Tag Archives: 2013

Ambient Temperature Shown to Affect Results of Cancer Research on Mice

Photo by gracey at www.morguefile.com

Photo by gracey at http://www.morguefile.com

Scientists have finally “asked” lab mice their preferred ambient temperature.  They discovered the mice prefer warmer temperatures than have been traditionally provided, and that, furthermore, their bodies behave differently at their preferred, warmer, temperatures.  (Here’s the original article, by Kathleen M. Kokolus et. al., published in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.)

I think the scariest thing about this paper is that it mentions that it has already been shown that mice prefer warmer temperatures than currently mandated, and that the colder temperatures in which they are currently kept induce “cold stress” and accompanying biological changes (references 3-7 in original article, dated from 2009-2012).  Has anyone been fighting to raise the standard ambient temperature for laboratory mice since 2009?  It seems to be taking the threat of these issues affecting the results of research to make scientists care whether or not the mice are in temperatures they’d prefer.

Beyond that — for how many years have we been doing research on mice at these recommended temperatures?  How much research has already been done with populations of mice affected by chronic cold stress?  Would we have gotten the same results in labs kept at 86 degrees Fahrenheit?  What results which we currently take for granted might be wrong?

What other variables might be sub-par for our research animals, and what effect might those things have on their responses to, say, cancer-causing chemicals?

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Would an Animal Shelter Import a Puppy?

In an article decrying (with some justification) the tendency of animal-rescuing persons to refer to animal-breeding persons with derogatory names, the author stated (emphasis theirs):

Animal shelters in the USA have been casting a wide net to fill their kennels for years. According to the US Public Health Service, Chicago O’Hare was the destination airport for 10,125 dogs imported from overseas in 2006, half of which weren’t vaccinated. Scientists from the Center of Disease Control estimated that over 199,000 dogs (38,100 unvaccinated) came into the country through the Mexican border that year alone, and in 2007, one organization in Puerto Rico by itself shipped more than 14,000 strays in seven years to the United States for adoption at shelters. ABC News reported that according to G. Gale Galland, veterinarian in the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, as many as 300,000 puppies a year – most from countries with little or no health safeguards, are being imported to satisfy the demand for puppies at shelters.

This set off my WTF detector, because, in my experience, I think the last thing the workers at the shelter where I work would ever want to do would be to purchase, with money, more animals for the shelter.  People walk in their door every day with baskets of puppies, often purebred.  At this exact second they have four purebred Beagles, a purebred German Shepherd, a Labrador retriever, a handsome white Boxer, and a mother Pug with two puppies.  Speaking of puppies, there is also a litter of five little Lab/Beagle mixes, at least three other, single, puppies, and some lovely juvenile (teenage) dogs, as well as possibly an infinite number of kittens.  Every cage is full.  For what possible reason would they want to ask for more dogs?

The original G. Gale Galland quote, in a 2007 article about how importation of unvaccinated dogs is prompting concerns about rabies, does indeed say that “as many as 300,000 puppies a year” are being imported — but it does not say that all the animals are specifically going to shelters.  Two paragraphs down in the same article, the Border Puppy Task Force in California describes the puppies as being “sold for $1,000 each in shopping center parking lots on the street”.  The Task Force web site exhorts people not to “pay in cash” for a puppy “on a street corner, in an alley or parking lot, or at a swap meet”.  Most shelters do not sell dogs on the street for $1,000 cash.   Perhaps these imported dogs are not all going directly to shelters?

from Kenny123 on morguefile.com

from Kenny123 on morguefile.com

I was surprised to learn that the bit about getting “14,000 strays in seven years” shipped in from Puerto Rico was true, but again, the quote is incomplete: these animals (known as Satos, or Sato dogs) are not just puppies, they are dogs of all ages.  The shelters say that they are being shipped from an area where there isn’t a lot of help available for them to places where they are more likely to be adopted. Critics say that shelters in areas where there aren’t a lot of stray dogs are importing strays from Puerto Rico rather than “go out of business”.  This letter from someone decrying the practice and its matching rebuttal do a pretty good job of summing up this mess.

This National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) paper appears to be the source of the “10,125 dogs imported through Chicago” as well as the “199,100 dogs entered from Mexico” statements.  Note that the paper refers to dogs, not puppies.  When considering where these animals go, the same paper states: “Some of these increases [in importation] may be explained by the apparent recent expansion in a high-volume international commercial puppy trade.  Breeders overseas and across borders ship puppies to the United States for sale through commercial pet stores, flea markets, and internet trading sites.”  Then it adds, “In addition to imports for commercial sale, several animal rescue operations import dogs from other countries for adoption in the United States.  For example…a humane rescue organization imported 295 dogs to the United States from the Middle East.”  Again, the true answer seems to lie right in the middle: yes, there are clearly shelters importing dogs (and puppies).  There are also breeders and commercial facilities importing puppies.

