Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Meeting Frankie from Bear Cottage

Frankie the assistance dog
Frankie from Bear Cottage shakes paws.

SAT readers may be aware that SAT has been behind a fundraiser for Bear Cottage, a children’s hospice based in Manly. We learned about Bear Cottage when we read about the residentassistance canine, Frankie, who among other things can operate the electric train set and use the lifts to get herself around the place. Frankie is the non-human member of an incredible team who care not only for sick kids but their entire families.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to Bear Cottage to meet the team (although Phil sat this one out in front of the heater).

It was a pretty miserable Sydney morning, the traffic resembled a scene from Ben Elton’s Gridlock and it the rain poured down. The moment I arrived Frankie greeted me at the door, gave me an enthusiastic sniffing-over then laid down on the couch with her head in my lap.  

Frankie lies down
Frankie lies down on command.
As I toured the Cottage I could see first-hand just how important this kind of place is, providing comfortable accommodation, art, music and play therapy, a homely environment and total care so families can spend precious time together. And Frankie’s presence just adds to the warmth of the place.

Bear Cottage is a resource in demand – it operates at 100 per cent capacity and staff try to accommodate the needs of visitors as very best they can.

Frankie contemplates her next trick...and a treat.
Frankie agreed to demonstrate a couple of tricks for me (for a small price of course, she is a Labrador). When I returned from the car with a basket of presents for her she knew that she was the intended recipient and started to unwrap them immediately. She received a new bed, a food hopper, a bag of toys, some Greenies and potato ears (like pig’s ears but made of potato instead of pork).

Frankie the labrador with toys
Frankie embraces one of her new toys on her new bed.
I wish everyone I gave gifts to responded with such enthusiasm! It was a fantastic morning and a real honour to be able to visit the team. Frankie was still on her new bed when I left.

Frankie wears potato ears.
Frankie rapidly established that potato ears are better eaten than worn.
I have one more superdeed to perform as part of my fundraising commitments before hanging up the cloak til next year. That involves giving a lecture at the University of New South Wales next week. You can donate to this effort here, or find out more about Bear Cottage here

Monday, August 25, 2014

Win a double pass to the Australian Museum night talk and a TED talk about mental illness in animals


After reading our post mentioning their night talks, the Australian Museum have generously offered SAT readers TWO double passes to their night talk on the White-fronted Chat (a chat about a chat – but you can’t take your cat!)(okay, I will stop now).

The White-fronted Chat, Epthianura albifrons, is a small honeyeater. It used to be found all across Sydney but is now isolated to two patches of saltmarsh which are surrounded by urban development.

Ecologist Richard Major has been undertaking research to look at the decline of the endangered Sydney population. Using genetic techniques, he and his team have set out to determine whether urbanisation is the problem and has also trialled cages to help protect nests from predators.

Dr Major is the Principal Research Scientist in Terrestrial Research at the Australian Museum. His other research interests include birds in backyards and historical changes in the birds of Sydney.

If you’ve not been to a talk at the Australian Museum it is well worth the experience. There’s something cool about popping into the Museum after hours and hearing from experts in their field. The talk is will be held on October 30. Tickets are normally $30 each (or $20 if you are a member of the Australian Museum). For more info, hit this link.

To WIN a double pass, simply tell us in 30 words or less why you’re keen to go, and don’t forget to include your name and contact details. Entries must be received by 9am on September 30.

In other companion animal news, Jess sent this link to a fascinating TED talk by Laurel Braitman about the mental health of animals, and what it means for humans. I found this take very interesting, particularly the discussion of humans acting as assistance companions for animals, growth of the pet psychopharmaceutical market and the difference between history taking when discussing human vs animal anxiety, depression and mental health (its about twenty minutes but quite interesting - definitely worth making a cuppa for this one).

The late actress Lauren Bacall has left about $AUD10K to ensure the ongoing care of her dog Sophie, a Papillion. Bacall once described herself as a dog yearner.

“I didn’t have a dog growing up in the city with a working mother. As an only child, I yearned for someone to talk to.”
Sophie accompanied Bacall on set. Good for her – taking your dog to work is fantastic if you can do it, and if you can afford to put money aside for your pet’s care in your will it can help avoid family dramas.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How to become an expert

they soon master it!
What are you up to this weekend? I know SAT reader Jenna is going to be spending most of it with her new puppy!

