Are We Going to Find Out What They’re REALLY Saying AT LAST?

“Scientists are experimenting with artificial intelligence in order to decode and interpret animal vocalizations such as barks, growls or howls into a language which humans can understand.”*

“So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone” 

Professor Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University speaking to The Guardian.
Rapunzel the Conversational Cat
My brother has proper conversations with his cat Rapunzel. Not unusual among those of us who have companion animals, you might think. When I say ‘conversations’ though, I mean proper two-way, back and forth discussions on matters of serious import, along the lines of “What do you think of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, Punzel?”
Punzel: “The woman doesn’t know what she’s doing. Please don’t talk to me about Brexit. I’m depressed enough as it is by the state of the world.” And so on.
Of course Rapunzel doesn’t actually say that. She’s a real cat, not one in a fairytale, in spite of her name. My brother helpfully speaks her lines for her. He thinks she’s a socialist, but maybe he’s got her all wrong. When she does meow for herself, what is she saying? It could well be, “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.”  She may even be a closet Tory. Without the key to unlock cat-speak, no-one will know.
Dr Dolittle & Zoolingua
For those of us who couldn’t live without animals somewhere in our lives, the tale of animal-loving Dr Dolittle is particularly captivating. The story goes that Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia teaches him the language of the animals. The good doctor opens his home to an ever-growing menagerie of animals whose speech only he can understand, until – the final straw for his long-suffering sister who keeps house for him – the arrival of a crocodile. A creature too far. She gives her brother an ultimatum – me or the animals. I love it that he chooses the animals!
Don’t we all want to be Dr Dolittle? What if we really could understand every word our cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits utter? Well now maybe we will be able to do just that, thanks to something called Zoolingua, a project born from Professor Siobodchikoff’s work with other furry little creatures.

 

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Meet the Prof & the ‘Villagers’
It’s true to say Con Siobodchikoff is the world expert on North American prairie dogs, having studied them closely for 30 years. Prairie dogs are not dogs at all of course. They are rodents, but every bit as fascinating as the canines in our homes. What Prof Con discovered over three decades is that the animals use “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language”.
These engaging little creatures live in ‘villages’ of underground burrows, and take it in turns to stand guard, watching out for predators. With hundreds of hours of recordings of prairie dog chatter, the Prof and his team discovered that whoever is on lookout uses particular calls for different predators, and the other ‘villagers’ respond according to the type of call.

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Deciphering Prairie Dog-ese  with AI
Using advanced artificial intelligence to analyse the recordings, they found that the little rodents have specific ‘words’ for ‘human’, ‘hawk’, and ‘coyote’, and their language is sophisticated enough to distinguish between coyotes and domestic dogs.
Professor Con noticed that there were interesting individual variations in calls about specific dangers. So although there was a distinct call for ‘coyote’, for instance, there were also varying elements around the call. He began to wonder if the calls might be doing more than specifying the threat as a coyote. Could they actually be describing the coyote?
Experiments
The Prof had four human volunteers walk through the prairie dog village in identical clothing except for the colour of their shirts: one wore blue, the next yellow, then green, and finally grey. Analysis of the rodents’ calls revealed they were indeed describing each individual human, and not just in terms of shirt colour:
“Essentially they were saying, ‘Here comes the tall human in the blue,’ versus, ‘Here comes the short human in the yellow,’” says Slobodchikoff.
The prairie dogs’ linguistic ability turns out to be astonishing. When the team placed a picture of a large black oval near the village, the animals created an entirely new alarm call for it. The team took the picture away, and later brought it back. The little rodents all voiced exactly the same alarm call in response to it. It appears the components of the new call are describing the size, shape and colour of the oval in ‘words’ already part of their rich vocabulary. If that is not language, I’d like to know what is.
Dialects
Prairie dog villages in different locations have their own dialects. The Professor says that the animals he has studied for so long in Gunnison AZ are unlikely to understand Mexican prairie dogs, and vice versa. But then, it’s pretty unlikely they will ever need to!

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Prairie Dogs Love to Chat
Most fascinating of all, it seems they love a good gossip. “Prairie dogs also have what I call social chatters, where one prairie dog will produce a string of vocalizations, and another prairie dog across the colony will respond with a different string of vocalizations. 

“If animals seemingly as simple as rodents have a language replete with nouns, adjectives, syntax and dialects, think what higher-order animals might be saying”

the Prof concludes.

Guilty of Arrogance?
It is such a giveaway of our skewed perspective on our own status relative to other creatures, that there exists a long history of measuring nonhuman animals’ intelligence by their ability to understand and use OUR languages. Well-known examples are Koko the gorilla, Alex the parrot, Tilda the orangutan, Noc the beluga whale, Koshik the elephant, and Chaser, the border collie who knows more than 1000 words.
But thankfully we are now beginning to grasp that, in the words of evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk:

“Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special”  

– even when it comes to language. All nonhuman animals that live in social groups exhibit complex behaviours. And complex behaviours require complex communication. Thankfully we are starting to take, can I say, a more respectful approach, attempting to unlock the secrets of the nonhumans’ own languages, their conversations with each other. And, being fascinated, and humbled, by what we are finding out about their complexity and sophistication, thanks to the work of dedicated zoologists like Prof Siobodchikoff.
Not Quite There Yet
“We know a lot more than we knew a few decades ago, but we’re still a long way from two-way communication,” says Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory in Mississippi.
So best not get too excited just yet at the prospect of understanding your enigmatic feline as well as he/she gets you. Perhaps a read of Professor Slobodchikoff’s book, “Chasing Dr Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals” can give us a few pointers. As yet we don’t have access to the kind of sophisticated AI that is helping him unravel the secrets of the prairie dog. Wait till the Prof has succeeded in converting his system into a handy pocket-size translator of dog-, cat-, or guinea pig-ese. Won’t that be a wonderful thing – a bestseller for sure.
It has to be said though, his Zoolingua is still very much a work in progress. Even the Prof thinks it might take 10 years. But watch this space!