There seems to be a shouting match going on concerning shelters shipping in animals from other rescues.  My animal shelter would tell you that this process (NAIA calls it “humane relocation”) is a great thing; they are thrilled to be able to send animals to shelters in other states so they have room for the new ones constantly walking in the door.  NAIA (which is headed by a number of people who love animals, many of whom also happen to perform animal research, and also breed dogs) seems to have a number of articles putting down this practice as “money-making” on the part of the receiving shelters.  It’s likely that both sides of the story are true, depending on which shelter you look at, and where you live.  This shelter in Atlanta may well be slowly becoming a for-profit organization and is shipping in animals to keep itself financially afloat, but not all shelters behave like this one, and not all relocation programs are primarily intended to raise money for the receiving shelters.

While it is true that some shelters import pets, from both other US shelters and shelters in other countries, it feels to me as though this is more about NAIA (the primary source of a lot of articles, as well as the term “humane relocation” referring to movement of animals between shelters) using articles about a real concern (unvaccinated imported animals bringing in zoonotic diseases) to support an attack against animal rescue groups’ negative attitude toward pet breeders.  I can see (some of) the thought behind their position: in general, dog (and cat, ferret, horse, etc.) fanciers who take good care of their animals should always be encouraged, be their animals from (reputable) breeder or (reputable) shelter, and, in fact, some breeders are also rescuers.  (Responsibly) breeding pets is not intrinsically a terrible act.  On the other hand, portraying all shelters as money-grubbing, fanatical and untrustworthy “pet shops”, and denouncing a program that (at least sometimes) allows animals unlikely to be adopted in one area to be shipped to another for faster adoption, is not good for the one thing we all love best here: the animals.

One Possible Cause of Farm Worker Shortage

This is just an “interesting choice of photo” moment — but today I saw an article called “Want a Job?  Agriculture Industry Teeming With Them“.  What interests me is not so much the content of the article as the photo that USA Today chose to go along with it:

(Photo: Alvis Upitis, Getty Images file)

(Photo: Alvis Upitis, Getty Images file)

My original thought was “veal calves” — although the original photo source says “Holstein dairy calves” on a Wisconsin farm, and these do appear to be dairy calves.  There are theoretically good reasons to keep dairy calves this way; however, for a huge variety of reasons, this is not a location in which I’d personally be comfortable working.  Maybe that’s why there’s a shortage of workers?

(The shortage might also have something to do with the low paydangerous and unpleasant working conditions, and other problems, but those aren’t in the photo.)

It’s Okay To Shoot Kittens As Long As We Can’t See

Multiple sources.

Multiple sources.

A sadly tiny blip across the “WTF” radar was the shooting of five kittens by an Ohio policeman named Bob (or Barry) Accorti on June 10, 2013.  The story in brief: homeowner has litter of feral cats in her woodpile; calls police; police send Accorti (a “part-time humane officer”, according to the North Ridgeville, OH, police web site).  The homeowner assumes, and Accorti tells the homeowner specifically, that the cats will be “euthanized” as “the shelters are all full”.  Homeowner pictures “euthanasia” involving the cats being trapped and taken to a shelter and euthanized there.  Accorti, however, conforms to the traditional police method of euthanasia (another link, another link) for “nuisance animals” — and instead shoots the 8-10-week old kittens, right in front of the homeowner and her young children who are watching through the windows.

The department has cleared him of any wrongdoing, concluding that the officer acted as required to remove the nuisance animals and that “research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.”  (Well, yes, they do, but “with conditions” and only in “emergency situations”, requiring that personnel be “highly skilled” and that “pre-euthanasia sedation is recommended” because cats “may be difficult to shoot humanely” (section S1.3.3).)  He was, perhaps, extremely tactless about it, but he did the job he was called to do, and did it in a legally acceptable manner.

Using phrases like “screaming kids” and “helpless kittens“, multiple individuals and organizations are trying to get Accorti punished, somehow, for shooting the kittens.  However, they can’t punish him for shooting the kittens, because shooting kittens is, technically, a viable option, and legal (at least in Ohio) — so instead they’re trying to punish him for shooting the kittens in front of the children.