What are you up to this weekend? Will you be devoting any time to practising a particular skill? Here at SAT we rarely find ourselves reading books about sport, but we were persuaded by some friends and teachers to read Bounce: the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice.

Bounce was written by journalist and international table-tennis champion Matthew Syed. The central thesis is that supposedly talented individuals practice HARD. We see the fruits of that practice but feel compelled to turn a blind eye to the evidence of the blood, sweat and tears behind it. It’s easier sometimes to judge that someone is incredibly talented instead of considering that if we were to put in the hours, we could be that good too.

She is a Jack Russell terrier, just over 1kg.
So one point Syed makes very convincingly is that it takes a good TEN YEARS or TEN THOUSAND HOURS to make an expert. Even 2 or 3 thousand hours can make you very good at something.

“…from art to science and from board games to tennis, it has been found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task….In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points out that most top performers practice for around one thousand hours per year (it is difficult to sustain the quality of practice if you go beyond this), so he re-describes the ten-year rule as the ten thousand hour rule”p15.
This is fascinating in the light of a study I read a few years ago suggesting that the average career in veterinary practice in Australia was five years.  Think how often people in general change careers these days. Are we giving up when we’re good enough? The talent myth, he says, is disempowering because when we praise someone for being blessed with talent we a) ignore their hard work and praise them for something they feel they have no control over; b) fail to recognise the need for hard work to get there and perpetuate the talent myth.
Another point Syed makes is that experts just LOOK as if they have more time because with practice many moves and steps become automatic. And they’re not great at telling us HOW they do it because they develop “expert induced amnesia”.

“Federer has practised for so long that the movement has been encoded in implicit rather than explicit memory. This is what psychologists call expert-induced amnesia”p34.

But JUST DOING IT for 10K hours won’t get you there exactly. It might get you close, but the difference between so-called talented performers and the rest is purposeful practice. Top skaters, Syed argues, fall MORE during their training sessions.

“Purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. Excellence is about stepping outside the comfort zone, training with a spirit of endeavour, and accepting the inevitability of trials and tribulations. Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure. That is the essential paradox of expert performance,”79.

The argument is very persuasive, although when I think of the development of surgical and medical expertise such falls are unsustainable. So I would love to hear a surgeon’s take on this (Dr Charles Kuntz discussed being a surgeon in this previous post and has done some reading about expertise and the ten-year/ten-thousand-hour rule).

Contemplating becoming an expert: its hard, hard, hard, hard work!
Syed’s discussion about the mindset of different people, taken based on Dr Carol Dweck’s work, is fascinating. People who think intelligence/talent/whatever desirable property are set in stone have a fixed mindset. Those who think these things can be gained and transformed with effort have a growth mindset. We often making the mistake of praising one another, and students, in a way that promotes the former which can be dangerous.

“…we should praise effort, not talent; that we should emphasise how abilities can be transformed through application; that we should teach others and ourselves to see challenges as learning opportunities rather than threats; that we should interpret failure not as an indictment but an opportunity,”p123.

How long does it take you to develop a new skill? How long are you prepared to work at it? Do you do things the same way or a little bit differently each time?


Being able to deliver praise in a way that promotes a growth rather than fixed mindset can be very helpful. Next on the reading list: Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The best job in the world?

Tiquie the tapir feels good.

Have you moisturised today? Yes, it’s true that SAT has included a few zoo posts this week but when we found out that Taronga Zoo’s Brazilian Tapir, ‘Tiquie’, has a regular moisturising session we could not resist. People think companion animal vets have an awesome job, and I'm not going to lie, it has its moments. But never in my career have I been required to moisturise a tapir.

That's a happy tapir.
Keepers gave Tiquie a hands-on health check and grooming session this week, rubbing diluted QV oil into her skin to prevent it drying out and brushing her wiry brown mane. (What a PR coup for QV – everyone with dry skin and a wiry mane will be rushing out to buy this stuff now!).

“Although Tapirs are normally solitary and quite elusive in the wild, Tiquie loves the interaction of the grooming sessions. She’ll close her eyes and tilt her head back when we’re rubbing the oil onto her skin and often roll onto her back for a tummy tickle,” said Keeper, Nat Dunn. Tiquie’s daily grooming sessions are also an opportunity for keepers to educate zoo visitors about Tapirs and their challenges in the wild. Although Tapirs have survived for millions of years, their future is under threat. They are hunted extensively for food, sport and for their thick skins and their jungle and forest habitat is disappearing due to destruction caused by logging and clearing of land for agriculture.

