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Tag: veterinary

When selling technology gets out ahead of understanding technology

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When the marketing of a new technology gets ahead of refining that technology, and finding its best use, it can be disastrous.

But, biotech being what it is, and greed being what it is, it happens — a lot: Let’s start selling it before we fully understand it, much less the repercussions it might bring.

Dog cloning is one example of that. Canine genetic testing — now being marketed by some companies — might well be another.

Promising uses may exist in both technologies, but the rush to market them, the gullibility of humans, and the total lack of oversight and restrictions governing their use, have resulted in a whole new market niche — selling false hope.

With both, claims have been made that can’t be backed up. With both, the marketing claims can’t be confirmed by scientific evidence, at least in amounts most scientist deem acceptable to serve as proof. With both, the zeal to put a product or service on the marketplace has led to many outrageous claims and more than a few “woops” moments.

71VI6KUzxML._SL1500_DNA testing of dogs has become a booming business in the last 10 years, starting with the marketing of tests that promised to determine what breeds are in your dog — a fun little method of solving they mystery of a dog’s heritage by testing its blood or saliva in a lab.

Companies said then that knowing what breeds make up your dog could also be a way of keeping him or her healthy, and allow you to watch out for certain diseases and disorders that those breeds are prone to.

In more recent years, it has been used to test for genetic mutations, making it, seemingly, a more valuable diagnostic tool for veterinarians.

Today, it can be used to make life or death decisions and that, a commentary piece in the journal Nature warned last week, is a mistake.

At least it appeared to be a mistake for a little dog named Petunia.

Petunia, 13, started having trouble walking and controlling her bladder and bowels last year.

91Wg3qmDurL._SL1500_Her owners bought a $65 home genetic test, and the results showed their pug carried a mutation that is linked to a neurodegenerative condition similar to the human disease ALS — one that would lead to paralysis and eventual death.

Based on that, her owners had her put down.

What they might not have realized is that as few as 1 in 100 dogs that test positive for the common mutation develop the rare disease. Petunia’s condition could have been the result of a more-treatable spinal disorder.

“Genetic testing for pets is expanding,” the Nature article said. “Hundreds of thousands of dogs have now been genetically screened, as Petunia was, and companies are beginning to offer tests for cats. But the science is lagging. Most of these tests are based on small, underpowered studies. Neither their accuracy nor their ability to predict health outcomes has been validated. Most vets don’t know enough about the limitations of the studies, or about genetics in general, to be able to advise worried owners.

“Pet genetics must be reined in. If not, some companies will continue to profit by selling potentially misleading and often inaccurate information; pets and their owners will suffer needlessly; and opportunities to improve pet health and even to leverage studies in dogs and cats to benefit human health might be lost. Ultimately, people will become more distrustful of science and medicine.”

71aDTs6xiFL._SL1440_What’s not to be trusted here, though, is the marketing.

Claims are made before there is enough science to back them up, and we — minds boggled by all the indecipherable advances in technology around us — accept them.

Few of us really understand, and nobody — I’d argue — bothers much to look at the repercussions, to where it might all lead.

That’s what makes this Nature commentary exceptional. It was written by Lisa Moses, a veterinarian at the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and a research scholar on bioethics at Harvard, along with two other Boston-based experts.

Petunia’s case, she said, “is one, but there have been many of them. In fact, a number of cases just like that one are what started me thinking about this years ago, when the first genetic tests started to be used routinely.”

Co-author Elinor Karlsson, a researcher on dog genetics based at the UMass Medical School and the Broad Institute, said she was “aghast” when she learned from Moses that genetic research like hers is being used to make clinical decisions — including euthanasia.

“It really upset me,” she said. “Both the idea that people were already using genetics like this and the idea that the papers that I’ve published on things like bone cancer and compulsive disorder may also end up being used as tests, and that people wouldn’t understand what the limitations were of the work that we’ve done so far.”

The article calls for several remedies, including quality standards for how pet genetic tests are performed, how results are shared, and counselors who could help owners interpret results.

“One of the purposes of this article was just a heads-up to everybody that this needs some serious attention in an organized fashion,” said Veterinarian Steven Niemi, who co-authored the Nature commentary and is the director of the Office of Animal Resources at Harvard.

