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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Good Death

Elke (center) and friends
Dear Mia, 

Elke’s passing has given us all pause. Not only is there the missing of who she is -- her apple core eating and play-spinning ways -- but it also makes me examine the purpose of our pen pal blog. Being “real” about dogs and being “science” about dogs are not separate from one another; they are part of the same coin. Maybe that’s obvious, but I’m very happy (if that’s the right word) that you shared Elke’s life and passing here on Do You Believe in Dog?. From the feedback on Facebook, others agree. 

I used to have conversations with my childhood dog, Brandy. We would lie next to one another as if we were girlfriends at a slumber party, and I would explain to her that if she ever died, I would kill her. I wanted her to understand that death wasn’t a viable option for her. She would have to find something else to do when she got old. 

Playing, "Find the real dog" with Brandy
Death is universal. It is not unique or unordinary. We bring companion animals into our lives knowing that there is a finite time we will be together. But what I do think is notable about Elke (and Brandy’s) deaths, is that they were "good" deaths. They didn’t experience prolonged discomfort or drawn out pain and suffering. How animals die is part of end-of-life care, regardless of whether we are talking about companion animals, lab animals or farm animals. This is why, when I heard about the work of Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, I paused and took interest.

Stephanie LaFarge runs the ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline which offers:
  • Assistance with the decision to euthanize. 
  • Comfort and support at the time of euthanasia. 
  • Help with grieving the loss. 
  • Advice on dealing with children, the elderly or disabled individuals who are facing a death of a companion animal. 
  • Helping the surviving animals in the household to cope.
  • Assistance in establishing a relationship with a new pet. 
The first area, “Assistance with the decision to euthanize” is incredibly important. They explain: Coping with the impending loss of a pet is one of the most difficult experiences a pet parent will face. Whether your furry friend is approaching his golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s important to calmly guide the end-of-life experience and minimize any discomfort or distress.” 

(Source)
Nowadays, it can be possible to extend a loved pet's life, which can be awesome! But sometimes the question becomes, "Are there any costs? Are we minimizing discomfort and distress?" 

There is nothing easy about end-of-life decisions, but a good death is as important as a good life.
  
Big hugs, 

Julie 


Monday, 23 September 2013

Pet loss, grief and bereavement: Resources

(source)
When Dogs Die: Resources

We have been overwhelmed by the response of the Do You Believe in Dog? community to the death of Mia's dog, Elke. It's obvious this has struck a chord because so many people can relate to this emotional time of losing a much loved canine companion. 

Thank you all for your messages of sympathy and support. 

We decided to compile some resources to help you, or a friend, prepare for and cope with this difficult (and inevitable) part of sharing our lives with dogs.

Understanding Grief: The Australian centre for grief and bereavement offer excellent information on their website. We have included some key excerpts and links.

About Grief
Suggestions to help you get through this difficult time: 
  • Create a memorial - do or make something to honour your loved one.
  • Develop your own rituals - light a candle, listen to special music, make a special place to think.
  • Allowing yourself to express your thoughts and feelings privately can help. Write a letter or a poem (or a blog post!), draw, collect photos, cry.
  • Exercise - do something to use pent-up energy, walk, swim, garden, chop wood.
  • Draw on religious and spiritual beliefs, if this is helpful.
  • Read about other people's experience - find books and articles.
  • Do things that are relaxing and soothing.
  • Some holistic or self care ideas that may assist include meditation, distractions, relaxation, massage, aromatherapy and warmth.
  • To help with sleeplessness: exercise, limit alcohol, eat well before sleeping, and try to have a routine.
(source)
Sharing with other people can reduce the sense of isolation and aloneness that comes with grief.

  • Allow people to help you, don't be embarrassed to accept their help. You will be able to help someone else at another time. It is your turn now. 
  • Talk to family and friends; sharing memories and stories, thoughts and feelings can be comforting and strengthen our connection with our loved one. 
  • Consider joining a support group to share with others who have had similar experiences.
  • Talk with a counsellor to focus on your unique situation, to find support and comfort, and to find other ways to manage, especially when either your life or your grief seems to be complicated and particularly difficult. 
Advice from the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement:
 
Explaining Death to Children:


Fact Sheets and Support Services:

Our journeys with dogs are incredibly personal. End-of-life feelings and decisions can have similar elements. We hope these resources prove useful.

Mia and Julie

Further reading:
Fuhr N. & Ruthven I. (2012) Grieving online: the use of search engines in times of grief and bereavement, Proceedings of the 4th Information Interaction in Context Symposium, 120. DOI:

Planchon L.A. & Templer D.I. (1996). The Correlates of Grief after Death of Pet, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 9 (2) 107-113. DOI:

Packman W., Field N.P., Carmack B.J. & Ronen R. (2011). Continuing Bonds and Psychosocial Adjustment in Pet Loss, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 16 (4) 341-357. DOI:

© 2013 | Do You Believe in Dog?
Things that make me cry #782: what do I do with my apple cores now?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

When dogs die: the science of sad

Farewell to Elke
Ah, Julie...
I’m not even really sure where to start. 