I am of two minds on this point: I believe we should at least be open and honest about the horrible things we do to animals (only by publicly acknowledging that these things are being done can we stop them being done).  If you’re going to shoot kittens, you should not be able to do it in secret — you should have to do it right out in the open so everybody knows it’s happening, and has ample opportunity to object and/or stop you.  However, I also believe there is a required maturity level juvenile humans should reach before being confronted with concepts like “things die” and “sometimes we cause things to die”, and that the officer was not in a position to dictate whether or not those kids were at that maturity level.  In any case, the officer probably should have at least warned the homeowner before firing, so she could choose whether or not she wanted to educate her children about those ideas at that exact moment.

I think the bigger point, however, is this: if we’re offended and horrified by the shooting of kittens, so much so that we don’t want our children exposed to it, and don’t want to see it ourselves — why don’t we attack, and call to ban, “the shooting of kittens” instead of “the shooting of kittens in front of children“?  Officer Accorti, and his actions, are not the problem here — the problem is that our legal system still regards “gunshot to the head” as a viable method of euthanasia for cats (and a bunch of other animals, including dogs).  If we think that’s so horrible that we’re willing to lynch a guy for doing it, maybe we ought to consider passing legislation prohibiting that method of “euthanasia”.

Cheerios is 99.99% Vegan; So Am I

I made one of my usual tactical errors the other day, and decided to check whether Cheerios, my breakfast cereal of choice, is, in fact, vegan.  I’d just managed to wean myself off of traditional dairy based milk onto soy milk (and boy, did that suck — sorry, cows); I was feeling proud of myself and wanted to verify that I’d finally gotten breakfast fully vegan.

The answer is interesting: no, Cheerios is not vegan, because the vitamin D3 which is added to the cereal is made from lanolin, which of course comes from sheep.  Technically, this may make the cereal just vegetarian rather than vegan, but since there’s no way to tell if the wool was sheared off living sheep or skinned off dead sheep, it may also technically be “animal based”.  This means that any “fortified” cereal (or any “fortified” food, such as orange juice!) may contain vitamin D3 or other “slaughterhouse by-products”.  Also, if the “sugar” in the Cheerios is white cane sugar, it was likely whitened using the calcium carbonate from animal bones.  So my “vegan” breakfast, well, isn’t.  Arrgh!

My experience wasn’t special.  Non-vegan products are hiding inside apparently vegan food all the time.  What is really interesting about this is that one of the first links I found when starting my search for nutritional information on Cheerios was PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan” web site, which — sometime in the past — listed Cheerios, saying it was vegan and making no mention of the treacherous lanolin-based vitamin D3.  When people complained about this (and other foods on the list which were not actually vegan), PETA responded thusly:

While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals.

So where should I draw the line?  Do I spend four times as much on a “vegan” version of Cheerios, or is 99.9% vegan “close enough”?  (Maybe, maybe not — PETA did eventually take Cheerios, and some other non-vegan foods, off the “accidentally vegan” list.)  But what about animal products hidden in other places (like car tires and plastic bags) that are often impossible to spot?  How far do I go to ensure that I never eat another animal?  How far should I go to never indirectly harm another animal?  How crazy should I get, avoiding having any kind of impact on any other living being, anywhere?

Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

Comic from Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

I finally found the “Bloom County” cartoon I’ve been looking for, which shows veganism taken to its logical extreme.  Because we’re on this planet, we’re using resources, and that’s necessarily going to impact other living things, sometimes negatively.  That’s okay.  That’s something we can’t help.  However, that’s no reason to ignore the issue.  Even if I can’t completely remove my impact on the planet, my choosing to not eat animal products in as much as I possibly can is still reducing my impact by a measurable percentage.  Isn’t that better than nothing?  At least I’m trying, and I can only get better at it.  (Next project: switch breakfast to fruit-without-animal-based-wax-coatings and vegan-bread toast….)

I’m Vegetarian, You’re Not, That’s Okay

Today, I got dragged along to a family dinner. Some idiot invited my douchebag vegan uncle, who spent half the night making condescending remarks and lecturing us on how disgusting it was to have steak on offer at the table. A fistfight eventually erupted, and the cops were called. FML

This particular “F My Life” is followed by pages and pages of interesting commentary from people (justified or not) who feel they have been offended by vegans/vegetarians trying to make them feel bad about eating meat.

This is why I haven’t figured out how to tell a lot of people, including my parents, that I stopped eating meat.  Their first question will be Why did you do that?!? … and then I will have to tell them why, and I can’t figure out how to transmit that information without coming off as an overbearing asshole trying to push my belief system on them.

