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Tag: spine

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Opponents of the dog research say much of that research hasn’t translated to humans and that the VA is relying on outdated models that don’t fully take into account scientific advances that may provide alternatives to dogs as research subjects.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

Muttcracker? Sweet!

One of the ballerinas in this year’s Birmingham Ballet rendition of a Christmastime classic can’t turn her head, manages her pirouettes despite a fused spine, and finds her inspiration in bacon flavored treats.

Her name is Pig, and she is one of the dogs featured in “The Mutt-cracker Suite,” which the Alabama ballet company has been putting on for five years to raise money for the Birmingham Humane Society.

Pig, who wears a pink tutu throughout the performance, was born with a rare affliction known as short spine syndrome.

Despite that, “She’s a petite, dainty package of joy,” said Cindy Free, director of the Birmingham Ballet.

pigtheunusual“We love having her in the show. She was perfect for the [role],” Free told Inside Edition.

A portion of every ticket for “Mutt-Cracker” goes to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

Pig plays the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s on-stage companion, and she’s one of 29 dogs in this year’s production.

The three-year-old border collie mix also appeared in last year’s “Mutt-Cracker” production.

“She has been working on her pirouettes since last year, and she’s gotten them pretty well,” Free said, “especially if you offer her bacon-chicken strips.”

You can learn about Pig at the Pig the Unusual Dog Facebook page.

(Photo: Facebook)

The DNA results are in on Pig

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They say everything has a beginning, a middle and an end, but when it comes to an Alabama dog named Pig, she seems to have gotten short-changed on that middle part.

Between her sizable head and her rear end, there’s not much real estate, and as a result of her abbreviated torso, taking her out in public has always led to a lot of stares, and a lot of questions — chief among them, “What kind of dog is that?”

What accounts for Pig’s unusual appearance is called short spine syndrome, a birth defect that prevents the spine from fully forming and often makes everyday tasks — like running, jumping and eating — difficult.

Dogs with the disorder — though it can compress their organs and lead to health problems as they grow — generally can lead normal lives, and reach their full life expectancy.

They can also, as in Pig’s case, become international celebrities.

Pig developed a large following after appearing at this year’s Do Dah Day festival in Birmingham. She was featured in a story on AL.com, and her Facebook page, “Pig the Unusual Dog,” created in June, has more than 76,500 followers.

pig2Now, following up on just what it is that makes Pig Pig, AL.com reports that her owner, Kim Dillenbeck of Helena, has received the results of a DNA test she had conducted on the dog to determine what breeds are in her.

A Wisdom Panel test says Pig is a Boxer, Chow Chow, American Staffordshire Terrier mix.

Dillenbeck who has heard guesses ranging from her dog being half rabbit to half not there, was surprised by the results.

“Everybody thought Akita,” Dillenbeck said. “I was was thinking something like a smaller dog, but I was wide open … Pig has all these interesting traits, and there are so many breeds out there.”

Other breeds showing up in the test results as possibilities include Portuguese Water Dog, Alaskan Klee Kai, Scottish deerhound, Lakeland terrier and Maltese.

Pig weighs in at just 16 pounds, much less than one of her siblings, who doesn’t have the disorder and weighs just under 40 pounds.

Dillenbeck’s experience with Pig led her to form the nonprofit Pig’s Foundation to help raise funds for people and organizations rescuing animals. Another mission of the foundation is to raise awareness that animals who look unusual can still have a happy life.

“Pig is her own breed,” Dillenbeck said. “To me, she is just one in a million. As much as I can see her potential in all these breeds, she is still just Pig.”

(Photos: Mark Almond / AL.com)

No! No! No! He’s too young to be old

Ace has been stricken.

With exactly what, I don’t know. But in the past four days, he has taken to yelping when he gets up from a long nap or makes a sudden move.

At the dog park this week, he has plodded along lethargically, showing little interest in other dogs — even when he ran into this little white fellow who shares his name. How’s that for a pair of Aces?

I have poked and prodded every inch of his oversized body, but I’m unable to pinpoint what particular spot might be hurting him.

So today, we’re off to the vet.

My first thought was the hips. That’s based partly on the simple fact that he’s very big. Then, too, some of you might recall, when I took Ace to an animal communicator three months ago, she told me he was having some mild discomfort in that area. Add in the 10 months we’ve been traveling, and all the hopping up into and down from the back of my jeep he’s been doing, and the hips seem as good a guess as any.

I knew the day would come when the jumping in and out of the car would need to cease, and given his size, maybe that practice should never have started. Chances are — at age 6 — that day is here, earlier than I expected, and not without some accompanying guilt on my part.

Yesterday I ordered a ramp.

Then again, it might not be his hips at all. Although he’s hesitating to jump into the car, he’s not yelping when he does so — only when makes a sudden movement, usually after laying still.

I’ve pushed on his paws, rubbed the lengths of his legs, looked into his ears and down his throat, poked his belly and prodded his hips. None of that seemed to bother him. He didn’t yelp. He didn’t do that thing he does where his eyes get big, which signifies, to me, anyway, rising alarm on his part. That would have told me I was getting close.

The only time he yelped was when I lowered his head, making me think maybe the pain is in his neck, or spine-related. A half hour massage followed, which, though it might not have helped at all, he seemed to appreciate.

I am puzzled, too, about how much of his current “down-ness” is physical, and how much of it might be emotional.

Twice, I’ve come home to hear him howling — not howls of pain, I don’t think, but howls of loneliness. Twice I’ve left the video camera on, to try and capture their onset, but he didn’t howl those times. And the times he did, he immediately cheered up and ran around when I walked through the door.

I’m pretty sure Ace is less than in love with our new basement quarters, though he likes the upstairs and yard just fine. He has shown a distinct preference for being outside, content to lay at top of stairs, keeping an eye on the kitchen window of the mansion owner, who gives him a daily biscuit.

Something about the basement bothers him. And friends I’ve talked about it with have different theories. Maybe he was mistreated in a basement in his puppyhood. Maybe the old mansion we’re living under is haunted. Maybe, with a firehouse around the corner, the sirens are bothering him, though they never have before — and we lived in Baltimore, where sirens are background music. Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight, or he’s getting arthritic and the cold and dampness of the cellar aggravate it.

He’s moving slowly, lethargically (except when the treats come out), and rather than circling twice before laying down, he’s circling about eight times.

Yesterday, working with my theory that it might be his neck, I took a treat and moved it around in front of him — from side to side, then up and down. There were no yelps. Either it caused no pain, or the thought of getting food superceded it.

So, with fingers crossed, we’re headed to the nearest veterinarian, with hopes that whatever is bothering him is something minor, something that will pass or doesn’t cost too much to fix,  something unrelated to all the traveling I’ve put him through — 21,000 miles of it over the past ten months, something that is neither chronic nor old-age related.

Because he’s too young to be old.