"On Sunday I sat outside in the sun, stroking Elke's so-soft ears, while my husband patted her long, sleek back, and we farewelled our first girl. We learned on Friday that her liver and spleen were full of cancer. We are so grateful to have shared 12.5yrs with her and will miss her dearly." is what my Facebook status update said.
But let's start at the beginning...


Little Elke-Moo and her
cow hips, at RSPCA
I met Elke (pronounced Ell-kee) when I was in my third week of employment in the RSPCA shelter. What a sucker I was! She was seized as part of a cruelty case from a property where an elderly man with dementia had over forty dogs. Because of the dementia, the dogs weren’t receiving proper care and he sometimes fed them chicken pellets. Of her litter, Elke was the only survivor. She looked like a 5 week old puppy but she was actually 12 weeks old. 

She was always small. Our ‘bonsai pointer’, we called her. We joked that she was little, but could lay a good egg.  My boyfriend at the time and I had been speaking about getting a dog, and pointers had come up as a breed we were interested in – he wanted a dog to run with him. After three weeks of rehabilitation at RSPCA, she came home with me. I was 23 years old. Since then, she has been a fixture in the landscape of our lives - through house moves, our engagement and marriage, the death of my father, the arrival of our daughter, the comings and goings of oh-so-many other dogs (occupational hazard!).

Elke and my daughter - a fantastic introduction to dogs

Elke was energetic, excitable and hilarious. She wasn't perfect, but neither were we. We were a perfect match. She realised, as a young dog, that she could redirect attention to herself if visitors were over, by trawling our dirty clothes basket for recent underwear and then parading it through the lounge room for everyone to see. 


Post-beach snooze with our other dog, Caleb

She didn’t like thunderstorms or fireworks. She loved running off lead at the park, the beach or through the bush and she adored retrieving. She would regularly throw herself into water without stopping to check for a way out. One time I had to walk along a river back for about 500m while she swam and we looked for a place where she could scramble up the riverbank to get out again!

We took Elke to obedience training and she taught us so much. Elke was also more than our pet. She helped as a friendly adult dog at puppy preschool classes, she posed as a jaunty model as Australia legislated for the end of tail docking, she tried to distract trainee guide dogs and she visited nursing homes as a certified visiting therapy dog. They were all things we did together, my spotty dog and I.

Elke loved playing swim-retrieve in the water
 She and our other dog Caleb were very close. They had a silly play ritual they indulged in every day. Twice a day. A close-quarters mouthing and growling game that ended in howling calamity. It was sometimes annoying (working from home, it wasn’t always compatible with work-related phone calls!), but always made me smile. But now our house is very quiet.

We all loved time at the beach

We didn’t know Elke was sick until a week before she was euthanased. We took her to the vet, her temperature was up, a blood sample was taken, antibiotics were commenced. We didn’t know just how sick she was until two days before. What we did know, was that she was getting older, slowing down, not hearing the thunderstorms any more – and we knew she wouldn’t live forever. But 'that day' always seems - in the future.

Instant couch-rights
When the vet rang me on Friday (the 13th) to advise that the ultrasound showed Elke’s liver and spleen were full of cancer, I was interstate at a conference aiming to eliminate the euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets in Australia. I was told that there were no options. Elke was comfortable, but at risk of bleeding internally and needed to be kept quiet with minimal activity. Euthanasia was not required immediately, but certainly the recommended course of action to avoid a slow and painful death by haemorrhage. I made the appointment for the day after I was due home and cried in my hotel room until there were no tissues left.

Sunday morning was a beautiful morning in Melbourne. The sun was out. I sat with Elke and my just-turned-3-year-old daughter in our garden. We talked about Elke being sick and that she was going to die. She asked hard questions. I did my best to answer them. We weren’t able to play retrieve, but passed Elke little sticks and she crunched them in her teeth. I took some last photos of the two of them – my girls – who have enjoyed a calm and positive relationship. Then Pete and I took Elke to the vet. She was given a mild sedative and we walked outside into the vet clinic’s garden (she never really liked veterinary consult’ rooms). We placed her bed on the grass in the sun, while she walked and sniffed. As the sedation took effect, I helped her settle onto her bed and she relaxed, dozing in the sun. Pete gently stroked her back. I had her relaxed head cushioned in my lap, savouring the sensation of her silky soft ears against my fingertips, one last time. She didn’t even notice the needle that entered the vein in her leg with the overdose of anaesthetic. It really was the perfect euthanasia.