 

Sources

*Pet translator might enable humans to communicate with animals

Can any animals talk and use language like humans?

When Will We Learn To Speak Animal Languages?

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High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses!

“In a long due yet still impressive act of growth, the Chinese Ministry of Education has added an animal welfare course for high schools and students.”

This is MAJOR good news, so welcome after everything anti-animal and anti-nature emanating from the other side of the Pacific in the USA, a country which is travelling back into the dark ages under the present administration.

What makes the news even more exciting is that China has a population of 1.411 billion¹, the largest of any country in the world. And approximately 30% of them are aged between 0 – 24 years². That is a lot of young people, and they will be the ones to shape the country’s future.

Can we hope this is a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards animals and Nature? There have been some exciting trends in the last couple of years –

  • Just last week at a media event in Beijing, China announced it will host the 11th World Wilderness Congress (Wild11) in 2019
  • In 2016 the Chinese government formulated a vision to become the ecological civilization of the 21st century
  • Also in 2016, this vast country – which accompanying its growing affluence had seen an off-the-scale increase in demand for meat and diary in the last couple of decades – announced its plan to cut meat consumption by 50% – a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists and animal-lovers alike
  • And in 2017, then the market for 70% of ivory, China announced its ban on the ivory trade
  • Now “China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) earlier this month announced it will dramatically curb commercial development of coastal wetlands. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” says Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds U.K., which has worked to protect habitat of migratory birds in China and elsewhere.”

Does China need to keep making changes? It so does. In spite of there being a growing animal advocacy movement in recent years, the country and its people at large still have a reputation for horrific cruelty to animals.

Bear bile farming 

Bears are kept in cages sometimes so small they cannot stand up or turn around in them. Bile is extracted from the living bear’s gallbladder as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the bears are starved and dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that end up killing them.

Dogs and cats

Are cruelly slaughtered for their meat. Often they are stolen pets. They suffer broken limbs being transported vast differences without food or water to meat markets.

Animal in Zoos

Kept in small barren cages. Some such as elephants in chains. Live (and terrified) hens, cows, donkeys and pigs are dropped into the enclosure of lions and tigers for the entertainment of the crowds. The animals are often cruelly broken by trainers to force them to perform. Tigers and lions have their teeth ripped and claws ripped out. Babies are removed from their mothers for lucrative photo ops.

Donkeys for Ejaio

Donkeys hit with sledgehammers before having their throats slit. Then skinned. Their skins are rendered down into ejaio, a gelatin considered to be a cure for all ills in traditional Chinese medicine.

Illegal imports of endangered animal parts in huge quantities from around the world

Animals Used in Science

Even now Chinese scientists have announced their breakthrough cloning of 2 macaques. They and further cloned monkeys will be used for animal testing. Scientists have also perfected the technology for creating the human/pig hybrid – ‘incubating’ human hearts in pigs. The intention is to use pigs to produce a regular supply for human heart transplants.

At this point China has no kind of animal welfare laws in place. There is much that needs to change if we are to credit the country with any sense of humanity towards nonhuman animals. So, if these Animal Welfare classes can open up Chinese youth to a newfound empathy with and compassion for their fellow creatures, we can hope for some big changes in the not-too-distant-future. For once, some animal news to get excited about!


(The cover photo is there simply because I couldn’t resist its absolute gorgeousness. Hopefully the endangered red panda will eventually be a beneficiary of this step forward in the education of Chinese children.)


Postscript

China, of course is scarcely the only culprit treating animals with scant regard for their welfare. It has to be said that even in countries like the UK and the US with long established animal protection laws, there are still so many ways both domesticated animals and wildlife experience cruelty at human hands.


¹Demographics of China

².Indexmundi

Sources

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses! – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

Facts about Cruelty to Animals in Asia

China moves to protect coastal wetlands used by migratory birds

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Creative Crashpads for Funky Felines

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”

Calling all cat-worshippers! I have to ask: are you 100% satisfied in your own mind that the Pets-At-Home igloo bed you selected for your feline is up to scratch? Or did you go straight for the cat’s whiskers and lavish £50 on the deluxe Mr Snugs KatDen, only to find kitty curled up in the closet on your sweaters?

For a crashpad truly befitting your furry god or goddess, maybe, just maybe, you should have called upon the services of an ar-cat-ect. Yes, really. I’m serious. There is a wonderful organisation called Architects for Animals

logo-for-websitewhich every October invites architects and designers to make, submit for display, and donate their creative catnap-eries at their annual “Giving Shelter” exhibition and auction. All proceeds go to animals in need. This year, Architects for Animals’ 10th, the recipient is FixNation, an L.A. charity that spays/neuters stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Isn’t that purrfect?

Take your pick from these fabulous puss palaces.

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HKS’s “CAnT WE ALL GET ALONG,” a fish-shaped shelter with birdhouses above
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Perkins+Will’s “UnFURled,” a whimsical spiral shelter that’s actually assembled from a kit of interchangeable parts
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Standard Architecture | Design’s “Catosphere,” a concrete and reclaimed teak pod
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Abramson Teiger Architects’ “White Jack”

There’s no doubting who’s the star of that show!

Now, a quick flip of the coin, from the money-givers to the money-makers  – from the compassionate donors to the fat cats of re-tail.

(Apologies for all the corny cat puns. But you’d better brace yourself for more to come – I can’t resist😄)

A certain business better known for its vegan meatballs and Scandi style has also been getting creative for cats. Available for purr-chase is the ‘Lurvig cat cube’, designed to mix and match with the human furnishings. Infinitely adaptable to cat-er for every possible puss preference.

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Even so, I can imagine Felis Catus looking on with cool disdain as we wrestle with the flatpack – a disdain that despite our best efforts, may well extend to the finally completed cat-ready creation.

Oh well, it can always double up as a bedside cabinet.

So that takes care of the cat crashpads. Now how about the fur-niture?

