Tag Archives: news

“Zombie Dog” Research Ongoing

Source: morguefile.com

Source: kconnors, morguefile.com

Today’s radar ping was a throwaway line in an otherwise unrelated article on a comedy web site, mentioning research involving the creation of “zombie dogs“.  The research, which is entirely real, is being carried out scientists at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh, who want to know if reducing the metabolic state of mammals with traumatic injuries can help increase survival of the treatment for those injuriesThe original article, as well as most of the news about it, is from late 2005.  The media briefly got excited about being able to use the phrase zombie dogs in professional conversation, but, since the science was (theoretically) legitimate and (most of) the reanimated dogs were just fine when brought back to life, eventually everyone put the pitchforks away and forgot about the zombie dogs.

Except, of course, the Safar Center.  They are still doing research on taking animals (and humans) to the brink of death and back — almost ten more years of articles with spine-chilling titles like Intravenous hydrogen sulfide does not induce hypothermia or improve survival from hemorrhagic shock in pigs and Magnetic resonance imaging assessment of regional cerebral blood flow after asphyxial cardiac arrest in immature rats.  Reading down their publication list tells you that, when they can, they are doing relevant experiments on humans, but, since no human capable of informed consent is ever going to volunteer to suffer severe brain injury, when the researchers can’t find human models they use rats, mice, dogs, pigs, and monkeys.

On the one hand, I completely understand wanting to find new ways to fix people who have been severely damaged.  Much of this research is, obviously, going to support our troops, a noble goal, and as you can see in the publication archives, a lot of the research is being done to help children.  I have absolutely nothing against these goals, and the scientific part of me completely understands that, in order to help some people who really need it, sometimes we have to do things which seem impossibly horrible.  On the other hand, every single one of these experiments starts, essentially, by whacking a couple dozen (sedated) rats on the head to induce brain injury, or essentially draining all the blood out of several (also sedated) pigs to induce cardiac arrest.  (If you are looking to cure traumatic injury, Step One in your experimental protocols is to create traumatic injury.)

There is something about this which is, to me, unspeakably twisted, but damned if I know an immediate solution to it.  Using only consenting human subjects as they appear by random chance would set the research back years, and if my child were struck by a car I know I would want all the research going into knowing how to sew my child’s head back on; on the other hand, if I were struck by a car, would I want to know that 2,000 rats died so that they could sew my head back on?  20,000?  Is there a minimum or maximum number of rats(/pigs/dogs/monkeys) that my life is worth?  I know it’s worth a lot of rats to me, but am I the governing authority here?  Cosmically, am I worth more or less than a rat?  Ten rats?  Is my contribution to society worth 2,000 lifetimes spent languishing in a little plastic tub in a research lab?  Would I want to meet those rats?  Explain it to them?  Would I want to explain it to the pigs?  The dogs?

No solutions here, alas — just a note to the world that this stuff is still happening.  No idea how to make it right, but, somewhere, this stuff went seriously wrong.

Twin Easter Foals Born to Underweight Mom

I seem to be doing that “not post because I have nothing meaty to say” thing, so here’s something reasonably bite size:

Here is a cute “human interest” story about twin foals born on Easter Sunday.  It’s pretty nondescript, and the facts are more or less correct (twin foals are pretty rare, because most mares aren’t quite big enough to carry two full size fetuses to term).  I only got interested when I saw some screencaps from the video:

Twin Easter Foals, Tifton, GA

Twin Easter Foals, Tifton, GA

Why doesn’t anyone seem terribly concerned about that mare?  (Actually, people on forums are concernedbut why hasn’t even one of the hundreds of news feeds which have brainlessly reposted this article even wondered why they can see every rib on the mother?)  She looks like a 1 or 2 on the Henneke body condition scale — damn skinny, almost emaciated.  Yes, she’s been eating for three, and mares lose body condition when pregnant, especially with twins.  But let’s look at some other photos of new equine mothers of twins:

Premature foal twins return home Twin Foals Born at OSUTwin Shire Foals in Wales

EDIT: I feel better.  I’m not the only one that wondered.

I don’t think this is a post so much about this specific situation, even, as it is about this: The reporter and photographer visited the site and took pictures and video and didn’t see (or at least didn’t mention) the mare’s condition.  The primary editor at the TV station didn’t mention it, and neither did anyone else at the station which saw the story.  Many, many news feeds reposted this article without even appearing to do so much as glance at the photos.  What else are we missing, in other news articles on other topics?  Consider this article on a “black phase coyote” shot by a hunter.  What might the news outlets that covered this story have missed?  (Hint, kids: that’s a husky!)

