketplace where people say “You don’t have to sedate my horse, the other vet didn’t”.

In the old days females were considered second class citizens because they weren’t strong enough. That is nonsense. I can be blown over by a solid wind now. The truth is that horses are innately sensitive to a threat. If you are not offering a threat to them, they are calm. I wonder as I look wobbly on my feet, perhaps they see me as less of a threat. I’ve not been injured by a horse since then.

As a practitioner yourself, although an expert with equine patients, how did you cope as a patient?

Because I was involved with the College (the ANZCVS) and its development, and because I am intrigued by how things work, pathophysiology is what it’s all about. Epidemiology and pathophysiology are the gateway to finding out new diseases and not being surprised by things or the way they appear because it’s logical.

It’s often said that in being a vet, you are your own worst doctor, but you’re probably not. Despite the fact that medicos think I am a second class medico, it has helped. I don’t just give my doctors my history or symptoms, I give them advice as well. I really feel that for my wife and I, I’ve been an asset in our medical care.

She has a nasty lupus condition which manifested itself with sudden onset, strange clinical signs. I kept saying you can’t get five diseases at the same time. I said it will be one disease, because of the sudden onset. So we had 2-3 years of traipsing around to different specialists…and I was chest-thumping because of the multiple diagnoses she received.  That was plain bad medicine.

From the perspective of rehabilitation and recovery, an awful lot was determination (bloody mindedness) and some was knowing what I was doing. Rehabilitation is a poorly studied discipline. For example, surgeons will cut your knee open then tell you to go home – no post op advice given. Mind you we’re not much better in veterinary medicine.

In horses, we have no controlled studies on recovery from bowed tendons, for example. We have studies trialling a set plan, but not against a control or against another plan. Vets write up the clinic’s advice sheet but it isn’t based on solid evidence.

I did learn a lot. To have taken legal action meant my solicitors pulled out all the stops and got furious about getting proper diagnostics, so I spent many hours at hands of medical specialists one way or another. I had tests with neurophysiologists and psychiatrists and psychologists, who could clearly define the areas of brain that were destroyed, and could see it on an MRI. I’d love to have a repeat MRI now and see the extent of recovery.

The plan you devised for your recovery was gruelling to say the least. To what extent do you think it is important for patients to research their condition, collect data and develop their own plans?

When I turned a corner, I went from recovery to starting a program of rehabilitation with a team that I selected – a physiotherapist, a podiatrist, my consultant physician (who didn’t know he was on the team but was in charge of my heart), and my personal trainer.

So three of out of four them knew they were part of the team. I also had my psychiatrist, although he also wasn’t aware he was part of the team. They were there as backstops, and I would lay down the benchmarks that I was trying to achieve…and my wife in the background was prepared to sue everybody if I dropped dead doing it while I was writing waivers saying I’d rather die than fail.
I had decided on hypoxia as the cure to all nervous ills. I seemed to recover and I believe it was a genuine recovery based on my plan, not a placebo. My working title for my book was N=1, but nobody but scientists knew this is the ‘anecdotal equation’. When my consultant physician said I should write it, I said, “Come on, it’s an N=1 story.  It’s not truly a scientific story”. So I don’t use references in it for that reason. But I wrote it anyway.

Do you have any advice for veterinarians or future veterinarians?

Enjoy it.  It really is a fun job.
You really do need income protection of some form or other. In my case I kept income protection insurance going all through the kid’s childhoods, and when they were at uni, so we had them covered. But after that I went along on the basis that I had cash as I needed it. As it happened we blew all that.

So Trish and I are church mice now. We don’t have big expensive living habits. I row my boat, and if I can I will go back to painting watercolours.  Trish sews very well.  It is not terribly expensive. And I continue working as an equine vet while I can, because I enjoy it.


Thank you Dr Nielsen for your time. You can read in detail about his experiences in his book Still Here, available on Amazon or directly from Dr Nielsen’s website http://www.stillhereiannielsen.com/

Friday, October 6, 2017

Can clicker training improve the welfare of shelter cats

cat, clicker training, cat training
Can you clicker train a cat and what are the implications of clicker training shelter cats

Do you think you could train a cat? What about a cat in a potentially stressful environment? And can old cats learn new tricks?

US-based researchers recently published their Assessment of Clicker Training for Shelter Cats(Kogan et al., 2017) in animals to determine if clicker training was viable. They recruited 100 healthy shelter cats, male and female, ranging from 6 months to 12 years old, with varying lengths of stay at the shelter, to perform four behaviours: touching a target, sitting, spinning and the good-old “high-five”.