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort”

Recent pet industry consumer research shows –

  • 80% of millennial companion-animal ‘parents’ regard their pets as family members. (What is wrong with the other 20%, one has to ask)
  • Americans spend more on cat food in a year than on baby food
  • And, music to the industry’s ears, 76% of millennial pet parents are willing to splurge on cool stuff for their pet before buying something for themselves.

Discovering just how much millennials are in thrall to their felines, the pet industry is naturally keen to create new product opportunities for the splurging. Would you splash out on these miniature marvels from Japan for your fur baby?

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This sofa, made by Okawa Kagu is furniture intended to satisfy a ‘selfish cat’ that doesn’t do sharing  (Photo: Okawa Kagu)

This is fur-niture for felines of the highest craftsmanship. Nothing but the best.

So, now that’s all the kitty comforts sewn up, what does Santa Claws plan on bringing this Christmas?

“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want”

  • I’m sorry, but I have it on the best authority, the standard supermarket pet stocking is not going to cut it this year. Don’t you know, a cat needs some a-mews-ment? A chance to show off her cat-leticism? So how about one of these?

cat-bridge-furniture

Catastrophic Creations make these ‘Indiana Jones Bridges’ to order. If you are cat-crazy enough to measure up your home for one, expect to get ambushed from on high, that’s all I can say.

Or, maybe you’re this crazy…

L_55-1

Or, for the irredeemably bonkers, this…
new-cat-furniture-releases

Now that’s one website worth looking at!

From the pampered puss who has everything, back where we started – to the cat who has nothing. We too can help give a cat a home.

If you’d like to help feral cats near you, click here for simple instructions, using materials that would probably otherwise be thrown away, to make a cosy shelter. It may not be as zany or stylish as the ones above, but it will keep them snug from the winter cold and wet.

And/or sponsor a cat pod with the RSPCA. The charity took in 6,390 cats to its shelters last year. “With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats – more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined – [the cats] need our support more than ever.” 

And if you are considering bringing a new companion animal into the family, don’t forget #AdoptDontShop!

For more stylish designs from Architects for Animals, take a look here


Sources

L.A. Architects & designers build imaginative outdoor cat dwellings for charity

Home Furnishings Industry Creates Comfy Digs for Man’s Best Friends

Behold! Purr-fect furniture for cats

Quotes: Terry Pratchett, Joseph Wood Krutch, James Herriot – in that order

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You Love Animals Right? Your Brain IS Different from Those Who Don’t

Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.

Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.

We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.

Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!

Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain

Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.

All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:

“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.

Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.

The results of the fMRI:

  • The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
  • The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
  • The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
  • The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
  • The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
  • Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans

All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.

The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?


Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:

In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.

So we have:

Wild Animals with whom we have little contact

Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on

Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens

Animals for entertainment – racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria

Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities

Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc

And let us not forget

Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’

What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.


That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.

So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.

If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”

Philosopher Janet Stemwedel


One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.

But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.

Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.

Help to go vegan here

 

Sources

Veg*n Brains & Animal Suffering

Empathy for Animals is all about us

The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood

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Animal Rights Stickers – Yay!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a brand new emoji app for animal champions everywhere. Senior Advocacy Strategist Michelle Feinberg invites us to download the peta2 sticker app available now from both the App Store and the iMessage-specific App Store. All the stickers are 100% vegan and cruelty-free!

To give you a flavour –

 

Let’s get downloading. This app is going to clock up some serious mileage! Fun with an important – the most important – message…

ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS

TO EAT, WEAR, EXPERIMENT ON, USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, OR ABUSE IN ANY OTHER WAY


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The Punk Rocker with a Snake Venom Habit – An Unexpected Hero for Animals?

“For nearly 30 years, reptile enthusiast and punk musician Steve Ludwin has been injecting snake venom—a practice that almost killed him.”

Steve was only 10 years old when his strange obsession with reptilians first took hold. He was on a visit with his dad to Bill Haast’s Serpentarium in Florida. “Bill Haast* came out and draped an indigo snake around my neck. I was aware that he had been injecting himself with snake venom and I just thought it was the wildest thing I had ever heard.”

A decade or so later and Ludwin was heading up the American band “Carrie”, part of the early ’90s grunge scene (he claims to have dated Courtney Love before her relationship with Kurt Cobain). Between tours he began gargling snake venom, a preventative against throat infections – the singer’s curse. And it worked.

Nowadays Steve shares his London flat with 18 snakes, a number of rare lizards, a cat – oh yes, and his presumably very understanding girlfriend. While a journalist watches, Ludwin extracts the venom from a green Pope’s tree viper by making it bite down on a film-covered glass. He then takes a syringe and injects the fluid into his arm.

The first time Ludwin injected himself with snake venom, he described it as feeling like, “battery acid”. His heart started to race uncontrollably and his arm swelled up and turned a strange shade of green.

“It’s extreme pain”

This is very much a case of ‘Do not try this at home dear readers’. “It’s a very very dangerous thing to do, I don’t encourage people to do it”, he told AFPSteve has found himself in hospital more than once, including a 3-day stay in ICU “following an overdose” – a cocktail of 3 different snake venoms. The doctors told him he would probably die. After 3 days and still swollen he discharged himself, and a week later was fully recovered. This is one seriously tough guy!

For Steve, a wide variety is definitely the spice of life. He has given himself doses of venom from the most dangerous snakes to be found around the world, including cobras and the black mamba.

snake-1974382_960_720

So far, it’s not sounding fun. So why has Ludwin put himself through this for the best part of his adult life? It’s definitely not for the trip: “The sensation of injecting snake venom is not pleasant at all…it’s not like a Jim Morrison trip. You don’t trip—it’s extreme pain.”

Bizarre as this activity seems, there’s a long history of people like Steve deliberately exposing themselves to poisons. All with the same intention – building up immunity to the substance. Cruel King Mithridates (120-63 BC) was so paranoid about being assassinated by poisoning, he fed poisons to ducks, and drank the blood of those who survived. So there is actually a name for Ludwin’s strange habit – it’s called mithridatism. Happily in his case, without the intermediary ducks.

