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Tag: medical

Scientists say they have figured out how diabetic alert dogs detect hypoglycemia

Specially trained dogs have been alerting diabetics to decreases in their blood sugar levels for years now — but only now do scientists have a pretty good clue of how dogs are able to do it.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say what the dogs are able to sniff out is a common chemical called isoprene, which is found on our breath.

Isoprene increases significantly — and sometimes almost doubles — during hypoglycemia.

Medical detection dogs wake up or alert their owners whenever their blood sugar level drops to the point of hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause shakiness, loss of consciousness, and, if untreated, death.

Using mass spectrometry, the scientists studied the breath of eight women with type 1 diabetes, noting changes in the chemical signatures of their exhalations when their blood sugar levels were lowered to the point of hypoglycemia.

The increased in isoprene is too subtle for humans to smell, but with the ability to detect odors at concentrations of around one part per trillion, dogs are able to sense it.

The scientists aren’t sure why isoprene increases as blood sugar levels drop, but they suspect it might be a byproduct of cholesterol.

Their findings were published in the July issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

The research could lead the way to developing medical sensors that replicate some of what diabetic alert dogs do, providing diabetics with an alternative to frequent blood testing, said lead researcher, Mark Evans.

“It’s our vision that a new breath test could at least partly – but ideally completely – replace the current finger-prick test, which is inconvenient and painful for patients, and relatively expensive to administer.”

Company seeks to put synthetic dogs in every veterinary school in the world

syndaver

A Florida company that makes synthetic humans for medical training has branched out to synthetic dogs — and it says it’s hoping to place packs of them in every veterinary school in the world.

If successful, SynDaver Labs says, the mission would save thousands of animals by preventing shelter dogs from being used in veterinary training.

SynDaver — a combination of words synthetic and cadaver — wants to raise $24 million to give 20 synthetic dogs to every accredited veterinary medicine college in the world. It says the schools will receive the artificial canines for free.

The company worked with the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine to develop the synthetic canine, which has a full list of functioning bodily systems, including a heartbeat and a circulatory system. It even bleeds when cut.

Speaking of bodily fluids, fans of the television show “Shark Tank,” may remember the company’s founder, Christopher Sakezles, appearing on an episode last year. Despite sweating profusely — unlike any of the sharks — he managed to persuade one investor to contribute $3 million to his company, in exchange for 25 percent ownership.

The deal later fell through, when Sakezles and investor Robert Herjavec disagreed over specifics. Conjecture is Herjavec wanted to replace the company owner with a new CEO, who would be a more profit focused than Sakezles.

That was last year. This year, the company has announced it will seek backers for the veterinary school program, according to WFLA.

syndaver2Currently, according to SynDaver, vet students learn surgical skills by practicing on live shelter animals. The animals are then euthanized.

“The product will immediately end the need for terminal surgery labs in veterinary medical schools and represents the beginning of the end of animal testing in general,” the company said.

The synthetic dogs have the capability to simulate customized diseases, illnesses and medical complications, the company says.

If more than $24 million is raised, SynDaver says it will start creating a synthetic cat, followed by a horse and cow.

The Tampa Bay Times described SynDaver as a small player in the $2 billion medical simulation industry, with about 150 employees split between offices in Tampa and Phoenix.

(Photos: SynDaver Labs)

Shelters in Guilford, Davidson counties shut down amid continuing investigation

marshawilliams

Citing 75 incidents of animal cruelty and a “systemic failure to care for animals,” the N.C. Department of Agriculture on Monday yanked the United Animal Coalition’s license to run animal shelters in Davidson and Guilford counties.

The non-profit organization has been running Guilford County’s animal shelter since 1998, when it was hired by the county to improve conditions.

Seventeen years later, the same sort of allegations have resurfaced during continuing investigations by state and county officials as well as the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Department of Agriculture reports mention more than 100 cases of animals receiving inadequate medical care, including a cat with a broken leg and internal bleeding that went seven days without being seen by a vet and a dog with a gunshot wound to the face who went 12 days without medical attention before being euthanized.

The former shelter director in Guilford County, Marsha Williams, was suspended with pay earlier this month. As of yesterday, that pay was halted and Williams was officially terminated under the orders of the county commissioners.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners convened an emergency meeting Monday, voting unanimously to revoke the United Animal Coalition’s contract and to place the shelter under the county’s control on an interim basis.

A letter of revocation was delivered by hand to the shelter yesterday.

“The things we’ve learned are very disturbing and unacceptable, as I know it is for the community as a whole,” Commissioner Hank Henning, the board’s chairman, said at a press conference after the county commissioner’s meeting. “Our goal is to put transparency and a culture of efficiency back into the shelter, so the community at large can get the services and the shelter that it wants and deserves.”

The N.C. Department of Agriculture has been investigating both shelters for about a month following complaints about animal care and conditions, according to the Greensboro News & Record

The Davidson County investigation began after the state agency received a complaint that a dog had arrived at the shelter with a broken back but received no veterinary care.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency continues to investigate potential unspecified violations at both facilities.

Also still investigating are the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office and the Lexington Police Department.

