College of Veterinary Medicine

From the Dean


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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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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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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Elegance of Cat Lapping Reverse Engineered

by Bryan 12. November 2010 09:17

I am prodded out of my blogging torpor by this article in the NY Times.  Readers know that I'm fond of cats.  And, it doesn't get much better than when I can merge cats with science.  Especially when it highlights their superiority over dogs...

These guys from M.I.T., V.P.I., and Princeton, used high speed video to study the hydrodynamics of drinking in cats.  The study was incited by one of them observing his family cat, Cutta Cutta, drinking.  Being a curious sort, the study was on.  Once they figured out the basics, being engineers and scientists they had to generalize and predict, so they developed models and took more measurements on bigger cats (lions, jaguars) to test their predictions.  Cutta Cutta lapped 4 times per second, with a tongue speed of 1 meter/second.  Their predictions were that these would slow down in larger cats -- which is what they observed.  In addition, they modified a robot to successfully mimick the hydrodynamics of this process.

Cool...and they even got a Science paper out of it, the summary of which reads in part:  "...laps by a subtle mechanism based on water adhesion to the dorsal side of the tongue. A combined experimental and theoretical analysis reveals that Felis catus exploits fluid inertia to defeat gravity and pull liquid into the mouth. This competition between inertia and gravity sets the lapping frequency and yields a prediction for the dependence of frequency on animal mass..."

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Those Darn Cats

by Bryan 26. July 2010 11:37

I came across this story in the NY Times yesterday and it made me think of Barkley, about the sweetest old tom cat you ever ran across (unless you were another tom).  Barkley (who our son named for the dog on Sesame Street) started out life as a feral cat living in the draw along side our house when we lived in Vermont.  After spending a couple of weeks in the attic over the garage (a long story...perhaps for another post) he lived under the chair in the den for the next couple of months of domesticated life.  He would hiss and spit upon any approach.  To this day, I doubt if we would have tamed him except that he got deathly ill (one of those cat things that you never really figure out, provide support, and they get better or they don't; if they get better, they've used up one of their nine lives).  He was so ill he couldn't effectively fend us off and so we were able to begin handling him.  After about four months of this uneasy co-existence, in the late winter, he was at least tolerating our presence and so we decided we had to test whether he had adopted us or not.  We put him out and left the door open.  Several hours later he came back.  A few months later he was on a plane to his new life in Pullman.

One of the things in the NY Times story that struck a chord with me was the end-of-life decision for Scuzzi that paralleled our experience with Barkley.  The author's description encapsulates well the issues surrounding euthanasia for which veterinarians must be ready to engage their clients.  However, it specifically resonated because of Barkley.  He used up a couple more of his nine lives in the 13 years he lived in Pullman, but there came that time when he was about 15 years old that a lymphoma reared up, and spread rapidly.  Our kids had grown up with him and so the decision was tough, but in the end he stayed home with us, getting general supportive care and fluids, until we agreed his quality of life was no longer there and if we kept him alive longer it would be for us and not him.  And, like Scuzzi, he got the shoebox burial in the back yard so we all could say goodbye and keep him around close.

He'll always be a great cat.

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I Knew There Was A Reason I Liked Cats

by Bryan 21. October 2009 06:43

The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) has the most interesting statistics.  In this issue from about 6 months ago (which I just uncovered in a fit of office cleaning over the weekend) is an analysis of "Nonfatal Fall-Related Injuries Associated with Dogs and Cats -- United States, 2001-2006."  Note that these are injuries do to a fall, not due to bite or clawing wounds.

First I knew that such statistics were tracked.

There are many nuggets in here and so the whole report is worth a look.  Table 2 has the bottom line for estimates of rate of injury.  Some of the notable findings (notable to me at least) are that people are injured by pet-caused falls at a rate of 26 per 100,000 population.  The estimated total of injuries is more than 76,000 annually.  Women are more than twice as likely to be injured (or report injuries?) than men.  Although the absolute number of injuries is smaller, the highest rate of injury is in people greater than 75 years of age (more than twice the total average rate of injury).  The most common injury is a fracture, with an estimated annual total of more than 26,500 pet-induced fractures due to falls (31% of total).