Celebrating the Deformed

This deformed cat is not funny“Grumpy Cat” — whose actual name is “Tard“, theoretically short for “Tartar Sauce” — is just one of many “oh look at the cute animal” memes that have gone past my radar over the past few years.  I’ve seen Sam, once voted the World’s Ugliest Dog; Thumbelina, billed as the world’s smallest horse; and an infinite number of critters on sites like Cute Overload.

I have a difficult time enjoying such photos.  The animals in them are not natural.  Their appearance is generally the result of man messing with animal genes; of overzealous (over)selection for extremely specialized traits; and of practices such as “line-breeding” (a polite term for inbreeding).  Animals don’t look like that naturally (the rare ones which do generally do not pass on their genes).  Those mutations — usually extremes of the brachycephalic mutation wherein the bones of the face stop growing before the rest of the head — give the animals “human” expressions — and incidentally produce malocclusion of the teeth, tear duct abnormalities, facial deformities, and a variety of other ailments.  (Another “popular” mutation for internet-photo-sharing is dwarfism, producing animals with short, twisted limbs, overlarge heads, and, again, a variety of other problems.)

These are not happy animals.  I cannot laugh at them, not even if they are humorously posed and captioned.  They look the way they do because some humans got together and thought, Wouldn’t it be great if dogs/cats looked more like human babies? and bred siblings to each other until the offspring looked sufficiently funny.  The fact that the animal can’t breathe, can’t see, and can’t eat is meaningless — look how cute it is!  It almost looks human!

I am not arguing that we should not breed, for example, Persian cats, because breed-standard Persian cats do not necessarily look like “Tard”.  (It should be noted, however, that there are good arguments against extreme type-breeding in purebred animals.)  I am arguing that, when man’s interference with nature produces its inevitable sports, we not give the poor things contracts to do television commercials and buy T-shirts celebrating them (and, indirectly, the process which produced them).  I don’t support irresponsible animal breeding — why should I support its byproducts?

Tigers Being Bred for Trade in China

So tiger parts sell for more money than you’ve ever seen, but it’s hard to find them in the wild any more for some reason.  What’s an enterprising businessman to do?  Why, build a tiger farm, of course.  Grab a few tigers, start a “conservation” operation or a “zoo”, and once you get 500 animals you can get a permit to sell your surplus to make “tiger bone” wine:

[Alas, this excellent article on the Asian tiger trade will not embed here.  Please visit it in person (it's free to view).]

Wildlife traffickers don’t even have to actually breed tigers.  They can just set up a location where it looks like they are captive-breeding tigers, then poach tigers from the wild and sell the parts as though they were from captive bred animals.  This apparently works for any species, not just tigers.

Although it does certainly appear that people are breeding captive tigers to sell for parts (in what way does this significantly differ from modern cattle operations?), I have been unable to verify whether or not the farms are also, specifically, starving tigers to death to satisfy nebulous legal issues requiring that the animal have died of “natural causes” for its parts to be sold, as in the following image I found floating around today.  The image appears to be a scan of this news article, sourced from this blog entry from the TigerTime web site, which appears to reference a paper called the Straits-Times but was written by a TigerTime employee with no readily apparent source.

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This image was what originally made me look into this subject.  It just seems too awful to be completely true, and it isn’t.  The report quoted above does not mention any requirement in Chinese law stating that animals which have died naturally are specifically legal (it just requires that the parts be “legally obtained”), and research suggests that the starving tigers are a different, though quasi-related, event: the tigers in question appear to have been starved (actually, fed “cheap cuts of chicken”, leading to malnourishment) when the facilities handling them “went into financial difficulties”.  Not that it’s much of a relief, especially to the tigers, but it does not look like they were starved specifically so their parts could be sold legally (although I suspect the facility owners did not object to the “happy” appearance of an “extra” carcass or two).  It just looks like that’s a “normal byproduct” of their “farming” operation.  (Why does that distinction matter to me?  Is “inconceivably terrible husbandry practices” better in some way than “deliberately starving animals to death”?  Is it even different?)

Just another place where minor curiosity (“Hmmm, that headline looks a mite sensationalistic”) leads to a major facepalm moment: even “wildlife” is being factory farmedEverything is being factory farmed, somewhere — and factory farming is never pretty.  (Check out that National Geographic photo gallery for a picture of what it looks like when humans “captive breed” snakes for the pet trade, if you’re interested.)