Elke was doing selfies pre-Facebook - circa 2003

Now Elke is gone, and we’re adjusting to this changed landscape of our lives.

Despite all the dogs that have lived in our home, for days or for years, Elke is the first dog that we have owned from puppyhood through to old age. In some ways, this is helping me cope with her death.  With other dogs I think I’ve felt an element of anger that we had met too late for them to live their best life, or been robbed of time together through unexpected illness taking them too soon. But today, I’m trying to take comfort in the fact that Elke lived a fabulous and full life with us; her passing was as peaceful and stress free as any of us could hope for. I’m so grateful that our daughter had Elke to share her infancy with. 

It still hurts. In ways that bubble up unexpectedly. And I know that’s OK. Grief is messy. It’s individual and it takes as long as it takes. Time plays a critical role and will not be rushed.

Spooning in 2003.
Still besties in 2013.
Research over the past 25 years has shown us that grieving for a pet follows the same reactions and involves the same emotional responses as dealing with a human loss. People who have lost a pet commonly experience intense feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety, disbelief, depression, panic, relief or even numbness. The act of consenting to euthanasia has been found to be particularly disturbing for some owners, who feel they have betrayed a trust by choosing death over life. Of course, grief responses to death of companion animals is linked to the strength of attachment we have with them, but we should not trivialise, nor brush aside our response to the death of our pets.

Animals are important to us and the grief we experience when they die is real.
We should be gentle to ourselves.

Acknowledging this and permitting ourselves to react (however we need to) is important. Letting our support networks (friends, family, colleagues) know how we feel and letting them help us in return is also important. If time isn’t helping, or you lack a support network, seek further help, from your doctor or a professional counsellor. The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement has helpful information about grief here. The number of friends who have sent me kind messages, called to see how we're doing this week or even driven over just to give me a hug has shown me that a) Elke was a dog whose reach was long, and that b) I have amazing friends and family!

And so, my friend, I’m off to give Caleb a big hug. Because amongst all the other sad (for Elke, for my daughter, for me) I’m sad that he may never get to do this again:


Mia

Do You Believe in Dog? will place further helpful resources about dealing with the grief associated with pet loss online soon.
My submitted proof that the sun did shine out of...
Further reading: 
Weisman A.D. (1990). Bereavement and Companion Animals, OMEGA--Journal of Death and Dying, 22 (4) 241-248. DOI:

Archer J. & Winchester G. (1994). Bereavement following death of a pet, British Journal of Psychology, 85 (2) 259-271. DOI:

Podrazik D., Shackford S., Becker L. & Heckert T. (2000). The Death of a Pet: Implications for Loss and Bereavement Across the Lifespan, Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 5 (4) 361-395. DOI:

Smith A. (2012). Pet Loss and Human Emotion: What's New?, Death Studies, 36 (3) 292-297. DOI:

Field N., Orsini L., Gavish R. & Packman W. (2009). Role of Attachment in Response to Pet Loss, Death Studies, 33 (4) 334-355. DOI:

Crossley M. (2013). Pet Loss and Human Bereavement: A Phenomenological Study of Attachment and the Grieving Process., PhD Thesis, NC State University: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/8451

© 2013 Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog?

Monday, 9 September 2013

Robo-WOOF! What's happening in dog-human communication technology?

(Source)
Hey Julie,
Thank you for the gorgeous congratulations for winning I'm a Scientist, get me out of here! - what an amazing experience! So many students engaged in science and asking questions that made my head spin - fabulous, fabulous stuff! I learned so much!

One of the questions that came up a few times during the live chat sessions with student classes was about communication between dogs and people. I was asked "Do you think dogs will ever be able to talk to humans?" and "Why don't dogs talk? Why do they only bark?", as well as "Do dogs understand us? How?" and "Could we use technology to communicate with dogs?" - you see? They kept me on my toes!

My initial reactions were to say, "Dogs DO talk to us! They use their body language and their vocalisations extremely well, it's just that people aren't always fluent in listening to what they're telling us!" I also told them all about Chaser and her 1,200+ words, about the fact dogs' senses are different to ours (a much less visual, much more sniffy kind of a world).