Steve is enthusiastic about the benefits of his strange habit. For one thing, he reckons the fact that he hasn’t had a cold in 15 years is proof of how much it has boosted his immune system against infections. (Hmm, which would I prefer, I wonder, a sniffle or a poisonous snake bite?) And, he says, for 6-8 hours after injecting he gets a huge energy boost.

He also claims it slows the ageing process. He’s taken to adding venom to a moisturiser for his own anti-ageing cream. His girlfriend uses it, gets lots of compliments and swears by it. Maybe it’s true, because Ludwin at 51 years certainly looks a lot more like 30. John Lewis must believe it. They sell their own ‘anti-ageing’ snake oil – a mere £70 for 30ml. Or perhaps they simply have no scruples about creaming off surplus cash from the credulous rich?

Snake oil has a long history. But in America’s Wild West for instance, the peddler of ‘snake oil’ (made of camphor and turpentine, and remarkable only for the absence in it of anything remotely snake-related) assured gullible townsfolk of its potency to cure all ills. Then scarpered with the ill-gotten proceeds before he was found out. That’s how snake oil became synonymous with quackery.

But what Steve Ludwin has flowing around his veins and arteries is the real deal. And this is where the animals – other than the snakes** of course – come into it. For the last 3 years, Steve has been helping Danish scientists and a startup company VenomAb with a view to creating a new venom antidote from his self-immunised blood.

The normal method of creating anti-snake venom serum (ASVS) involves injecting dilute venom into an animal, usually a horse, and 8-10 weeks later ‘harvesting’ his/her blood. Of course, for every different species of snake, a separate antidote has to be extracted from animals. And the lengthy and expensive process has to be repeated over and over to maintain a supply.

One would hope Vahini’s story (below) is not typical. Even so, what goes on behind closed doors is so often found to fall disturbingly short of best practice.

“Vahini couldn’t tell them she was pregnant when they injected potent snake venom into her. Barely a month later, the mare gave birth to a young one with a suspected limb disorder. Soon after the delivery, Vahini went blind in the right eye and her left eye was partially damaged.

“At least 60 other horses have died at the state-run King Institute in Chennai in the past seven months due to improper treatment during the manufacture of anti-snake venom serum.

“Most of the animals at the Institute are ailing – horses and mules housed there for experiments and production of serum. It seems that ‘good clinical practices’ and ‘ethical conduct’ are unknown phrases at King Institute. ‘The potency of the venom, the frequency of shots and duration of bleeding are all beyond the permitted limits,’ says an insider.” India Today

Around 5.4 million people across the world get bitten by snakes every year, and roughly 100,000 of them die. Effective treatment relies not only on identifying which snake did the biting, but on the availability, and affordability, of the correct serum. Typical cost in hospital around £2000, but can be as much as £11,700.

The ASVS collected from Ludwin will be unique. No other serum in the world will contain antibodies to such a wide-ranging variety of different snake poisons. Who knows how many animals he will liberate from the cruel ASVS harvesting process.

VenomAb expects the research to be completed a year from now. Their intention, with the support of governments or NGOs, is to distribute the new all-purpose anti-venom in the countries where it is needed, free of charge.

Many human lives will be saved. And so hopefully will many nonhumans’.

In Steve Ludwin’s words:

“If I’m the person that makes it so that those horses get put out to pasture, I will die with the biggest f—— smile on my face.”


If you’re in London in the next 6 months, you can see a short film about Steve at the Natural History Museum’s newly opened exhibition Venom: Killer & Cure

It features some of the 200,000 venomous creatures in the world. And it seems Ludwin has an almost equally foolhardy comrade-in-venom: For exhibition purposes, Justin O Schmidt allowed himself to be bitten or stung by more than 80 different species of ‘Nature’s nastiest’, “to establish a scale of pain.” What can I say?


*Bill Haast incidentally, who ‘milked’ the venom from 100 snakes a day, lived to the ripe old age of 100, having survived 172 bites from some of the world’s deadliest snakes. He flew around the world donating his blood for direct transfusion to bite victims, in this way saving 21 lives.

**Whether Ludwin should be keeping snakes captive and ‘milking’ them for their venom is another matter. But snakes are already kept captive for the production of ASVS. And since he has been doing this for 30 years or more anyway, isn’t it a good thing that he chooses to use himself – not horses and mules forced to have their bodies turned into ASVS factories?


To see photos of Ludwin and his snakes, click on one of the first two sources below

Update February 5th 2018

Big strides in the push for affordable, effective antivenoms Among other things, this article actually shows how using horses to produce antivenom is not a reliable method. Ludwin’s contribution to medicine is so much more valuable.

Sources

Snake man’s venom habit holds hope for new antidote by Pauline Froissart

Why this former punk rocker injects himself with snake venom

Venomous Nightmare

Antivenom: how it’s made & why it’s so precious

Nature’s nastiest beasts on show in London

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Millennials Are Veggie Because They Don’t Know Any Better!

Who says so? A certain Richard Kottmeyer addressing the ‘2017 Chicken Marketing Summit’

The industry has a problem. Millennials just don’t want to eat their chickens. Kottmeyer, senior partner at the Farm to Fork Advisory Services, acknowledges it’s a challenge marketing ‘poultry products’ to them, and appears to be struggling to dredge up reasons for their entirely unreasonable behaviour. Judge for yourself.
Reason No.1
Millennials believe they are self-experts. They ”believe”, he says, they can find things out for themselves using Google as their source of information. And I guess there’s plenty on the web the poultry industry would prefer they didn’t see.
Kottmeyer’s strange answer to this particular marketing problem is, “Common sense has to replace [the] complexity of data and science.” He reckons if you approach millennials only with science-based information, they think poultry producers have something to hide. Well, don’t they?
Is it significant, I wonder, that this marketing summit took place in North Carolina, one of the handful of states that succeeded in getting ag-gag laws passed, making it illegal for whistleblowers to expose the cruelty and horrors hidden behind the doors of the livestock industry?
I don’t follow Kottmeyer’s logic, but I’d love to know what science-based information the industry could possibly offer millennials that would convince them eating chicken was a great idea. Or even how a ”commonsense” approach might do the trick. Mr Kottmeyer fails to specify.
Reason No.2
He continues. This generation is all about the character of a brand. ”Millennials relate to companies’ products with which they can see a benefit, even if they don’t exactly know what that benefit means.” Translation: millennials are dumb.
Reason No.3
Food has become a statement, so chicken is no longer just chicken.

