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Tag: medical

Facing defunding, VA says it will keep closer eye on its dog research experiments

varesearch

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will tighten oversight of controversial medical experiments on dogs after an investigation found surgery failures and canine deaths in research projects at a VA facility in Virginia.

The announcement of a change in policy comes as Congress considers a bill to defund the experiments altogether.

Nationwide, invasive experiments at three VA facilities are slated to include roughly 300 dogs, and involve surgeries on their brains, spines and hearts by researchers seeking treatments for heart disease and other ailments, USA Today reported yesterday.

All the dogs will be killed when the research is complete.

Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, said all future research projects involving dogs will have to be approved by the VA’s accrediting body.

The VA’s Office of Research Oversight found in May that researchers at the VA facility in Richmond failed to adequately document whether dogs had been treated properly, and that four dogs suffered complications in experimental surgeries.

Those findings are fueling an effort to halt VA dog experiments deemed painful for the dogs. The House passed legislation — known as the PUPPERS Act — in July that eliminated funding for such research, but the VA is hoping to persuade senators to reject the measure.

“If this legislation passes the Senate, it would stop potential VA canine research-related medical advancements that offer seriously disabled veterans the hope of a better future,” VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a USA Today op-ed this month.

Opponents of the dog research say much of that research hasn’t translated to humans and that the VA is relying on outdated models that don’t fully take into account scientific advances that may provide alternatives to dogs as research subjects.

“The VA is abusing its authority and fear-mongering to defend taxpayer-funded experiments on dogs that are cruel and unlikely to help veterans or anybody else,” said Justin Goodman, vice president of White Coat Waste Project, an advocacy group that wants to end funding to the agency’s dog experiments.

Only three VA facilities are conducting the type of research that would be affected by the legislation.

In Milwaukee, VA researchers looking for ways to decrease pain without slowing breathing are using dogs to study neurons that control breathing rates. In those experiments, researchers place the dogs under anesthesia and remove parts of their brains to cause a complete loss of consciousness and sensation, according to research protocol documents.

In Cleveland, VA researchers are studying ways to restore cough functions after spinal cord injury. The experiments involve placing dogs under anesthesia and then using electrodes for high-frequency stimulation at various places on their spinal cords to induce coughing. The research calls for 41 dogs, who are euthanized upon the completion of the studies.

At the Richmond VA, researchers are seeking therapies for heart disease. They are implanting pacemakers in dogs, running them on treadmills and performing various tests, including by injecting medications, inducing irregular heartbeats, creating heart attacks and blocking arteries with latex. After the research is done, the dogs are euthanized by injection or by draining their blood.

The investigation of the Richmond cardiac experiments followed a complaint to the VA inspector general’s office in March.

Investigators concluded a dog received an overdose of anesthetic during one surgery, and two dogs suffered surgical disruptions of nerves controlling digestive functions. One later died and the other was euthanized during subsequent surgeries. A fourth dog died after a surgeon accidentally cut into one of its lungs during surgery.

The VA says dogs accounted for less than 1% of the animals used in agency research last year.

Photo: Billboard in Cleveland area calls for an end to the experiments, from Cleveland.com)

10 things I hate about Facebook

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Here’s my list.

It is not of 10 bands I saw in concert and one I didn’t. (How quickly that became tiresome.) It’s not my favorite books of all time, or my favorite movies of all time, or my favorite live giraffe births of all time.

It’s a list of the 10 kinds of Facebook posts that bore me, clutter my Facebook feed, and keep me from locating anything interesting I might otherwise find – the kind that, in their repetition, are so annoying that I hereby proclaim they should find a home somewhere else.

Perhaps little auxiliary Facebook-type sites, custom created for such niches, or a system in which, through the miracles of the Internet, all the flotsam, dregs, nauseatingly reappearing games and quizzes and fads could end up, thus making the page I get when I sign on to Facebook something where I’m interested in 25 percent of what might be on there, instead of only about 3.2 percent.

I seem to remember hitting a 60 to 80 percent rate of interest in the content of what we once called newspapers, making them therefore worth my time. Facebook comes nowhere close to that.

Just to sketch out a rough idea of how I’d like things to be, I’d offer these 10 new Facebook type sites — some or all of which might actually exist (I did not check first, for that would lead me to more of what I HATE). The idea, though, is that all the posts that, no offense, fail to interest me sufficiently, annoy me or outrage me, could be diverted to these auxiliary sites, instead of the real Facebook, or at least that version they feed me.