The rationale for assessing clicker training is that it is regarded as behavioural enrichment, and enrichment is known to have some mitigating effects on stress. As the authors write, “being housed in a shelter is likely one of the most stressful living arrangements these cats have ever encountered…”

Yet those cats were able to learn: 79% learned to touch a target, 60% learned to spin, 31% mastered the high five and 27% learned to sit. This does not include the cats that almost mastered these skills, for example the cats that motioned to sit but didn’t achieve bottom-to-floor contact.

To find out how they did it, you can read the paper and email the authors for their clicker training manual. But it wasn’t too hard. All cats were pre-assessed for their baseline skills but also, which food was their favourite, as this was chosen as the reward (ultimately 62% got canned tuna and 38% got chicken baby food). All cats who wanted it had ten minutes per day of contact with a person. In addition, twice a day they had five- minute training sessions.

There are some useful lessons in here for those interested in training cats. 
Promisingly, cats who initially didn’t seem that interested in food could still learn the behaviour. And some “shy” cats who didn’t want to leave their cages warmed up after a short period.

The great news was that age and sex didn’t impact learning, though cats that were food motivated did perform better at high-fiving and targeting.

Why is this such a big deal? The study didn't prove that clicker training improved feline welfare or the rehoming rates of trained vs untrained cats (nor were these looked at in the study). But, the authors argue that clicker training may be an inexpensive, viable way to enrich the lives of cats in shelters, reduce stress and thereby make them less vulnerable to diseases like upper respiratory tract infections. It relieves boredom that they may experience with confinement.

And some of these behaviours involve approaching and engaging with humans, and other studies show this makes cats more appealing to potential adopters. That is critical, given that in the US around 3.2million cats enter shelters – and around 70 per cent of these are euthanased.


REFERENCE



Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WSAVA release veterinary dental guidelines

(Left to right):  Members of the WSAVA Dental Guidelines Committee during the launch:  Paulo Steagall, Jerzy Gawor, Brook Niemiec, Kymberley Stewart, Gottfried Morgenegg, Marge Chandler, Rod Jouppi, Ana Nemic, Cedric Tutt and David Clarke.
Periodontal disease is the number one health problem in companion animals. By two years of age, around 70 per cent of cats and 80 per cent of dogs have some form of it, with small and toy breed dogs particularly susceptible. Yet the standard of care is variable. Additionally, there has been a movement to push anaesthesia-free dentistry.
Untreated and undertreated dental disease is a significant animal welfare concern, due to the pain it causes. There are also local health consequences like oronasal fistulas, pathologic fractures of teeth and/or jaws, bone infection, eye infection and blindness, and systemic disease including kidney, liver and cardiovascular disease. There is some evidence that periodontal disease is associated with an increased risk of oral tumours.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association released dental guidelines just last week, available to all veterinarians around the globe. Importantly, they stress the need for veterinarians to improve dentistry skills and they “strongly reject” anaesthesia-free dentistry.
PLEASE NOTE: before you print these out, the PDF is 161 pages in total. It contains a number of diagrams, photographs and illustrations. Each section is quite extensively referenced so although it’s a sizeable read it isn’t quite as big as it looks.
The “Guidelines” are more than just guidelines – they’re a substantial, well-referenced handbook providing information on veterinary dentistry and pathology, interpretation of dental radiographs, a dental scoring system, and best practice recommendations. Evidence-based guidance on periodontal therapy, radiology and dental extractions is also included, together with details of minimum equipment recommendations. It also includes information on home dental care and nutrition.
Anaesthesia-free dentistry is rejected as it is described as “ineffective at best and damaging at worst” and a cause of unnecessary stress and suffering to patients.
The corollary of this is that is it is impossible to perform a complete dental examination without general anaesthesia – as there may be no or very subtle signs of dental disease. The risks and benefits need to be weighed up in each individual case.
The Guidelines address the question of whether sedation is an appropriate halfway point – but they state that it is “not always safer than general anaesthesia” and does not facilitate airway protection, appropriate ventilation and monitoring of cardiovascular function.
The Guidelines were developed by WSAVA’s Global Dental Guidelines Committee (DGC), comprising veterinary dentists from five continents as well as contributors from the WSAVA Global Pain Council, Global Nutrition and Animal Wellness and Welfare Committees.
The aim is to ensure the guidelines are helpful to every veterinarian, whether in an advanced hospital setting or a context where companion animal practice is still developing. Not every practice has all the equipment mentioned, but there are alternatives suggested where available.
DGC Co-chair Dr Brook Niemiec, a Board-Certified Specialist in Veterinary Dentistry of the American and European Veterinary Dental Colleges and a Fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry, said: “Dental, oral and maxillofacial diseases are, by far, the most common medical conditions in small animal veterinary medicine. They cause significant pain, as well as localized and potentially systemic infection but, because pets rarely show outward signs of disease, treatment is often delayed or not performed with a corresponding impact on the welfare of the patient. In developing the Global Dental Guidelines, we felt that the lack of perception of patient pain was a key issue.”