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Take, he says, the appeal of products labelled organic, ”even if the consumer doesn’t fully understand what that label means. The consumer may simply believe the product to be better because it’s labeled differently.”
Translation: millennials are dumb. Is he seriously suggesting the factory farmers slap a different label on the dead bodies in the supermarkets and we’ll all start buying them again?
K’s Reason No.4
Pets are now millennials’ ‘children’ and they trust their vets more than their own doctors. What millennials don’t understand, he says, is that those same vets are treating Big Food’s poultry and other livestock.
They probably don’t ‘understand’ it because the same vets are not treating both companion animals and livestock! Is Kottmeyer implying that the industry’s livestock receive the same kind of care as companion animals, and for marketing ‘poultry products’ to difficult-to-manipulate millennials, this could be a way in?
Reason No.5
Millennials believe in transparency. Well, why wouldn’t they? Kottmeyer bizarrely cites as evidence for this claim that 9 out of 10 of millennial women have taken and shared nude, or semi-nude pictures of themselves. The marketing conclusion he draws from this statistic is that brands need to be as naked and vulnerable as millennials. (I know!)
”If your brand isn’t naked, it isn’t going to last very long,” he says. We live in hope Mr K.
Reason No.6
Millennials struggle with self-identity, he says. He bases this assertion – again, bizarrely – on the apparent fact that there are 58 ways to gender-identify now on Facebook. Are you starting to wonder, like me, if Mr K has a few snapped synapses inside that head of his?
This means, he believes, that millennials are lost, and ”don’t know what to believe other than to follow the trend.” Translation: millennials are dumb.
Poultry and other meat producers must create that trend.”
Kottmeyer sums up
Millennials are lost souls, don’t know who they are, or what they want. They just follow trends they believe are popular. All they “need [is] to be inspired and coached,” by the poultry industry, naturally. In your dreams Mr K.
Therefore he concludes, poultry producers need to create a trend of their own, “a soulful brand that stands for something and allows the millennial to relate to the company.” 
chicken-1140_960_720
Find me the “soulful” in this. All I see is callous disregard & death
Now for the truth without the marketing spin – the real reasons millennials are rejecting Big Food’s ‘poultry products’
  • The vast majority of hens are bred to grow so big so quickly the poor creatures’ legs buckle and give way under their own weight so they can no longer stand
  • To cut costs factory farmers commonly change the hens’ litter only every few months, or even once a year. So hens who are generally sent to slaughter at 6 -7 weeks are lying in the waste of who knows how many hens before them. The result: hens suffering ammonia burns, respiratory diseases, and eye problems
  • Conditions are so bad, at least 139 million hens in the U.S. annually, maybe more, die before they even reach an age to get sent to slaughter. 139 million wretched and entirely wasted lives
  • Those who do get to slaughter are shackled upside down by their feet, then shocked in an electrified water tank before having their throats slit, some still conscious
  • The worker on the slaughter line slits 140 hens’ throats per minute, more than 2 birds every second. Now, in line with Trump’s de-regulatory agenda the National Chicken Council is petitioning the USDA to permit poultry plants to operate “at any line speed” they can safely handle, freeing them from the 140 birds-per-minute limit

     

Chicken production quote john webster

If you can bear it, watch this. THIS is the real reason why millennials don’t want your chicken, Mr Kottmeyer. No amount of clever marketing can disguise the truth.

And if you’re not already, you might want to go vegan. Find out how here

Sources

Millennials and livestock: A mindset worth changingWATTAgNet

Big Food Is Worried About Millennials Avoiding Animal Products – EcoWatch

Another Obama decision reversed? – NBC News

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What Is It Like To Be a Dog? (Or a Dolphin)

“I can’t imagine not living with dogs. That would be really sad for me”, says Gregory Berns, author of ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’. A statement which will surely strike a chord with dog-lovers everywhere.

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Gregory enjoying the company of Callie & Cato

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, Gregory was blessed with the companionship of Pretzel and Popcorn, two golden retrievers. “Kids and dogs go together” he says. (Don’t they just!) Later there were 3 pugs, Simon, Newton and Dexter and another golden retriever, Lyra. Now there are Cato, Callie and Argo, “a yellow dog of some kind of mix.” 

Gregory’s hope for his new book is that understanding how animals think will revolutionise the way we treat them.

It was the loss of his beloved Newton in 2013 that prompted Gregory – a neuroscientist at Emory – to switch from studying the human brain to exploring the way dogs’ – and other nonhuman animals’ – thought processes work. And you will be particularly pleased to know, as I was too, that his studies are entirely non-invasive – no captive lab animals with electrodes implanted in their heads here, thank goodness.

We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” said GB.

What does go on inside a dog’s head?

This is something we’d all love to know. GB decided to use the same method with the dogs as is used to examine human brain activity, fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Nothing if not ambitious. Because of course, for fMRI to give useable results, the subject needs to keep completely motionless and yet alert for considerable periods. GB and his assistants had to give his new subjects, the dogs, extensive training to be able to do this.

In what proved a ground-breaking achievement, he opened a window, figuratively speaking, straight into the doggy brain, and recorded what he saw happening in there in real time –  this had never been done before. He was looking for answers to questions like:

  • Do dogs prefer praise from their human, or food?
  • What happens in the doggy head when we make them sit and wait for food or a treat?
  • What’s happening in that doggy head when they smell the scent of their human?
  • How do dogs recognise faces?