Of course, in the wild Tapirs don’t have access to QV oil either…but it is good to see this focus on enrichment.


Taronga is helping to protect Tapirs in the wild through its support of the LowlandTapir Conservation Initiative, which is promoting research and conservation of Lowland Tapirs and their remaining habitats in Brazil.

The beautiful photos were taken by Paul Fahy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A guinea pig cake, some dog philosophy, and Shark Girl DVD Prizewinners

Doing something nice for an animal...it isn't that hard!

Today marks the close of our Awesome Shark Girl DVD Giveaway. Readers had to do something nice for an animal. Hopefully most of you were too busy doing nice things to enter the competition. We have two clear winners: Laura and her little lambs, and Karen.

Karen made a cake version of her guinea pig Louie to raise some cash on RSPCA Cupcake Day. Not only does the cake look remarkably like Louie, Karen raised over $800, proving that being nice to animals can be very sweet indeed. Ladies, your prizes are on the way.

Louie the cake.

Louie the guinea pig - rear view.

Louie the cake - rear view. The resemblence is uncanny.
On another note, I’m currently working on a book about veterinary ethics with Dr Siobhan Mullan from Bristol University. It involves a lot of research, much discussion and debate and some hard thinking about some big issues. So I loved this cartoon about dog philosophy, pointed out by infectious disease specialist and purveyor of all fine things on the internet, Associate Professor Tom Gottlieb. Click here.

In the infectious disease arena, Professor Barrie Marmion – known best for his work on Q-fever – died earlier this year at the age of 94. Not one to quietly retire, in 2012 he opened the session on Q-fever at the ASID Zoonoses conference. The ABC put together a lovely story detailing the highlights of his career. Click here for more info. 

Finally, this week you - and so many others - may well find yourself asking "why is my cat urinating in the house?". We can answer that with another question: do YOU like getting wet feet when you pee? No? We see a lot more litter tray mishaps (or misses) during rainy whether. Check out our previous post on trouble-shooting problematic peeing here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Orang-utans enjoy a winter cuppa

An orang-utan enjoys a raspberry herbal tea.
If you live in Sydney this relentless rain is a total pain in the buttocks, especially if you are looking after animals who like to get out and enjoy the sun. As someone who cohabits with non-human mammals I've been making efforts to enrich their environment. Today Taronga Zoo’s Orang-utans Jantan and Willow were treated to warm herbal tea as a form of enrichment.

Reaching for a drink in the rain.
According to senior primate keeper Melissa Shipway, “Giving tea to the Orang-utans is part of their enrichment schedule and is very popular in winter.”
Note this isn’t just your ordinary Lipton or Dilmah. It is herbal tea (raspberry is a favourite) with apples.

Sometimes two teas are better than one.
The images were released by Taronga Zoo with the aim of highlighting the plight of Orang-utans on International Orang-utan day. Loss of habitat is the major threat to this beautiful species.

Reaching for another tea.
Their natural habitat, forests in Northern Sumatra and lowland Borneo, is being destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations. According to the Zoo’s figures there are less than 6600 Orang-utans left in Sumatra and under 54,000 in Borneo.

Habitat destruction is a major threat to orang-utan species. Humans have created the problem - and humans need to help.
Taronga is actively involved in the Don’t Palm us Off Campaign, which aims to promote sustainable palm oil farming and advocates for appropriate labelling on food products. More information is available here

Have your say: Australian Veterinary Association policies

Should animal products in Australia have a 'welfare label'?

What do you think about behaviour-modifying dog collars that use electric shocks or citronella to reduce barking? Should specific breeds of dogs be banned to reduce the risk of dog attacks? In what sort of situations should veterinarians administer pain relief? Should animal products in Australia feature a ‘welfare label’? If animals are to be used in petting zoos, how should we ensure their welfare?

These are important questions and the Australian Veterinary Association is currently seeking comment on draft policies around these and other topics. Plenty of people start to yawn when they here the p-word, but you shouldn’t: policy is designed to influence and impact animal welfare and when written and used well can make a huge improvement to the lives of animals.


If you’re a veterinarian or veterinary student and a member of the AVA (which you SHOULD be, as you can then comment on and positively influence these policies), now is the time to comment on the draft policies, either online (here), via email (avaact@ava.com.au), or via snail mail (Amanda O’Hara, PO Box 4257, Kingston ACT 2604).