Orangutan Prostitution Appalling, but Thankfully Not “Common”

Orangutan.  Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Orangutan. Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Another horrible thing wandered across my radar today, under the lively title “Orangutans being used as prostitutes!!”  The attached text (which was written by a random Facebook friend, not a journalist) implied that hundreds of orangutans are being snatched from the trees and used as prostitutes in villages in Borneo.  It included a link to a Care2 petition begging everyone to stop the orangutan prostitution industry.

So, some quick research.  There’s a bunch of stories on this floating about, and they all seem to reference this story, written on October 3, 2007 by Jack Adams of the online magazine Vice, which appears to be something of a news outlet but whose main-page stories (as of 5/27/12) also include articles like “If You Don’t Like The Spurs, You’re A Wall-Eyed Moron” and “Dave Hill Wrote Some Stupid Book“.  The orangutan story is extremely short (9 paragraphs, including the introduction) and does not go into a lot of detail.  It also does not in any way imply that orangutan prostitution happens outside of this one incident.

The interview is with Michele Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991.  The BOSF web site does not mention Pony or prostitution at all.  Neither does Michele Desilet’s Facebook page.  You would think that if orangutan prostitution was a huge industry (or even an industry at all), there would be mention somewhere.  Instead, we have a tweet from Michele personally (dated April 2012, and directed at someone else who was researching the petition site’s allegation): “The case of Pony the orangutan was the only case we have ever come across of this type.  It is NOT common.”

Is the use of animals of any kind (and, arguably, of humans) in a brothel an unforgivable atrocity?  Yes.  Is it terrible that this happened (and it does seem to have happened), and that the perpetrators won’t be punished (there are no laws forbidding this kind of behavior in Indonesia)?  Yes.  Is this a sad, sad example of how low some people will sink?  Yes.  Are hundreds of orangutans being captured for use in Indonesian brothels?  No.

What is really threatening orangutans?  Habitat loss due to deforestation, related to the palm oil industry.  Want to help stop the idiocy?  Don’t just sign an online petition — get out there and donate some money, try to reduce your use of products containing palm oil, (here’s a handy wallet card!) or, at the very least, Facebook or tweet about the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (or the animal support group of your choice), and get people angry about a problem that actually exists.

470,000 Die, Receive Brief Mention In Local Paper

Just a little something I noticed today….

An egg farm near Roggen, Colorado, owned by Boulder Valley Poultry, burned to the ground on April 30.  The extremely brief article (which matches other, extremely brief articles in other papers) declares the event an accident, and winds up by reassuring consumers that their supply of eggs is unlikely to be affected.

Oh, yeah, and 470,000 hens died.  In two barns.

What an interesting, unremarked, casual aside.  These aren’t unbelievably huge buildings.  235,000 chickens in each one?  To give each chicken one square foot of floor space in an open-floor plan (an extremely minimal investment), the barns would need to be 100 ft x 2,350 ft (almost half a mile long).  How densely were these chickens packed?

Also, “many local producers have agreed to step up production”.  How do you do that, I wonder?

Activists’ Surveillance Helicopter Shot Down by Hunters

A while ago I commented on the discovery, by a man flying a model aircraft equipped with a camera, of a “river of blood” behind the Columbia Packing Company, a Dallas, Texas meatpacking plant.  I was interested that the immediate public reaction, in some forums, seemed to be not “What is that river of blood doing there?” but “Wasn’t that photo a violation of the packing company’s privacy rights?”  I felt that that kind of attitude could make it difficult for anyone to document anything — including animal rights violations — which happened to be taking place on private property.

Recently, a South Carolina animal rights group with the acronym S.H.A.R.K. sent a reconnaissance helicopter over a group of hunters who were, on private property (Broxton Bridge Plantation), having a “pigeon (or dove) hunt” (according to them — probably one of these) or a “pigeon shoot” (according to S.H.A.R.K.).  S.H.A.R.K. planned to shoot video of the event.  Of course, the hunters promptly shot down the drone.

Ironically, both the pigeon hunt and the drone launch in this case were apparently perfectly legal.  The shooting of the drone might or might not also be legal, but neither it nor the launching of the helicopter was probably the most enlightened way to make the feuding parties’ respective points.

Animal Capable of Human Speech is Remembered for Smoking Cigarettes

Various news sources are telling me that a “cigarette-smoking chimpanzee” passed away on Saturday, December 10.  The name of the chimp in question is Booee (or Booie), and this immediately pinged my memory: was that not the name of a signing chimp — one of the chimps that researcher Roger Fouts communicated with while he was raising Washoe, arguably the most famous of the signing chimps?