And the answer to the first question is: they like the praise from their human as much, and often more than the food. The interesting thing is that when the dog is praised, the activity in the doggy brain is located in the caudate nucleus part of the brain –  the same area active in ours when we receive some praise.

The second? When we ask our dog to sit and wait for the command before he/she is allowed to eat, the mental activity occurs, Gregory says, in a part of the prefrontal cortex, again the same as in humans. Not that we have to sit and wait for the command to eat, but it’s the same part of our prefrontal cortex that’s active when we have to exercise self-control.

dogs-930727_960_720

Number 3 (from the National Geographic) This takes us back to our friend, the caudate nucleus. That is the part of the brain associated in humans with reward and positive expectation. And the caudate nucleus was precisely the area GB and his team found activated in the dogs again, this time by the scent of the dog’s own human. And only by that scent. The smell of an unfamiliar human, another dog in the same household, an unfamiliar dog, and even their own scent got little response. Though we may not be too thrilled with theirs from time to time, our smell makes our doggies happy!

Lastly When the dogs were shown 50 photos of different people and 50 of everyday objects, recognition triggered activity in the same area of the dog’s brain, the temporal lobe, as with humans. “Dogs are the only members in the Canidae family that can recognize faces of people without training. Dogs can tell when we are smiling or not and are able to notice differences between two faces, something that even primates like Japanese monkeys aren’t able to do. Dogs also spend more time examining new faces compared to familiar faces.” Psychology Today

So the next time you’re wondering if your dog can read what’s on your mind, the answer is probably yes.”

cat-2367154__340
All I can say is, those dogs must have been getting some pretty dee-lish-us treats

(Admit it cat-lovers, as wonderful as cats are, can you imagine trying to get a cat to sit completely still while being shown 100 photos? I reckon after the first couple they’d give a bored yawn and start licking a paw.)

Now that Gregory has what he calls “a basic understanding of canine cognition”, he is interested in finding out what it’s like to be this dog, rather than that dog, what makes an individual tick. But the main take from his research is, how very very like our own are the processes inside the doggy brain. Hold that thought.

dog-and-man-175549_960_720


Moving on to even bigger things –  the Brain Ark

What could be more important than sussing out the canine mind, you ask. Well, Gregory is doing something else that’s truly amazing – creating the Brain Ark, which aims to be a digital archive of the three-dimensional brain structures of megafauna: big cats, great apes, elephants, bears, wolves and so on.

What does this involve? Using technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to map the neural pathways of long-dead animals held in museum collections, starting with dolphins. “Dolphins are incredibly intelligent social animals but they’ve remained relatively mysterious. We provided the first picture of the entire dolphin brain and all the white matter connections inside of it.”

And “This year, we reconstructed the brain architecture and neural networks of the extinct Tasmanian toger, also known as the thylacine, using two brain specimens from museums, both of which were about 100 years old.”

And not just brains in museums, the brains of today too. But don’t worry – still entirely non-invasive. For the brains of species still hanging on to existence, like tigers, lions and other of the big beasts, he and his team hope to access creatures whose lives have ended in zoos. Gregory’s collaborators in this project include scientists from 8 other academic institutions across the globe, including the University of Oxford and the Smithsonian Institution.

The WWF has given the warning that 2/3 of animal species will be lost by 2020. To say that is a shocking possibility/probability, is a gross understatement. GB believes that since mapping brains of different species helps our understanding of their behaviour, the open-access store of information in the Brain Ark could prove not just a scientific treasure trove, but an invaluable aid to conservation. This awesome person is taking us on a new journey of exploration into the minds of the other animals who share our world.


So, what drives Gregory Berns?

Not just the scientist’s mission to pursue knowledge simply for its own sake. Nor even the prospect of helping conserve the Earth’s wildlife, vital though that is. Something more radical, more important, more potentially world-changing. In his own words:

“In the grand scheme of things, I’d like to explore the commonalities we have with other animals. That has important ethical implications for how we treat them and their right to exist in the first place. Animal welfare laws cover things like abuse – pain and suffering.
“I think we should go beyond that and acknowledge that animals also have a right to lead a good life – whatever that means for that animal.”

Go Gregory!


Books by Gregory Berns:

What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

How Dogs Love Us: a neuroscientist and his dog decode the canine brain


Sources

Neuroscientist explores ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’ – Phys.Org

A dog’s dilemma: Do canine’s prefer praise or food? – ScienceDaily

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You Love Animals, Right? Ever Wondered Why Others Couldn’t Care Less?

It’s mystifying, isn’t it? We find ourselves suffused with joy watching the sparrows bathing in the bird bath, spotting bees, butterflies and dragonflies on a walk, discovering a small crab in a rock pool, watching swallows gathering on a wire in autumn, hearing the geese migrating south for winter, or stroking a donkey over the fence. We can’t let a dog or a cat walk by without moving in for a cuddle or a stroke, and telling them how beautiful they are. But most of all we love our own fur babies, sometimes (often!) more than other humans. So how can it be that there are actually people who couldn’t care less? It’s incomprehensible.

But it’s a fact. If the presence of companion animals in the family is the measure of this phenomenon, it’s a 50/50 split, half of us love’em, the other half doesn’t. Here in the UK anyway.

(Canines or felines? Another 50/50 split, 10 million of each. But let’s leave the dog v cat debate for another day.)

If you’re in the weird 50% – the animal un-lovers – you probably wonder what we get out of caring for our dogs – they bark, need constant walking and a steady supply of poop bags. Or our cats, who have no sense of loyalty or gratitude, scratch the furniture, and are alternately aloof or needy and demanding.

We could tell you companion animals are therapeutic for us. Studies show they lower their human’s blood pressure, alleviate loneliness and depression, boost the immune system, and increase our lifespan. Apparently though, there are just as many studies that show our beloved furry friends confer no health benefits. And we who live with them live no longer than those who don’t. Health and longevity is more to do with where you fall demographically than if you live with a fur baby – which incidentally, you’re more likely to do if you’re married, white, a woman, wealthy and own your own home. All of which happen to be predictors for better health and longer life as well – nothing to do with beloved Fido or Felix. Well, whatever the studies say, we on the animal-loving side couldn’t imagine life without them.