“To be quite frank with you, I expect to see criminal charges come out of this,” said Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes.

Deputy County Manager Clarence Grier will serve as interim director of the Guilford County shelter, which will remain closed the rest of the week.

The facility is expected to reopen Aug. 22.

(Photo: Former Guilford County Animal Shelter director Marsha Williams; by Lynn Hey / Greensboro News & Record)

Wayne State urged to end dog experiments

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A physician’s organization led a rally this week urging Wayne State University to end its long-running series of cardiac research experiments on dogs.

About 45 people joined in the protest, led by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

According to the nonprofit organization, the heart failure experiments have been going on for 20 years, at a cost to taxpayers of about $8 million, and have provided no information beneficial to treating human heart disease.

No dogs leave the program alive.

“These research experiments have not garnered anything that has advanced human health,” said Jennifer Giordano, a Detroit-area doctor representing the committee. “We want them to use human-relevant research methods.”

In the experiments, heart problems are induced in the dogs by the use of implanted electrodes, which cause their heart rates to more than double.

The dogs are then put through multiple surgeries and are required to run on treadmills. About 25 percent of the dogs die during or after the surgery. Those who do survive are euthanized when their participation is no longer needed.

The experiments are funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

At the Wednesday rally the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine presented a letter signed by actress Lily Tomlin to Wayne State University officials, calling on them to end medical experiments on dogs. Tomlin is a Detroit native and attended the university.

In the letter, Tomlin wrote: “I understand that Wayne State is spending millions of taxpayer dollars using dogs in heart failure experiments that have not benefited human health in any way. I urge you to end these senseless experiments as soon as possible.”

A copy of the letter was given to Matt Lockwood, a university spokesman who came to the rally and a read a statement defending the experiments, the Detroit News reported.

“Almost every medical advance in the last 100 years was due to research on animals — chemotherapy, hip replacements, transfusions, dialysis — was all tested on dogs,” Lockwood said. “We need to continue to do research to advance science.”

He said the animals in the experiments are under the constant supervision of veterinarians.

“There’s a committee that’s sole purpose is to ensure the animals are as comfortable as possible,” he said. “We’re also under the oversight of the federal government and the state. Never once has any animal been found to have been mistreated at any time.”

He said the dogs are euthanized after taking part in the experiments, but he declined to provide numbers.

(Photo: Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Who knows what’s best for Jack?

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Dog blogger and broadcaster Steve Friess says he’s not going to spend $5,000 to put his dog though chemotherapy that could extend his life a year or more — and he’s going to try not to feel bad about it.

Even when he says his final goodbye to Jack in what could be less than a month.

In late October, Friess noticed the dog he’d adopted nine years ago was getting lethargic, and that his weight had dropped from his usual 11 pounds to around eight.

A vet diagnosed that Jack had an aggressive form  of lymphoma that was spreading quickly through his body.

Friess did some research, checking with friends, and vets, and friends who were vets: One of the latter urged him to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” It could send Jack into remission for nine months, or 12 months, or even longer.

Friess and his partner researched, debated and decided against chemotherapy — not because it would be all that rough on the dog physically (they handle it much better than we do). The main reason, he admits, is the money, which, he also admits, they just doesn’t have.

There will likely be those who second guess Freiss, or maybe try to lay a guilt trip on him: Take out a loan, hit up your friends, get a second (or third) job, launch an online fundraising campaign, let me be the first to donate.

We’ve become a nation of such overflowing compassion for dogs, with such promising new medical technologies, and such handy online fundraising tools at our beck and call, that it’s easy to lose sight that decisions about life and death — both ours and our dogs — are still our own, and that throwing in the towel, for financial reasons, or others, isn’t always a shameful choice.

We suspect Friess will receive some support for his decision, but will hear from many more questioning it. His decision to write about it, as he did in a post for Time.com, is brave, but also an open invitation to second-guessers. In any case, the decision on what’s best for Jack should be (and has been) made by the person who knows him best, and deserves to be respected

Friess, a freelance writer and co-host of The Petcast, said neither his advisers nor his vet seemed to be trying to make him feel guilty about his choice. But, as is the way with guilt trips, we often don’t need a tour guide.  Feelings of shame can start as soon as we ask our vet the question Friess did:

“How much will it cost?”

For Friess, the estimate was a minimum of $5,000 — more than he and his partner had.

“(It) means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays … “We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.”

There’s one more twist. Friess and his partner are trying to adopt a human baby, and they’re working on saving the $15,000 fee for that.

“If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it,” he wrote. “Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.”

(Photo of Jack by Steve Friess)

Fatcat finally catches some breaks

fatcat

For eight years, Fatcat led a life that was the opposite of her name — in many ways.

For starters, she wasn’t a cat.

And, as bulldogs go, she wasn’t too awfully fat.

And, from all appearances, she definitely did not enjoy the kind of  lifestyle the term Fatcat name might connote — she wasn’t idly resting in the lap of luxury. Far from it.