1. Highspeedrecipes.com: Super speeded-up videos showing the preparation of recipes that we use to spend a half hour watching get made on TV, and which take two hours or more to actually make. Now they whir before us on Facebook with only 30 seconds passing from the first cracked egg to the final finished product. Instantly gratifying as they seem, they serve only to remind me of the 29:30 I once wasted on each and every cooking show.

hairdo2. Feedmecompliments.com: Where all the posts about your new profile pic, your new hairstyle, your fancy manicure, what you cooked, or what you planted end up – the purpose of which, admit it, is to get compliments on how beautiful you look or it looks. Soon it will be prom dresses. And by all means, go ahead and post those photos and be proud. But, Facebook, please disappear them off my feed.

3. Detailsofmyailment.com: The most intricate details — especially when they come from the pretty much complete stranger kind of Facebook “friend” — of the latest twist and turns your disease, ailment, condition, bruise, depression, phobia has taken. (Your dog’s ailment? Well, I might be interested in that.)

(Interlude: I should point out here that, in some cases, namely those cases of close friends or relatives, I actually do want to be kept up on how you, your dog, your ailment, are doing (though it’s not necessary to show me photos of gashes, stitches, bruises or surgery) As I’ll explain more later, my Facebook friends list consists of relatives, actual real life friends, cherished former co-workers and a few online friends I’ve grown (because Facebook isn’t all bad) to care for and/or become interested in, and lots of people that, no offense, I am less concerned about because, hey, I don’t really know you.)

frankss4. Anyoneknowagoodplumber.com: Again, if it’s a post from someone I know or more specifically someone who lives in the same town as me, I might be interested, or even helpful. Otherwise, if you live in Alma, Kansas, or some such place, I can be of no assistance in your quest for a plumber, or anything else, and your words are cluttering my Facebook. It’s not your fault; it’s Facebook’s.

trump5. Trumpbeingmildlystupid.com: Sorry, but these have become so commonplace, so recurring, so more than once a day, that I no longer have time for them and would prefer my Facebook page be cleared and kept open for only the most blatant, outrageous and mind-blowing, of Donald J. Trump’s egregious acts and remarks — and preferably those based on accounts provided from legitimate media outlets. Quite possibly, even those in time will become too numerous as well, or maybe they have already.

franksplumbing6. Pinpointmeonamap.com: Unless you are somewhere in need of my immediate assistance, I can see no purpose in receiving a large map pinpointing your current location. If it’s a party and you’re inviting me, or dinner and you’re paying for it, OK. Otherwise, I do not require that knowledge and I definitely do not require a detailed map. But just in case you do, here’s where Frank’s Plumbing is located in Alma, Kansas.

(Interlude: I know what many of you are saying by now. I just need to take better control of the existing parameters available to control the content of my Facebook page, rid myself of those unreal friends, fine tune my profile and do a better job of letting Facebook know my needs and desires. Problem is, I feel they know them too well already, otherwise I wouldn’t be getting those sponsored messages about gout and where to buy whatever product I last Googled. Also tinkering with parameters makes me nervous – and almost as crazy as encountering useless (to me) Facebook posts.

In addition to not properly controlling my Facebook, I did not properly set it up. I created my personal site first – primarily for the purpose of leading to people to posts on my website, ohmidog! Then I added a separate Facebook page for ohmidog!, but I still link to a post every day on my personal Facebook page as well.

Thus my “friends” are a predominantly dog lovers and advocates I don’t really know (though they are generally speaking a good class of people). I still use that personal page to draw attention and link to new ohmidog! posts. Most people don’t go to the link, but prefer to comment based on seeing the picture and headline alone, or ask a question about it, rather than clicking on that blue link that will give them all the answers and details, and countless hours of reading pleasure.

So I use Facebook for two purposes — to stay in touch with friends and to procure the readers necessary to satisfy my ego. (Any profile pic of me isn’t likely to get compliments, so I post what I’ve written, which still sometimes does). In a way, what I’m doing is no different than that person who, proud of their new hairdo, or what they made for dinner, posts pictures of it on Facebook.

I accept almost all friend requests from strangers, as long as their timeline looks like they have an interest in dogs, for that could mean new readers. I reject those from strangers who look suspicious, like say one with a name like Boris “The Hacker” Ivanov, or one who is a scantily clad female who lacks a timeline, has three or four friends and is clearly a temptress lurking on Facebook for evil purposes.