So why the split? Nature or nurture?

We all assume that if you grow up with animals, in a family that loves animals, your fate is sealed – in a good way. The best. It’s as simple as that. I grew up with 3 cats, a dog, rabbits and a goat, and a mum who loved animals, so that works for me. I’ve never lived without a nonhuman animal by my side. How about you?

But there’s a little more to it than you might have thought. First let me ask, have you heard of anthrozoology? It is, it seems, a new science “dedicated to discovering the true nature and depth of the human-animal bond” – news to me too, but I like it! (NB though all you anthrozoologists out there – humans are animals too).

In his book “The Animals Among Us”, leading expert in animal behaviour and anthrozoology, John Bradshaw traces the thread back to our ancient ancestors to unravel how living with other animals shaped our own evolution as well as theirs.

How did some animals become domesticated in the first place?

Dogs became distinct from wolves, cats from wildcats, cattle from wild oxen, sheep from wild mouflon and so on, between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, their DNA tells us. But how did those genes for tameness evolve? Because at any stage, if the semi-tame animals got to mate with their wild cousins, the tameness genes would be diluted, and there would be no domestication. To prevent that, we humans had to keep ‘our’ animals apart, inaccessible, by physically containing them in our own habitations. And so we developed an emotional attachment to the creatures who lived among us.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time humans with empathy for the animals and with skills in animal husbandry thrived, and passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants. Meanwhile, those who didn’t go to the trouble of keeping domesticated animals but continued to rely on hunting, were fading out.

stone-age-2115390_960_720

The creature-carers were winning the evolutionary war.

In that case, how did we arrive at the 50/50 split? Where did the animal un-lovers come from?

John Bradshaw conjectures that at some point in history, those guys who were not living with domesticated animals came up with the brilliant idea of letting those who were (our half of the equation), do all the work, and then raiding us, stealing the animals and taking us slaves. Let’s call it the Genghis Khan M.O. And so the animal un-lover population made a comeback. (We must assume their raids weren’t always successful, or else it would have been our half dying out!)

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The fearsome Genghis Khan as depicted on a Mongolian banknote

Genghis Khan makes a good metaphor for ruthless raids and pillage, but since he made his entrance on the world stage a mere thousand or so years ago, he can’t be held personally responsible for the tribe that were evolving into animal un-loving raiders several thousand years before that. But you never know, it’s perfectly possible he was a descendant of them. Whatever, it’s a fascinating fact that 1 in every 200 men in the world alive today is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Crazy, but true. It would be even more fascinating to know if all those 16 million guys are genetically predisposed to be indifferent to animals!

But back to serious science. When it comes to engagement with companion animals, a 2015 study designed to disentangle nature and nurture, found that “genetic factors accounted for as much as 37%” of the difference in middle-aged men. Why not women? Who knows. But anyway, animal loving is in the genes!

At least in part, you really are genetically predisposed to love, or be indifferent to other animals. It’s a trait you have inherited – as well as learned – from your parents, and your parents’ parents before them. And so on, back to the time when your ancestors chose one of two different paths, to domesticate or to hunt and raid.

Love animals, Love Nature

Now we come full circle.  Other recent studies show that we really are two entirely different tribes. If you love animals, you will love Nature too. Or if indifferent to the one, you’ll be indifferent to the other. “It seems that people can be roughly divided into those that feel little affinity for animals or the environment, and those who are predisposed to delight in both.” 

Why are we not surprised?


If you love animals and care about the environment, and even if you don’t but care about your own health, cut back on the meat and dairy. Find out why that’s a good idea here. 10 top tips for doing it here


If you are thinking of bringing a companion animal into your home, please #AdoptDontShop  Just look at these sad statistics:

  • The Daily Mail reported that the number of stray or abandoned dogs in the UK reached 110,000 in 2013, and that 21 are put down every single day.
  • The RSPCA rescued and collected 118,994 animals of all kinds in 2015 in the UK, and were only able to rehome 47,651 of those.
  • The ASPCA tells us that in the USA approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  • And that each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats)

And they are not just numbers. Each one an individual longing for a loving home.


Postscript If you struggle to make sense of my exposition of human and non-human animals’ evolution in pre-history, you may need to read John Bradshaw’s book, where he does it at greater length, and so much better.


Source

The science behind why some people love animals and others couldn’t care less – PhysOrg

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All the Queen’s Horses

The story begins in France. And for the lucky few, it ends in France. We’re talking police horses.

It begins in France three centuries ago with the founding of a national mounted police force, the Maréchaussée. Not only did the officers of the Maréchaussée have the distinction of being first in the world, but with their red and blue jackets, gold braid and jaunty tricorn hats, very probably the most dashing.

Deploying horses to uphold law and order was clearly seen as a good idea, because today mounted police forces are to be found in 38 different countries of the world.

But are they really still needed?

In this hi-tech age of body cameras, high speed cars and drones aren’t horses a bit old school? It seems not. Four legs can often outperform four wheels, particularly when it comes to big events with big crowds. They outperform humans too. There’s a well-known saying in the service: It would take 12 officers to do the work of one police horse.

Besides, these magnificent animals make for great PR. Here in the UK police horses are a much loved and reassuring presence at almost every public event, like the Lord Mayor’s Show, the Trooping of the Colour, the Nottinghill Carnival which last weekend attracted a million visitors – and so on. At the 2012 Olympics, the horses played their part to perfection, and continue to do so at festivals and football matches countrywide. These gentle giants are a familiar sight, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, clear testimony to the care and affection lavished on them by their officers.

retired-police-horses-banner3-1

What happens when their working life comes to an end?

Well, after sometimes as long as 20 years pounding the beat, a fortunate few are now getting to kick back in the sun, contentedly living out their days at Brantôme Police Horse Sanctuary in southwest France – thanks to its founders, Roland and Alison Phillips.