Most of these injuries were dog-induced.  As you might guess, most injuries were caused by tripping over the pet, but a significant number reported being pulled or pushed by their pet.  Only 20 people are estimated to be injured each year in an attack by a cat, whereas nearly 15 times that number are injured by dog attack.  Almost 1,000 people are estimated to be injured while "running from" a dog, but only 43 "running from" a cat.

Finally, a significant number of injuries are estimated in the category of "fell over pet item".

As a cat owner this gives me comfort, but tongue-in-cheekness aside, this is the first published thorough analysis of injuries due to pet-induced falls and is worthy of your attention.

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A Not-So-Bright Cat?

by Bryan 20. September 2009 23:01
A quick post to pass along a video clip of a cat that probably is not the brightest bulb in the feline world.  Either that or this is one of the most mellow, laid back cats in the world.  My daughter sent this along and I just had to share... 

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Domestic Dogs

by Bryan 13. September 2009 18:21

I recently came across a very interesting analysis of the history of the domestication of dogs in the NY Times a week ago.

Two things struck me about this story.  First, although there are dissenting opinions, the conclusion of the recent study that motivated this story was that all modern domestic dogs arose from a single domestication of wolves in Southern China.  The second thing that struck me is that the state of life science research is such that it is possible to seek and find the answers to such complicated questions about the development of human cultures...amazing.

The conclusion of this study was based on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA from dogs around the world.  Although it is speculative -- and very far outside of how we view dogs in our society -- the authors of the study go on to suggest that the domestication of dogs was for the same reason as humans domesticated other species: food and fiber.  They further speculated that their rapid spread from their origin suggests that domestic dogs became useful for other reasons not related to eating them -- certainly most cultures have not, and do not now, use dogs for food.  Also interesting is the idea that dogs "domesticated themselves" by starting to hang out on the fringes of early human communities.  See this NOVA transcript for a bit more on this notion by Dr. Coppinger, who is noted in the Times article. 

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The Old Cat

by Bryan 7. September 2009 12:26

Kali (clever name, huh?) is our old cat; sixteen and still a spitfire. 

In the fall of 1993 she showed up in the McCoy 203 classroom (no longer in use -- but that's for another post) as a kitten looking for a home.  I believe it was Kevin Sheehy, Class of 1996, who brought her in; she was from a litter that had been abandoned on their doorstep.  I immediately called Kathy to ask if I could bring her home.  Our daughter was not quite 3 at the time, so Kali became her "baby".  We took Sarah off to college last week, so now Kali just has the two of us to fuss over her. 

These days she's helping to keep our veterinary teaching hospital afloat as she has been in for a series of checks and re-checks.  Interestingly, as sometimes happens with diabetic cats receiving insulin, one day a few weeks ago she simply no longer needed insulin after about 2 years of twice-daily injections.  That has simplified things at home immensely (also, no special diet to segregate from the other cats).  She's substituted a mild hyperthyroidism, but that's OK.   

She doesn't range far from home now -- that spot on the deck in the picture above is about it for outside activity.  She's still got attitude, even if she is a bit slower to get around; she can still hiss with the best of them at Dr. Mickas as he ministers to her.

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by Bryan 10. August 2009 06:59

Another blog, another this case the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years act, known officially as HR 3501, recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. McCotter of Michigan.  This bill would amend the Internal Revenue Service code to allow up to $3,500 in deduction for expenses "paid in connection with providing care (including veterinary care) for a qualified pet".  I have not explored the bill in depth to discover what "care" other than veterinary care would be allowed, but I presume this would mean such things as "doggie day care", grooming, and so on.

More details, including a link to the text of the bill, can be found hereI will mostly let this pass without comment, although in spite of the importance of our cats to my family, my recognition of the changing role of companion animals in society, and my involvement in this profession, I am still taking a bit of a sideways glance at this.

I am very curious as to what you might think.  Is this a good idea in general?  What about the proposed deduction in relation to the structure of the deduction to your own health care costs?  Do you think this would, in fact, increase pet care utilization, for the benefit of the pet?

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