Image from Wildlife Waystation Facebook

I wasn’t hallucinating.  Here’s a link to a heart-rending little scene from the book Next of Kin, where Fouts describes meeting Booee again after many years apart.  And that’s the same Booee, a lifelong lab animal, unwilling participant in probably several dozen experiments until being briefly featured on a television show made him less than political to keep.  He was moved to the Wildlife Waystation in California in October, 1995.

This particular chimpanzee could speak to humans.  He used sign language to do so, but he could do so — one of the first of a tiny wave of “animals” which could speak a human language.  He was part of the community that helped open the door between humans and their closest cousins, the great apes, and helped to start the (still ongoing) movement which is trying to get chimpanzees out of the laboratory.  He is part of the snowball that started the avalanche of things like the Great Ape Protection Act, which would have been unthinkable when Booee was born.  This guy is one of the founders of a little, slow, quiet revolution in the way humans think about animals.

And something like 90% of his obituaries say “he was on television once”, “he smoked cigarettes”, and “he begged for candy”.  Why are those chosen as his defining attributes?  Are they just the only ones the news outlets think we’ll understand?  Booee is a historical figure.  He did a lot for animal/human understanding and the promotion of the idea that animals are not just automatons with fur.  It might be hard to encapsulate the meaning of what he was, what he did and the way he changed the world into a blog-sized sound bite, but “cigarette-smoking chimpanzee”?  Is that all we can come up with?

I know that the news media are just trying to garner readers, and that “cigarette smoking chimpanzee” probably: a) resonates better for most people than does “signing chimpanzee” and b) is “cuter” and more “sound bite friendly”.  But please — is that the only thing you can think of to say?  (Here’s the Wildlife Waystation obituary for Booee, in case you’d like to see how to do it with class.)

Bad Animal Husbandry Has Consequences

Scared Sheepless by Chris Ayers Design

Image from "The Daily Zoo" by Chris Ayers - http://www.chrisayersdesign.com

Two ranch-hands in Wyoming contracted Campylobacter jejuni infections via castrating lambs with their teeth.

I’m sure that, with some effort, they could have found some other way to do that.

This is one of those situations where I can see both with the eyes of an animal welfarist and with those of a ranch hand.  The animal welfarist says, “Why are you doing that with no anesthetic?!?  With your teeth?  Why are you castrating them at all?  You could just [insert high-maintenance management program, expensive castration alternative, or impossible immediate job switch here]!”  The ranch hand says, “I have 1,600 sheep to do — can you imagine what it would cost, or how long it would take to anesthetize every one?  Or to separate every adult ram, because they’ll fight?”

(Hate this problem?  Ask why they have 1,600 baby sheep — they have such a large flock because they’ve been forced to expand their business to compete with even larger companies, to supply people who buy wool sweaters and ground lamb from enormous box stores.  Buy local, and know what you’re buying.)

Either way, this is another one of those horrible consequences of exceeding the Monkeysphere — the sheep have become items, not individuals — and of assembly-lining the process.  Forced to do something 1,600 times in a short period, the ranch hands found the fastest, lowest-effort way they could in which to do it.  I notice that no-one checked to see if the sheep caught anything from their mouths!

Letter from an Anonymous Shelter Manager Rings True

This has been traveling around with no reference of source:

“I think our society needs a huge “Wake-up” call. As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all…a view from the inside if you will.

First off, all of you breeders/sellers should be made to work in the “back” of an animal shelter for just one day. Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would change your mind about breeding and selling to people you don’t even know.”

….click here for the rest.

Speaking as someone who has worked with rescue people, and interviewed (if not worked) and volunteered at multiple animal shelters, I’d just like to second this, and point out that, while the language is a bit emphatic and there may be slight exaggeration for emphasis, the exaggeration is slight.  And the picture of the pile of cats?  Absolutely, 100% true to life, or, rather, true to death.  That’s a full-size walk in freezer, and imagine how many animals the pictured facility must “handle” per year that they needed to purchase such a thing.  And that’s one facility.

Does this piss you off?  Scare you?  Make you want to hug your kitties?  Do something about it.  Donate to your local shelter so it can keep animals longer or pay for kennel cough treatment.  Ask how you can help educate people about adoption and encourage people to adopt.  Above all, don’t get mad at the shelters…they are just dealing, as best they can, with the problem.  They didn’t cause it.  Does this photo, this article, make you sick?  Help your local animal shelter.  Help fix the problem.