College of Veterinary Medicine

From the Dean

The Value of a Comparative Medical Education

by Bryan 4. April 2012 12:24

This neat little story about one of our faculty, Cynthia Faux, got me to thinking about how what we learn as veterinarians can pop up to help us out in highly unusual and/or unpredictable ways.

Dr. Faux, who teaches gross anatomy to freshman veterinary students, also holds a PhD in Paleontology from Yale.  This story is about some of her paleontology research that was informed by her comparative medical knowledge as a veterinarian, specifically, an explanation of why so many dinosaur fossils are found in a posture with their head thrown back and their cervical spine hyper-extended.  You can read the story for more details, which are fascinating, as is the story of Cynthia's career trajectory.

This caused me to think back to the many times, when I was an active basic biomedical scientist in a medical school setting, that my veterinary medical education helped me succeed, both conceptually, and technically.  This also highlights one of the things I think veterinary colleges must do a better − recruiting students whose primary motivation is to be a scientist, and whom we have convinced that a comparative veterinary medical education will make them a better scientist, scientists like Cynthia, and Pete Anderson, who I have highlighted previously. 

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by Bryan 2. April 2012 07:18

This is the ladybug time of year.

Many years ago when our kids were much younger we were poking around Lawson Garden, anxious to get out after winter, and we stumbled on masses — as in millions — of ladybugs in the dead grass and leaves at the edge of the small spring behind our yard.  Each year since, like clockwork, on any sunny day in March (...boy, have those been in limited supply this year!) they increase their activity and move up out of deeper layers where they wintered over.  By mid-April, they have dispersed and we have to wait another year to see them again like this.  We never tire of seeing them and so, even though the kids are no longer around, we make a point to look for them.

Here is a small patch discovered over the weekend:


And, closer up:

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by Bryan 29. March 2012 21:40

“I wrote the obituary for the obituaries editor.”  

Thus opens “Salt”, a wonderful Sherman Alexie short story from his PEN/Faulkner winning collection, War Dances.  In the space of 20 impeccably crafted pages, Mr. Alexie deeply examines loss.  Not simple loss, but rather layers of loss; I am still pondering how many layers – quite like I am still pondering how many dreams were within dreams were within dreams in the movie Inception.   

One of the layers of loss is euthanasia.  In one thread of this story, an elderly woman had lost her husband, and then had to “put down” Henry, their cat.  She explained that Henry developed “cancer of the blood” grieving for the loss of the master of the house (“They [cats] see a lot of death, they do.”). 

She goes on to say:  “What’s that big word for killing cats?”   

“Euthanasia.” …  

“Yes, that’s it. … Such a pretty word for such a sad and lonely thing.”   


In what must have been destined to be my “euthanasia reflection day,” earlier this week I not only read this story on my flight over to Seattle, but then had a good discussion of euthanasia with one of our alums in Bellevue, and later met up with a friend who told me that she and her husband recently decided that it was time to have their beloved Max the Poodle euthanized after 15 years of good life, but with many infirmities of late. 

All this, I guess, to remind me of the special burden and obligation veterinarians bear when helping ease such a sad and lonely thing.

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Yes I Can Clean Up

by Bryan 11. March 2012 18:20

Early in the life of this blog I wrote about how my preferred attire was blue jeans.  Still is. The other day this subject came up and I observe in that conversation that I can, in fact, clean up when I need to (rest assured, though, I have a very narrow concept of "need to").  Since the subject came up, I thought I'd offer proof:

From left to right that would be Tim Richards (DVM '84; from the Big Island), Terri Impson (also from the Big Island), Waz, yours truly, and Kyle Frandle (a DVM classmate, '80; from Los Gatos CA).  We were definitely overdressed for that venue, closing down the place across the street from the Hyatt in Seattle after a gala.

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Update on Art in the Library

by Bryan 6. March 2012 11:38

As I fly past Chicago (it is very clear today) listening to some wonderful Schubert (performed by Michel Dalberto) I am writing to update what I recently told you about the photography of Holly Irish and her Clear Focus On the Human-Animal Bond.

At a reception last week for Holly and her art I met her parents, who had come over from Sequim.  I learned from them that when they are out and about with Holly these days they no longer hike, rather they amble or stroll – the photographer's eye needs time.  Someday I hope to amble more...but, I digress.

I wanted to point out two recent newsy items that highlight Holly and her work came out in association with this reception, one in the Daily Evergreen and one at WSUNews.  The latter includes a broader exploration of different aspects of how the human-animal bond is explored in our college, including a remembering of some of Leo's legacy.


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Country Punk

by Bryan 3. March 2012 11:44

I was reminded yesterday that I had not done a post about music lately.  Soooo... here goes.

At the Senior Brunch last May, the day before commencement, in my brief remarks to the graduates I mentioned that I was going to quote from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Mike Ness, the leader of the punk band Social Distortion.  From a senior in the back corner somewhere came a resounding "Whoooo...YEAH!!" (I couldn't identify who it was, but she fessed up at our alumni reception last week in Las Vegas).  I was saying something to the students about not passing up opportunity, and this line from the chorus of the song, The Rest of Our Lives from one of his solo albums, Cheating at Solitaire, has always been a favorite of mine for its twist on a well-known schmaltzy phrase − "...we'll spend each day like it's the last day of the rest of our lives."