Image found at prettyfakes.com

From “Animal Man” by Grant Morrison and DC Comics. Pencils by Chas Truog; inks by Doug Hazlewood; letters by John Costanza; colors by Tatjana Wood.

It’s not like I’m planning to belittle them for not having the same ideas I do, or complain that they don’t share my thoughts.  If they have not arrived at the same conclusions I have about the world, that does not make them bad people.  But how do I say, “I stopped eating meat because they’re torturing animals needlessly and gratuitously to get it,” without also silently implying that, since my parents have not also stopped eating meat, they are implicitly supporting that process, and are therefore bad persons?

(I like to think I’ve struck a happy balance with my husband, who still consumes the occasional meat-based nom, but recognizes that I have a point of view and that I must have put some work into it to reach it, but not all people are as copacetic as my husband.)

I’m interested in how the comments compare proselytizing vegans/vegetarians to proselytizing religious persons.  I suppose they’re all belief systems, and the whole point is to be able to share one’s point of view without stuffing it down anyone’s throat (foie gras, anyone?).  Hmmm.

Scientists’ View of Humane Science

Image by mensatic via morguefile.com

Image by mensatic via morguefile.com.

If you are interested in how scientists are currently viewing animal-based research, there is a free online course available, taught by employees of Johns Hopkins University (one of the big animal research “players”), Alan Goldberg and James Owiny.  The course is called Enhancing Humane Science – Improving Animal Research.  It is sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, which sounds great until you realize it’s also part of Johns Hopkins.  This course is absolutely not in any way unbiased.  Johns Hopkins has a lot of big stakes in animal-based research.

I’ll admit I haven’t listened to the whole course yet, but it reeks of the stuff I had to read while working in animal research.  It appears to be a pretty accurate picture of the scientists’ point of view concerning animal welfare.

I’m not defending or attacking anybody here.  This mess, and my opinion of it, is too huge and complicated for me to summarize it in one journal post.  But if you were looking for a good introduction to how scientists look at animal research, and where they are coming from when they say, “But we are doing everything we can for the animals in our care,” this is where a lot of them are standing right now.  The jargon and the general attitudes are appropriate and seem pretty representative.

They aren’t cackling and rubbing their hands together, drooling over the prospect of thousands of dead mice.  On the other hand, these animals routinely undergo experiences we would not inflict on our pets.

From Pasture To Plate In 0.06 Seconds

Popeye Explodes a Bull

I found this little gif interesting.  Is this humane slaughter?  It’s certainly extremely efficient.

Research to find the cartoon’s title tells me that this animation comes from an episode called “I Eats My Spinach”, which involves Popeye briefly engaging in a bullfight, with the ending pictured above.  However, the same research also leads to a synopsis of an episode called “Bulldozing the Bull” where Popeye refuses to attend a bullfight on ethical grounds — “It’s cruelty to aminals” — and later befriends the bull.

Nothing profound here, just a little glimpse of something.  Also, the one cut of kosher meat intrigues me.

From Pet to Plate: Guinea Pigs

Recent news articles have brought my attention to the farming of the guinea pig as an alternative meat animal.  Apparently it’s popular in South America, where it’s known as cuyes or cuy.  People eat them whole roasted, rather like tiny chickens, and the author of the NPR piece goes into entirely too much detail about eating the “fingery little hands”.  I am aware that humans will eat just about anything, so it’s not too much of a surprise that someone, somewhere, is eating guinea pig.

The guinea pig is supposed to be more “eco-friendly” than, say, beef — it’s more efficient at turning food into meat and it certainly takes up a lot less space.  Heifer International provides guinea pigs (amongst many other species) to people in developing countries to provide meat and income.  So there might be benefits to farming guinea pigs instead of cattle or pigs.

My immediate concern with the idea is this: it doesn’t really matter what animal you’re talking about — if you’re producing enough of them, they’re going to get factory farmed.  When you picture “guinea pig housing” right now, you’ve probably got a mental picture of something like this:

These are, of course, pet guinea pigs.  They’re in a pretty big space, with a couple of square feet per guinea pig.  Here, according to Google Images, anyway, is what “farmed” guinea pig housing looks like these days:

This is what it looks like when you move from “pet” to “farm” — much less space per animal, more animals in one room.  If guinea pig meat becomes popular, these little farms will want to — will need to, to keep up with demand — become even more “efficient”, cramming more animals in the same area.  What will an “efficient” guinea pig farming operation — capable of feeding several hundred thousand humans — look like?

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!)