“We shall sell no wine before its time,” a wine-making company once boasted, hiring Orson Welles to voice those words in a TV ad. Of course, it wasn’t true. Gallo specialized in cheaper wines — Thunderbird even.

Nevertheless, it is advice those who are marketing technology might do well to take, at least if they want to come anywhere close to gaining the public’s trust. For the public, my advice would be don’t do it; wait for the proof.

Sometimes, the wealthy need help too …

huntington3Should an advertising executive and his wife who live in a $1.4 million home — she owning her own business, he making a six-figure salary — be asking for the public’s help to pay for their dog’s $10,000 surgery?

In retrospect, probably not — unless they’re willing to be called “shameless,” “pompous,” “greedy,” “selfish,” and “narcissistic,” and see themselves, and their yacht-cap wearing dog, roundly ridiculed on social media.

Richard Huntington, a chairman at the firm of Saatchi & Saatchi in London, and his wife, Annabel Bird, a fashioner designer who sells luxury dog products, made the plea after learning their dog Edward Lear needed surgery for elbow dysplasia in his front leg and torn cruciate ligaments in his two rear legs.

While they have pet health insurance, their policy set a limit on what it would pay — and that was only about a third of the cost being quoted to them by their celebrity vet Noel Fitzpatrick, star of the British TV show Supervet.

huntington2So they launched a Gofundme page with the aim of raising the additional £7,500.

On it, Annabel Bird wrote of the Welsh terrier, “I adore him more than anything in the world. Edward is a happy, friendly, popular dog who has lots of friends both in real life and on Instagram who check in everyday to see his adventures. (He is @edward.lear on instagram).

“All I want is for my funny little dog to be able to run around again like the crazy terrier he is and climb mountains in the Lake District and Snowdonia like he used to and enjoy his life to the fullest. He hasn’t walked for more than ten minutes in four months and I feel so bad for him. He’s missed out on so much fun and excitement.”

The dog has received two of the three operations his vet says he needs.

The Gofundme campaign raised about £5,400 of the £7,500 goal when the couple closed it out.

hungtington1Now, any member of the dog-loving community knows that such fund-raising pleas to cover the costs of veterinary surgery have become commonplace. Often they are legitimate. Sometimes they are scams. But those of this ilk are both disturbing and laughable.

It’s hard to have much empathy for a family that could easily — even if they are having cash flow problems — sell that fourth car, cancel the country club membership or go to a non-celebrity vet.

The couple says the campaign was aimed more at close friends and family than the general public.

Still, it’s not surprising, that their plea led to news coverage, and a barrage of criticism. What’s more suprising is how many people donated.

“Thank you again to everyone who contributed …” Annabel Bird wrote on the GoFundme page. “Unfortunately, his page has received some negative press because of who my husband Richard works for … As you know, this page was set up for our friends and family and those of mine and Edward’s Instagram followers who kindly asked to donate money to help with his recovery. This is not uncommon in the dog community on Instagram which is a wholly supportive and wonderful place to hang out.”

(Photos: Edward Lear, from Instagram)

Squish appears on Rachel Ray show

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Squish, an Ohio dog whose face was left twisted and contorted by what veterinarians believe was a severe beating, will be a guest on “The Rachel Ray Show” today.

Appearing via a video call with the once-abused dog will be the woman who rescued him and to whom he now belongs, a veterinary intern at the time who now practices in San Antonio.

Squish was a four-month-old stray when he ended up in the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter in 2016, with a fractured jaw, fractured skull and missing one eye.

After two months, given his appearance made him unlikely to be adopted, and given he was barely able to eat, the shelter added him to the list of dogs to be euthanized, but sent him to VCA Great Lakes Veterinary Specialists for a second opinion.

squishdog2When intern Danielle Boyd was sent to carry him into the exam room, she was taken with his friendliness and trust. “I was enamored by this little one-eyed pup who clearly endured so much pain,” she told the dodo.

Boyd decided to bring him home that night, just to give him a break from the shelter.

He has been her’s ever since.

Even though she was just a week away from a scheduled to move to Texas to finish her veterinary residency, she adopted the dog and a series of extensive surgeries began.

Less than 36 hours after Squish’s surgery, they drove from Ohio to Texas. “That became the beginning of our many adventures together,” she says. Boyd had lost her dog just days before she met Squish.