“Our Committee members were also unanimous in their opposition to AFD.  We believe that anaesthesia is essential for the execution of any useful dental procedure and this is a central recommendation of the Guidelines.  To support it, we have provided a detailed analysis of anaesthesia and pain management approaches.”

“Our patients are not well served by the current variation in standards of care, level of equipment and procedural knowledge of dentistry. Misinformation which clouds the sector is a further hindrance.  As clinicians, we cannot allow a fear of the unknown, the discomfort of client pushback or ignorance of current techniques to keep us from doing our best to relieve pain and suffering in our patients.”
The Guidelines can be downloaded for free at http://www.wsava.org/guidelines/global-dental-guidelines.  

Their development was sponsored by Addison Biological Laboratory, Boehringer Ingelheim, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, KRUUSE and Virbac, however no specific brands are mentioned within the guidelines.

Friday, September 29, 2017

How clinical research can help human and animal patients: Lafora disease

anti epileptic drugs, anti seizure drugs, dog seizurs, Lafora
Some of the medications used to control seizures. These may control symptoms in dogs with early stage Lafora disease, but there is currently no cure.

When we think about animal-based research to benefit humans, we tend to think about animals in laboratories. But clinical-based research can incredibly helpful, and may benefit both species.

For example, collaboration between pet owners, vets and researchers at the University ofSurrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Fitzpatrick Referrals in Surrey is helping dogs and children with a rare, severe form of epilepsy.

The condition, Lafora disease, is very rare in dogs – although more prevalent in miniature wirehaired dachshunds, and has been seen in beagles and Basset hounds. Potentially, the genetic mutation that causes the disease could occur in any breed of dog spontaneously but it is autosomal recessive, so they need two copies of the disease gene to have disease i.e. both parents must be carriers or affected. The disease occurs due to a mutation in the Epm2b gene which leads to accumulation of glycogen in cells (Lafora bodies).

The disease affects around 50 children worldwide. Laforadisease is a fatal form of epilepsy caused by a genetic mutation, leading to abnormal levels of glycogen in the body. These abnormal levels of glycogen cause children and dogs to suffer progressive seizures, dementia and loss of mobility. In dogs, anti-epileptic drugs control seizures in the early stages of the disease, but there is no curative or long-term treatment available currently.

Understanding the signs and progression of the disease may help develop an effective treatment which could be used to treat affected children and dogs.

Veterinary researchers surveyed the owners of 27 miniature wirehaired dachshunds over the course of 12 months to study the clinical signs and physical advancement of the disease. The good news is that this involved patients with naturally occurring disease.

They discovered that the average age of onset of clinical signs in dogs was around 7 years. The most common clinical sign of Lafora are reflex and spontaneous muscle contractions, uncontrollable jerks and generalised seizures. Other common signs include focal seizures, jaw smacking, fly (of the non-existent kind) catching, panic attacks and aggression. Reflex and spontaneous muscle contractions was a clinical sign in 77.8 per cent of affected dogs. 51.9 per cent of affected dogs experienced uncontrollable jerks and 40.7 per cent experienced generalised (sometimes referred to as grand mal) seizures.

Signs that developed later in the disease include dementia (51.9%), blindness (48.1%), aggression to people (25.9%), aggression to dogs (33.3%), deafness (29.6%) and faecal (29.6%) and urinary (37.0%) incontinence as a result of loss of house training (disinhibited type behaviour). Read more here.

It sounds simple, but characterising rare diseases like this is incredibly challenging yet vitally important. How does a veterinarian know that a dog or puppy has Lafora disease, and not another seizure disorder?

For veterinarians, differentiating Lafora from other seizure disorders can be difficult, but is done on the basis of a) the presence of characteristic myoclonic (jerking) type seizure in response to flashing lights, sounds, movement; b) genetic testing and c) MRI changes (cortical atrophy), although these changes are not specific to Lafora.

Genetic testing is performed on blood submitted to the University of Toronto or via the Dachshund Breed health Council testing scheme

Dr Clare Rusbridge, Reader in Veterinary Neurology at the University of Surrey and Chief Neurologist at Fitzpatrick Referrals, said: “Lafora disease is a fatal disease that causes unbearable suffering for dogs and in rare cases young children.”

“Due to its rarity, little is known about the onset of this illness but what we have discovered, with the help of dog owners, is the clinical sign of Lafora helping to lead to quicker diagnosis. The more we learn about Lafora, the better chance we have of treating it effectively.”