Instead, in the eight years after she was stolen as a puppy from the backyard of a home in Memphis, it’s believed she was used to produce puppies, by a less than ethical breeder who dumped her once she got too old.

fatcatasapupThe English bulldog was stolen in 2006 from the yard of LaShena Harris. She searched high and low for the dog, and though Fatcat had been microchipped, she was never found.

Until two weeks ago, when she was picked up as a stray and dropped off at a shelter in Arkansas.

There — at  the West Memphis Animal Shelter — she was scanned for a microchip, and Harris was tracked down, even though she’d long since moved to the Phoenix area.

Along with the good news, Harris received some bad news. Fatcat was in sad shape due to the years she spent as a baby-making machine —  and getting her to Phoenix was going to be a problem.

Fatcat was too big to ride in the cabin of a plane, and between her health problems and her breed — it’s risky to transport short-snouted dogs in a plane’s cargo hold — flying her home wasn’t going to work. Harris, a working single mother, wasn’t sure she could take time off to make the drive.

“I went from the highest high to the lowest low,” she said. Putting Fatcat down was discussed, but before consenting Harris asked the shelter for an extra 24 hours to make the decision.

When she called back the next day to authorize the shelter to euthanize Fatcat, the director of the shelter stopped her short, and offered a suggestion.

A friend of the shelter director who worked with a local rescue group was moving to Scottsdale, and offered to drive Fatcat there.

Harris and Fatcat were reunited last Thursday in a motel parking lot, and between media coverage of the reunion and a GoFundMe.com campaign, donations have poured in — about $6,500 so far — to help pay for Fatcat’s mounting medical bills.

“I am overwhelmed. It is just amazing. People don’t even know me and they are helping me out,” Harris, 34, of Glendale, said. “I’ve even gotten e-mails from the (United Kingdom). … I just don’t know what to say.”

On Monday, Fatcat was checked out by a local veterinarian who found she has heartworms, dental problems and masses around her vulva and anus that need to be removed, according to AzCentral.com

Harris launched the GoFundMe page with a $5,000 goal, and says she plans to donate any surplus to the shelter in Arkansas.

“How do you show gratitude to someone you’ve never met?” Harris wrote on her page. “Even if I don’t have Fatcat home for as long (in terms of her entire lifespan), I feel like the luckiest person in the world right now. I’m just glad she’s finally home.”

(Top photo: Patrick Breen / The Arizona Republic; bottom photo, Fatcat as a puppy, from LaShena Harris’ GoFundMe page)

Calling all “Freegles”: Beagles rescued from N.J. lab will celebrate one year free

It’s the one-year anniversary for 120 beagles who, around this time last year, learned the true meaning of independence.

Up until then, even here in the land of the free, they weren’t.

Instead, like thousands of other beagles bred and born for the sole purpose of laboratory use, they’d never experienced what most dogs take for granted — things like grass and dirt and running — and were destined, once their use in testing was complete, for something quite contrary to a loving home.

The beagles had been left locked in a research facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J. after its parent pharmaceutical company went bankrupt. When their situation came to light, a judge order the dogs turned over to rescue groups.

One year ago, a group of them were welcomed to Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in New York, where work began on socializing them so they could be adopted out as family pets.

This coming Sunday, some of them will gather for a reunion.

About 35 of the adopters stay in touch on Facebook, offering support and following each others progress through photos and stories.

They — and any of the others who adopted a “freegle,” as they are prone to calling the dogs rescued from the laboratory — are gathering July 10, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., at Kennedy Dells Park, 355 North Main Street in New City, New York.

Among those attending will be a beagle named Grace, who has her own Facebook page, called Saving Grace. Grace’s owner said that while word of the reunion has gotten out among those who stay in touch, other beagles adopted from the group are also invited, as well as everyone else who participated in rescuing them.

Shelters, sanctuaries, volunteers and staff are “most welcome to attend and meet the families and hear the stories of how the Freegles have been adjusting to the good life.”

(For questions or to RSVP, send an email to labfreegles@yahoo.com.)

Unlike some boisterous beagles you may know from the dog park, laboratory beagles are generally calm and passive, having never tasted of freedom.

I met several lab beagles while researching my book — including some flourescent beagle clones in South Korea. In Texas, I interviewed the woman who cared for the beagles used in attempting to clone a dog at Texas A&M University.

Jessica Harrison, a graduate student at the time, was in charge of socializing the beagles and finding adoptive homes for them — not usually the case or fate of laboratory beagles — after their services in the lab were no longer required.

“What they teach them is to be still,” she told me. “As puppies, they teach them to just freeze when a person messes with them. We had to kindo of undo that and say, ‘No,we want you to move around and be excited.’

“We slowly exposed them to all the things they’d be exposed to in a family home — like TVs, mirrors, grass, trees, flowers, birds and bees. These dogs had never seen any of that. You put them down on the grass, and they’re like, ‘What’s this?’ It was kind of overwheliming. You get used to it, but at first it’s like, these are dogs, how can they not know these things?”

The use of dogs in laboratory research was declining, but it has jumped up in recent years, with much of the increase due to advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

(Photos: Top photo from the Facebook page of Freegles Justice and Skipper; bottom photo by John Woestendiek)