A family affair

You could say Roland was born for this, since he grew up with rescued horses on the small Devon Horse and Pony Sanctuary founded by his parents, Sylvia and Terry. So what could be more natural than in later life, when he (a former Scotland Yard officer) and wife Alison decided to retire to the Dordogne sunshine, they took with them Karen and Kendrick, 2 equine retirees from the Met.

So it began – and now just keeps on growing. At present Brantôme is home to 11 retired police horses. (There are a further 16 in Devon, and a many more fostered out in the UK under the Phillipses’ auspices) Brantôme also provides sanctuary for other horses and ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, sheep, goats and chickens. Human numbers have grown too: Roland and Alison got much needed assistance in 2012 when they were joined by their daughter Debbie, son-in-law Chris and twin grandchildren Izzy and Chloe. Four generations saving horses!

A warm sunny climate, the beautiful and peaceful Dordogne countryside, and all the loving care a horse could ask for. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it is, but…

The shameful truth about police horse retirement

There is a hidden darker side to the police horse story. Roland again: “All the Police horses we take on, have been retired through old age, injury or ill health and in most cases would have sadly been destroyed if they hadn’t been re-homed.”

Destroyed? Is that the reward for these “hardworking and fearless animals” after their years of service? The Horse Trust confirms the shocking truth: “Police horses are funded by the taxpayer throughout their working career but the ‘public purse’ empties as the horses face retirement.”  Let’s say it again so there can be no doubt, “No provision is made for those that are no longer up to the job, who risk being euthanised if no one offers them a home.” ¹

As far as officialdom is concerned, these horses are thrown on the scrapheap. Their care depends entirely on uncertain charity. Isn’t that a national disgrace?

Fortunately, good people step up. As well as Brantôme and the Horse & Pony Sanctuary in Devon, there is the Horse Trust, and a Lincolnshire sanctuary Bransby Horses, also taking in veteran police equines. But there is no getting away from the fact that these are all charities run by a few dedicated people who believe that these wonderful animals deserve better than to end up in the knacker’s yard.

And giving the animals the 24/7 care they need does not come cheap. The care of the police horses Roland describes as “exceptionally expensive”, and Brantôme, like the other sanctuaries, is completely reliant on donations and visitors. Even with volunteers to groom the horses and muck out, kind donations, events like weddings and concerts, guided tours and English-style cream teas, Brantôme just about breaks even. “It’s very tight.”

And there’s more

As if the lack of official ring-fenced funding for the horses’ retirement were not bad enough, severe emotional and physical problems can be the horses’ legacy from their service life. It’s not all festivals and fun. These horses are on the front line during rowdy demos, fights between rival football fans, and in the thick of terrifying riots.

Take for instance Brantôme’s newest arrival Ranger, a chocolate brown nine-year-old. Ranger has severe arthritis, which Roland believes was triggered when firecrackers were thrown at him outside West Ham’s football ground. On another occasion a demonstrator tried to spook him by directing a laser beam into this beautiful boy’s eyes.

Ranger
Ranger

Then there’s Lewis, “a sensitive 15-year-old, badly traumatised by the violence of the urban riots of 2011. On his arrival in France, Lewis shied away from humans, spending his days lying in the back of his stall.” It took time, but the Phillipses’ loving care revived his confidence and restored him to his former sociable self.

Lewis
Lewis

“Those horses have been through a very tough time indeed,” Roland said as he lovingly stroked Lewis’s nose.

And worse

Neither is it unknown for police horses to meet their deaths in the line of duty. In the USA, Mikey C had a heart attack while on duty with his officer at a busy Chicago beach. Charlotte in Houston was hit by a cement truck. Her officer was taken to hospital with a broken leg, but Charlotte died at the scene. McHammer was the victim of his own officer. McHammer had been on patrol in hot downtown Denver. At the end of the day his officer returned him to his stall and removed his saddle – but forgot to give him water and food. This was not discovered until the following day, 16 hours later. Despite veterinary treatment, a day after that McHammer had to be put down.

“Though not intentional on his part, Officer Teeter’s forgetfulness exposed a live animal to cruel and extreme conditions,” the disciplinary letter said. Teeter was docked one day’s leave and remains a member of the Denver mounted patrol. All of which brings us to the inevitable question:

Ranger, Lewis and the rest – heroes or victims?

The Horse Trust says “… Police horses … have dedicated their lives to protecting communities from violence and unrest in the service of the Mounted Police across the UK.”

But that simply isn’t true, is it? None of them have dedicated their lives to the service of human society. Ranger’s officer had that choice when he signed up, but Ranger didn’t. Like all the others he had no say in the matter.

As with Diesel, the beautiful Belgian Shepherd service dog killed in Paris by a terrorist and posthumously awarded for ‘her bravery’, these horses are simply being used by humans for humans’ benefit, but contrary to their own lives’ best interests. And then dispensed with when for whatever reason, there is no more use to be wrung out of them. How can that ever be right?

Now in France, Ranger, Lewis and their fellow rescued service horses are discovering what life should be like for a horse who is allowed just to be a horse that no-one requires to be useful

If you would like to help the horses at Brantôme, click here

If you would like to help the horses at The Horse Trust, click here

If you would like to help the horses at Bransby, click here

“Saving one horse will not change the world but surely it will change the world for that one horse.”

Petitions

Justice for Police Horse who died after Officer left him tied in a stall without food or water

Justice for Horse Dead After Cop Reportedly Tied Him Up Without Food or Water

Stop Police Cruelty to Horses

Sources

Her Majesty’s police horses kick back in southern France

Mounted police – Wiki

¹Régine Lamothe for Phys.Org
 

Cover pic, Ranger and Lewis & all sanctuary photos from Brantôme’s website

Retired police horse banner from the Horse Trust

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RIP Diesel

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Doctor Dog – The Power of Loving Licks

The 3-D Printed Dog’s Nose that’s Even Better than the Real Thing