Then one student said, "But what about this?":

 
Now Julie, I don't know about YOU, but somehow, I missed out on this 'BowLingual' device when it was launched in the early noughties. It's a: 
"computer-based dog-to-human language translation device developed by Japanese toy company Takara and first sold in Japan in 2002. Versions for South Korea and the United States were launched in 2003. The device was named by Time Magazine as a "Best Invention of 2002." The inventors of BowLingual, Keita Satoh, Dr. Matsumi Suzuki and Dr. Norio Kogure were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for "promoting peace and harmony between the species.
The device is presented as a "translator" but has been called an "emotion analyzer". It is said to use technology to categorize dog barks into one of six standardized emotional categories. BowLingual also provides a phrase which is representative of that emotion. The product instructions clearly state that these phrases "are for entertainment purposes only" and are not meant to be accurate translations of each bark."
I totally endorse all those disclaimers, especially after reading this review by Dr Sophia Yin, but also can't help thinking if this 'toy' device can register a dog's bark and then categorize the dog's mood as happy, sad, on guard, assertive, frustrated or needy - couldn't we just listen and do the same ourselves? I mean, you know that, right? You recently covered the latest scientific findings regarding what dogs' barks are telling us, over at Scientific American and The Bark (ha!).  

So why can't we just listen? Learn? I certainly know the difference between my dogs' barks as to whether there's someone strange approaching our front door versus a family member or if they're just playing when I'm down the other end of our house. I'm teaching my daughter to tell the difference too. She's learning and she's just turned three.  

So is it really that hard? Or are people just lazy?



On the definitely-not-a-toy side of things, a Google Glass researcher has teamed up with a Georgia Institute of Technology professor to create FIDO (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations) as wearable technology for working dogs to enable better communication with handlers. 


FIDO works by giving a service or detection dog a special sensor that can attach to its collar of a vest. The dog can interact with the sensor by biting, tugging or touching it with their nose and the handler will receive a corresponding signal ("bomb ahead", "hurricane alarm sounding" or "you have pancreatic cancer" are all examples given for different working dog contexts) as an audio or display cue. You can read more about FIDO in an interview with the professor from Georgia Tech here. 

Then there's the ICPooch, that's currently seeking funding via Kickstarter. The brain child of an entrepreneurial 13 year old (yep, you read that correctly) from the UK, the ICPooch promises to let you video talk with your dog (and deliver a treat cookie!) from anywhere in the world. 

Like this:





What do you think? Gimmick or something that has the potential to actually reduce separation anxiety in dog when their owners are away? Think dogs could potentially be remote trained by professional dog trainers? I wonder how well the dogs can actually SEE the display and whether they would respond differently to different people who 'dial in'. 

Very interested to hear your thoughts on this - hope you're well!

Mia

Further reading:

Tan D., Fitzpatrick G., Gutwin C., Begole B., Kellogg W.A., Paldanius M., Kärkkäinen T., Väänänen-Vainio-Mattila K., Juhlin O. & Häkkilä J. (2011) Communication technology for human-dog interaction: exploration of dog owners' experiences and expectations, Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2641. DOI:

Kerepesi A., Jonsson G.K., Miklósi Á., Topál J., Csányi V. & Magnusson M.S. (2005). Detection of temporal patterns in dog–human interaction, Behavioural Processes, 70 (1) 69-79. DOI:

© 2013 Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

We have a winner!

Think dogs and science don't mix?
Think again! 


This week, Mia of Do You Believe in Dog? beat out four other scientists (a computer engineer, a wine chemist, a space physicist and an explosives chemist - all males) for the winner's title in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!


This proves not only that dogs rule, but the people studying them know their stuff! 

Mia fielded a WIDE range of questions such as:


“Which is colder Pluto or Antarctica?”

Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/09/06/which-is-colder-pluto-or-antarctica/

“Are there any endangered breeds of dogs?”
Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/09/06/are-there-any-endangered-breeds-of-dogs/

"Is it possible to create zombies?"
Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/08/27/is-it-possible-to-create-zombies/

"Why do we have trouble sleeping sometimes?"
Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/08/25/why-do-we-have-trouble-sleeping-sometimes/

“What purpose does chocolate serve to us humans? Is it at all useful to other animals?”

“What is the most common disease for a dog to get?”
Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/08/27/what-is-the-most-common-disease-for-a-dog-to-get/



“Do you know what breed of dogs are the smartest type?”
Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/09/05/do-you-know-what-breed-of-dogs-are-the-smartest-type/

And a very thoughtful youngster asked, “Can a cat and a dog have babies? If they could would it be called a cog or a dat?” (Think Mia didn’t have an answer? Think again!)
Answer: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/2013/09/04/can-a-cat-and-a-dog-have-babies-if-they-could-would-it-be-called-a-cog-or-a-dat/


You can review more of the (426!) questions Mia and her Nitrogen Zone colleagues responded to here: http://nitrogena13.imascientist.org.au/questions

OF COURSE, Mia is not pocketing the $1,000 prize money. Instead, her winnings go towards science outreach: 

She's planning a GLOBAL school citizen science project (stay tuned for details), and Donating the remainder to the Australian Working Dog Alliance to be used to highlight the role of science in advancing the welfare of working dogs in Australia.


Congratulations, Mia!!!!

© 2013 Do You Believe in Dog?