The longstanding relationship between Dr Rusbridge and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has led to the ground-breaking collaboration between human and veterinary medicine, which led to the discovery of the canine Lafora genetic mutation in 2005.

This research has already helped reduce the incidence of Lafora in dogs and thereby reduced suffering. Campaigning by the Wirehaired Dachshund Club and Dachshund Breed Council has led to an increased awareness and testing for the disease in breeding dogs. In 5 years, the proportion of litters bred with a risk of Lafora-affected puppies has been reduced from 55% to under 5%.

This represents huge progress, but there’s still a need to develop an effective treatment. Its another important example of how study of naturally occurring, rather than experimentally induced disease, can benefit humans and animals.

Reference:



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How soldiers are helping Sydney Dogs and Cats Home - and how dogs and cats are helping soldiers



Can animals and people help heal each other? The mutually beneficial relationship between humans and non-human animals is evident in aged-care facilities, hospices, hospitals and other settings.

This week we spoke to Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2), Jayne Morley, a Physical Training Instructor specialising in rehabilitation in the Australian Army. WO2 Morley has been in the army for 30 years, and has been a volunteer at Sydney Dogs and Cats Home (SDCH) for the past five years.
The Australian Army now has an arrangement to send injured soldiers to Sydney Dogs and Cats Home to volunteer. The benefits go both ways.
WO2 Morley spoke to us about the initiative.

What is your role?

I am a Physical Training Instructor specialising in rehabilitation posted to the Trainee Rehabilitation Wing (TRW) at Holsworthy Barracks. TRW is a facility which manages the rehabilitation of soldiers who have been injured through training, not through operational deployments. The soldiers referred to us have physical injuries and the average age is generally between 17 and 25 years of age. TRW manages on average 60 soldiers at one given time with the capacity of 84. 

The injuries the soldiers suffer range from stress fractures to lower limbs, varying injuries to hips, knees, ankle and soft tissue injuries, plus back and shoulders injuries. These injuries are commonly from a result in extra loads of carrying packs and increased physical output. Each soldier has completed their basic training in the army and/or has commenced their Initial Employment Training specific to their allocated Corps, and may have sustained injuries during this training. 

TRW holistically manages the soldiers with a team including a Medical Officer, Physiotherapists, Mental Health practitioners, external clinical specialist and Physical Trainers. The soldiers are managed administratively through a team of Army personal who provide military training and mentoring. TRW’s main focus is to return soldiers to their allocated corps or make recommendations for the best outcome for the soldier and Army.

What do they do?

TRW visit SDCH on a weekly basis on Wednesday afternoons from 1230 to 3pm. Each week, 11 injured soldiers and one staff member assist SDCH with any tasks required by the staff of SDCH, but ultimately to spend time with the animals including walking dogs or spending time with the cats and rabbits. On occasions the soldiers may be tasked to do more arduous tasks like cleaning, dismantling of old equipment or even area beautification, to which they are all eager to assist as it gives them a sense of purpose and achievement.

How do the soldiers benefit from this?

Visiting and supporting SDCH gives back to the community and develops a healthy relationship between the Australian Army and a charity organisation such as SDCH. Ultimately it is the “giving back” to animals in need which then redirects a sense of self focus. At the end of each shift SDCH has a survey which is provided to the soldiers which asks questions on individual’s motivation, mood and energy before and after, and what was the highlight of their shift. All surveys returned have been extremely positive with all soldiers extremely keen to continue volunteering.

Majority of soldiers enjoy getting away from the typical rehabilitation environment for an afternoon and getting out, walking the dogs and spending time with the animals. They also love to know of the adoption stories about the animals they have spent time with.

How do the animals benefit?

The animals are able to have the love and care they deserve and interact with people which aid in the animals socialisation with humans. A huge positive for the dogs is that they are able to get an additional walk and time out and away from their kennels providing them greater enrichment in their lives and to assist them in finding their forever homes.

Are there vets working in the army?

Yes Army does have employed Veterinarians. At the School of Military Engineering, Holsworthy Barracks there is a specialist wing for the training of Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD).TRW has an additional program where we “sign out” an EDD on a daily basis and bring to our workplace. This is a dog that is not currently in training, however provides excellent socialisation for the dogs and we provide the kennel manager feedback of the dog’s behaviour. It also benefits by providing a sense of responsibility for the soldiers to care and manage the dog in a working and training environment. THE EDD Cell have an appointed Vet on site for the necessary care of the dogs.


Thank you WO2 Morley. Meantime Sydney Dogs and Cats Home is seeking donations to build its new premises. You can find out more here