Oh wait, weren’t we doing a list?

marathon7. Myaccomplishment.com: Whether it’s that casserole fresh out of the oven, that marathon you just completed, that award you won or any other achievement of yourself or, often more important, your children, you want to the world to see it. And that’s OK, within reason. But too much of it, stated too smugly, and your venturing very close to item 8.

beach8. Envymylife.com: A friend going on a cool trip? That’s acceptable. Sure, I’d like to see a few photos. But if you’re constantly going cool places that I can’t go, if I don’t know you from Adam, if you’re living a joyous life of wealth, leisure, fun and adventure, I’m going to get a little pissed – 98 percent because I’m jealous, 2 percent because you are flaunting it too much. I do not need to see every single pastry you enjoyed at every single café you visited during your trip to Paris. Try a little moderation — if not in your life, at least in what you post about that total fulfillment you are achieving.

inspir9. Mywordsinacolorfulbox.com: Putting your words in a colorful box makes me no more likely to read them. I tend to do the opposite and skip them entirely. Those who go to the trouble of putting their words in a colorful box are likely so full of themselves as to leave me uninterested in any substance or knowledge they might be trying to impart. Plain old box-less words are fine. We would include in this category all those all purpose, one-size-fits-all inspirational phrases you’ve stolen from somewhere else, and, often along with them, a photo or depiction of a sunset or a meadow with wispy clouds. I know you mean well. But spare me, please.

friends-cast-tease-today-16021010. Sillygameslistsquizzes.com: What possible interest would I have in 10 concerts you saw, and one you didn’t? Nor could I possibly care what “Friends” character, or “Survivor” character, or “Golden Girl” character you most resemble. Take those quizzes if they make you happy. Broadcast the results to friends and strangers alike. I won’t call you mindless sheep. (I can assure you with near certainty, though, that Bea Arthur would never have taken part in such time-wasting frivolity. Rue McClanahan? Oh she definitely would have. Estelle Getty? I’m guessing, she would start them, but get cranky halfway through and give up. Betty White, I’m quite sure, would only take part in them rarely, and in moderation

Conclusion: That’s it. That’s all I ask. Just a few little drainage points through which much of the trite, self-aggrandizing, look-at-me, time-waster posts could exit the stream that becomes my Facebook page.

I’m not asking you, personally, to refrain from anything. I’m just asking Facebook to fix it, or make it a little better, because I know Facebook cares about me (it has told me so) and I know it has all the answers — buried though they may be in the murky, often smothering, depths of its vast wasteland of content.

A modern day Dr. Frankenstein?

A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.

We suggest they start with their own.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.

If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.

We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.

canaveroCanavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.

Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.

Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”

What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?

We’d say none.

Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.

He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.

He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.

Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.

His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.

In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.

South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.

It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.

In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.

Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?

Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.

But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.

How the therapy dog sees it

How do things look from a therapy dog’s point of view?

To see things from Hank’s perspective — maybe even better, given Hank’s shaggy bangs — his owner mounted a video camera on the back of the Old English sheepdog.

hankandwhalenThe five-year-old dog makes his rounds every other week at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, with his owner, Tom Whalen, according to a hospital blog called “On the Pulse.”

Whalen said hospital stays — especially those lasting weeks or months — can be overwhelming for children. Hank helps bring them some joy and motivation.

“We are able to give them a new focus aside from what they are currently feeling. It’s amazing to see the positive shift in energy for both the patient and their family after Hank walks in,” Whalen says.

Hank and Tom are one of nine dog-human teams that take part in the hospital’s visiting dog program.

As a child, Whalen says, he spent a lot of time in a hospital when his brother was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I remember how my brother loved having visitors,” he said. “This is part of the reason why I love visiting kids at Seattle Children’s. I’m able to see the amazing affect Hank and I can have. I’ve even seen patients whose parents have told me that their child had not smiled or laughed in days or weeks, but as soon as Hank walked in, they lit up with sheer joy.”

Zelda-and-Hank7-croppedThe visits do require some preparation, though. The hospital insists visiting therapy dogs be bathed 24-48 hours prior to a visit. That’s no small task with a 78-pound sheepdog, but Hank (if not Tom) always looks forward to it.

He knows it means a visit to the hospital is coming — and he gets even more excited when Tom places a bright orange Seattle Children’s bandana around his neck.

“Some of the reactions I’ve witnessed are remarkable,” said Whalen. “We once visited a patient that had been unresponsive, but a gentle stroke of Hank’s hair encouraged movement and interaction that their family hadn’t seen in days…

“I am just in awe of Hank’s ability to help heal and I am honored to be on the other end of his leash, helping to brighten these kids’ day.”

(Photos: Seattle Children’s Hospital)

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

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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)