After several surgeries, Squish — who had difficulty seeing out of his one eye and whose injuries prevented him from being able to eat — is chewing on tennis balls, munching dry dog food, and apparently carrying around sticks as crooked as his face.

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Vets suspect blunt force trauma led to his misshapen head. Both his skull and upper jaw had been fractured by a blow, or a series of them.

Squish now spends his time being the mascot for the veterinary hospital where Boyd works.

“Employees come visit him in my office when they need a little Squish love,” Boyd said. “Squish also shows clients whose pets are facing eye removal surgery how happy he is with one eye.”

Ray gave Boyd a lifetime supply of products from her Nutrish pet food line, and, along with everyone else in the studio audience, a $100 PetSmart gift cards.

(Top photo by Kin Man Hui /San Antonio Express-News, bottom photos by Danielle Boyd)

Nose-less dog found wandering the sreets in Kentucky is getting much-needed help

An animal clinic in Lexington, Ky., is working to heal a stray dog with a host of medical problems, including not having a nose.

The dog, believed to be a Jack Russell terrier mix, was taken in by the Pulaski County Animal Shelter after being seen walking down a road alone on a rainy and freezing night.

Woodstock Animal Foundation in Lexington agreed to take the dog and give her the care she needs, WKYT reported.

nonoseShe’s being called Mirabel, which means “of wondrous beauty.”

According to the clinic the dog is about eight years old. She was found dirty, cold and infested with fleas. Her missing nose is believed to be the result of a genetic defect.

According to a post on the Woodstock Animal Foundation Facebook page, a Pulaski County resident called the animal shelter in Pulaski County, which picked the dog up. Given all of the dog’s health problems, the shelter contacted the clinic.

“… She didn’t have a nose nor an upper lip and had had numerous litters of puppies,” the foundation said, and apparently she been bred frequently at a puppy mill.

Mirabel also has a heart murmur, an inguinal hernia, mammary tumors and needs a dental procedure.

She was updated on her vaccines, tested for heartworms and had her hernia repaired. The clinic is raising money for other necessary procedures.

The foundation says anyone interested in helping with those expenses can call them at 859-277-7729, or mail a check to the Woodstock Animal Foundation, at 843 Lane Allen Road Lexington, Ky., 40504. Contributions can also be made via PayPal to woodstockadoptions715@gmail.com.

Mirabel was treated to a trip this week to the PetValu store in Lexington’s Palomar center, where she received a bed, doggie treats, food, and a coat.

(Photo from the Facebook page of Woodstock Animal Foundation)

Dogs help heal wounds in war-torn Uganda


Eleven years after a civil war in Uganda, many are still coping with the scars it left — inside and out — and some are finding that a dog can help them do that.

That was the case with Francis Okello Oloya, who in 2015 started The Comfort Dog Project to help people in Gulu town, especially those who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

At age 12, Okello was blinded by a bomb blast as he worked in the family garden. At a boarding school for the blind, Okello found it difficult to find the toilet at night.

“I had to navigate my way from the sleeping quarter to latrine and that was not easy,” he told the Voice of America. “And these dogs came to know that I needed help. And they began the practice of helping me from the sleeping quarters to the latrine.”

Now 29, he’s in charge of a program that matches street dogs with war’s victims, providing comfort to those victims, homes for those street mutts, and adding to a growing recognition in Uganda of what dogs are capable of.

Traditionally, dogs have mainly been used for hunting in Uganda, or for security.

The Comfort Dog Project is an offshoot of Big Fix Uganda, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of dogs and people in the impoverished and war-torn country.

As explained on the Comfort Dogs website, dogs in need of homes are rehabilitated by a team of trainers, temperament tested and spayed/neutered. They are then placed with war trauma survivors who agree to care for the dog for its lifetime and go through a week of training.

uganda2After graduating, the dog-guardian teams become project ambassadors — visiting villages and schools to
educate others about the importance of being kind to animals, teach them to use positive reinforcement training techniques and “serve as testimony of the healing power of human-dog bonds.”

In the aftermath of the civil war in Uganda, tens of thousands of people still struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health practitioners estimate that seven in 10 people in Northern Uganda were traumatically affected.

Philda Akum, 35, is one of the 29 beneficiaries of the project, Voice of America reports.