I think the best term for his solo efforts is country punk, and it ain't your grandpa's pedal steel and country beat; check out Ballad of a Lonely Man or The Devil in Miss Jones.  And I think Johnny Cash probably would appreciate Social Distortion's take on Ring of Fire, as would Hank Sr. regarding their cover of his Six More Miles (you gotta love an accordion in a punk band).  Considering the place of Hank Sr. and Johnny in the evolution of country music, I think these are appropriately covered by a band better known for this.

For another of my favorite bands of this ilk, read on: More...

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Companions Furever

by Bryan 20. February 2012 11:30

Many generations of WSU DVM graduates will remember PJ from anatomy and his talent with creating exceptional anatomic specimens, many of which were sold to other universities or veterinary practices. Several years ago, PJ began to get requests from individuals to preserve their companion animal when it died.  PJ being PJ, he set out to satisfy himself that he could do so with the quality that made him (and WSU) proud.  Having satisfied himself he could do so, he subsequently fulfilled these requests from a handful of individuals, preserving for them their recently deceased pets, ranging from an iguana to small dogs.

I never thought much about it since then -- to me it is just another manifestation of the bond between people and animals and I don't judge whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.  I was prompted to recall PJ's efforts when we were c,ontacted recently by an independent filmmaker who is doing a full-length documentary called Furever.  Although it is mammal-centric, the title is a clever play on "forever", and I'll overlook the detail that iguanas do not have fur (and "Scalever" just doesn't do it).

This filmmaker, Amy Finkel, became interested in the subject when she read a story of a taxidermy shop that had begun to do the same thing PJ was doing, freeze-drying pets so they could stay with their human after their death.  More background on Ms. Finkel and her film can be found here and here.  The story of her filming and interaction with various faculty and students in our college can be found here.

Those of you who have interacted with PJ know how much he cares about animals and probably wouldn't be surprised that in spite of his sort of crusty ex-Marine demeanor he did not give a second thought to, without judgment, fulfilling the requests he received from those who wanted to honor their human-animal bond in this way.

What do you think? 

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Why We Need Zoos

by Bryan 6. February 2012 07:20

Although on some days I feel as though I'm running a zoo, this post isn't about metaphorical zoos with legions of cats to herd.

Rather, it is about the real thing. 

One of the many fortunate circumstances that go with being dean is that I get to serve with a wonderful group of people on the Board of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, which by the way has a new logo that I think is very many images can you conjur up from this graphic? 

From them I have learned to appreciate the critical place of zoos as oases in urban environments where people can have some of the wonder of rounding a bend in the path and sighting a rarely seen animal, or hearing -- off in the distance -- a sound that begs for further exploration.  Aside from the "cool" factor of seeing animals from other continents that marked my experience with zoos as a kid, I never really considered how critical zoos are for connecting people with animals and their conservation as we increasingly urbanize our populations around the world.

I am fortunate to have spent the bulk of my life in rural or near-rural settings with easy access to vast expanses of undeveloped, or at least under-developed, nature, as it were.  Thus, rounding the bend to espy a bear or moose or elk or deer or coyote or fox, or whatever, has been a rather routine experience for me.  Similarly, being in a place where the quiet stands out for being so silent, only to be broken now and again with cries of birds, insects, or other animals is not uncommon for me.  But now with my experience on the board, when I am wandering the grounds of the zoo I am struck about how essential that place must be for the many who aren't able to experience the world in the way I am when I am out fishing...or just out.

I am prompted to say these things by this essay from the NY Times, which appeared over the weekend.  Those who run the real zoos have made huge strides in how animal behavior and welfare are enhanced by modern exhibits, husbandry, and veterinary care.  Even so, there are those who question whether zoos should exist at all.  However, as I experience the zoo with newfound appreciation, and when I consider arguments such as those advanced by this essay, I cannot imagine a world where these magnificent artifices did not exist to connect urban and suburban dwellers to animals and their conservation.

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A Clear Focus on the Human-Animal Bond

by Bryan 3. February 2012 12:05

From time to time I have commented on the artistic creativity that abounds among the people of our college, and this post returns to that theme.  As before, though, even though the theme is the same, the content is very different.

Holly Irish is a 4th year vet student from Sequim.  She is the latest to have her work exhibited in the Animal Health Library series as part of our Art in the Library.  Here is an example if this collection, in which Holly explores the human-animal bond through stills.

I really like her blending of color and black and white to draw out the connections between people and animals.  When I look at her photographs it is very easy for me to feel the many different depictions she draws from her subjects' bond and fascination with animals.

Many more of these photographs can be seen, of course, in the library if you live here or get the chance to visit Pullman in the next few months.  Until then, you can see a few more here, where you can also learn more about Holly.

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Weather Whiplash

by Bryan 2. February 2012 15:16

The view from my "office" two weeks ago (Naples, FL): 

The view from my office a week ago:

After all that snow, most of which has already gone, it now seems like Winter is on its way out on the Palouse.  I'm ready for Spring.

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