In 1997, she and her four brothers were abducted by those rebelling against the government and taken to Sudan.

One brother was captured and killed, Akum says. Another brother was selected to go to the battlefront and was fatally shot. Two days later, her youngest brother contracted cholera and died.

She returned home and joined group therapy, which is what led her to be assigned a dog.

The Big Fix operates the only veterinary hospital in northern Uganda and works to achieve a sustainable population of dogs and cats and control the spread of rabies and other diseases.

(Photo: Francis Okello Oloya, founder of The Comfort Dog Project, with Binongo; Philda Akum, a former war victim, with her dog; by H. Athumani, Voice of America)

Dog’s head gets lost in the mail

There’s an undelivered package out there somewhere and it contains the head of a dog being sent to a lab for rabies testing.

With the package getting lost in the mail, three veterinary technicians —
one of whom as bitten by the dog and two others who were exposed to its saliva — are being forced to undergo a painful and expensive series of rabies shots.

And if the package does show up somewhere, anyone who opens it all the way up — if indeed the dog was rabid — could also be exposing themselves to rabies, making for a less than merry Christmas.

KLTV reports that veterinarians at Bright Star Veterinary Clinic in Sulphur Springs recently treated a dog showing symptoms of rabies.

During the consultation, one technician was bitten on the hand by the dog.

Since the dog was in poor health, and lacked proof of a rabies vaccination, the owner and the vet decided to euthanize it and, in accordance with state and federal guidelines, send its head to be tested at a state lab in Austin.

When the staff didn’t get a phone call from the state with the test results within the normal 24 hours, they contacted the lab and were told the head had never made it there.

Dr. Leah Larson said she contacted the company delivering the package, UPS, which told her they had no record of it.

“I told them I need help because I had my employee.” said Dr Larson. “I just don’t think they understood the risk, the health risk.”

UPS officials told KLTV that the clinic used a local shipping company that is authorized by UPS, but that UPS would not have accepted the package from the shipping business because of its content. Shipping materials of that nature requires UPS agreeing to it beforehand, they said.

UPS officials said the company refunded the veterinary clinic’s shipment fee back through the local shipping outlet, but Larson says she has not received it.

Meanwhile, Larson says, the clinic has spent thousands of dollars on testing the three employees, who were taken to a Dallas hospital for their first rabies shots.

Larson said the head was packaged in three layers of protection, inside a cooler with warning stickers on it.

Dog’s ear cyst resembles Donald Trump

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I’ve written before about that distinctively human tendency to see images in inanimate objects — everything from Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich to a dog in a piece of wood.

My theory on that whole phenomenon is that we see, with only the slightest hint or suggestion, what our subconscious wants us to see, such as Abraham Lincoln in a chicken nugget; or what it fears seeing, such as Satan in a storm cloud.

But Donald Trump in a dog’s ear? I won’t attempt to explain that.

BBC reported that Jade Robinson, 25, of Jarrow, Tyneside, was photographing her beagle’s infected ear when a friend spotted the 45th president’s face in the dog’s cyst.

chiefThe dog’s name? Chief.

Robinson said she was taking the picture to pass along to her vet. Chief would have to be sedated for the vet to properly examine the ear — and she was short of the funds necessary to do that.

Amazingly enough, her photo going viral led her to launch a crowdfunding campaign, which has already raised 80 percent of its £450 goal.

Hail to the chief!

On the justgiving.com website, Robinson warns that goal amount will likely increase depending on what treatments the vet prescribes — up to and including removing the president from Chief’s ear.

Robinson said she has always made it a point to keep Chief’s ears clean, but beagles are notorious for picking up dirt, which, as we all know, can lead to infections.

“If you know anything about beagles you know how intelligent, active and curious they are and Chief certainly lives up to that – he’s full of mischief.

“As he has the very distinctive long ears, they spend a lot of time scraping the ground sniffing for lovely smells; unfortunately this leads to his ears picking up a lot of dirt.”

Robinson said she never saw Trump when she was taking the photo.

“…It was my eagle-eyed friend who pointed it out.”

Readers: Please note how I, despite my political leanings, presented that whole story without implying the current president is in any way a cyst in need of removal. Nor did I comment on how awful it would be to have Donald Trump constantly in one’s ear — mainly because, between his tweets and the news media, we already know that.