The Pet Psychic: $300 an hour for a phone consultation? Sadly, Yes.

March 11, 2008

Robert Todd Carroll, author of the excellent The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions and the website, recently posted an expansion of his article on “Animal Quackers” that’s must reading for all dog owners.

Carroll defines an animal quacker as someone “who applies quackery to animals, such as holistic massage therapy for dogs and horses; reiki and therapeutic touch for pets; and acupuncture, aromatherapy, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy for animals of all sorts, and either the ability to communicate psychically with pets or to do scientific tests that prove the psychic ability of dogs.”

Read about Sonya Fitzpatrick’s incisive, revealing consultation for the Cleveland Plain Dealers‘ Dog Lady columnist, Monica Collins, plus a good collection of links to the explore the topic further.

Fitzpatrick, a former model with no credentials in animal behavior or nutrition, uses her psychic readings to push her line of pet food, Sonya Fitzpatrick’s Omega Natural and HealthGUARD Dog vitamins, was once visited by St. Francis of Assissi, assures you that via reincarnation your beloved pets can return to you, and can do a psychic reading of your dog from a photograph.

That last part I completely agree with: Sonya’s “reading” whether from an in-person, or in-pet interview, or from a blurry snap shot will have precisely the same accuracy and value. (I’m thinking of a round number here, are you psychic enough to read my mind? Why, yes, you’re absolutely correct: Zero!).

For extra credit, send an email to the Pet Parent’s Network and request the clinical trials that support their claims. Two that I found especially amusing were “Encourages Eye Development” and “Promotes Alertness and Brain Function.” How exactly were these results measured? Oh, and of course, their supplements will boost your dog’s immune system, though I defy you to find a single “nutraceutical” supplement that doesn’t make this specious claim.

” . . .the whole notion of ‘immune-boosting’ is seriously flawed: your immune system isn’t a muscle that you can strengthen by exercise or diet. The only remotely plausible step you can take to strengthen immunity is to get vaccinated.”  

This is from Steven Salzberg’s blog entry, Boost your immune system?Why should you take his word over Sonya Fitzpatrick’s?

Well, Salzberg is a Professor at the University of Maryland studying bioinformatics, genomics, and evolution. He’s also the Director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. His Ph.D. is from Harvard University and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from Yale University.

Then again, although a handsome guy, Steve was never a model, so Sonya’s one up on him there.

Pet Food: A Dog’s Breakfast – Canadian TV documentary

February 7, 2008


–from the CBC web site


Do we really know what we’re feeding our pets? In the Spring of 2007, pet owners across North America were devastated when upwards of 50,000 of their beloved pet dogs and cats fell seriously ill after eating tainted pet food. Many of the animals died. Menu Foods of Toronto, the manufacturer, initiated the biggest recall of pet food in North American history.

In the wake of the scandal, the trust pet food makers so carefully nurtured with pet lovers has been severely shaken, and the $16 billion dollar pet food industry has come under public scrutiny as never before. Pet owners and governments are asking: Is pet food both nutritious, and safe? Does it live up to the claims of its makers? Is the industry adequately regulated?

Yap films’ new documentary, PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, investigates, and discovers that a ‘dog’s breakfast’ may be just that.

This exposé takes viewers inside the world of pet food manufacturing and is essential viewing for every pet owner.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST features critics of the industry, foremost among them Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, a California vet, and insider who used to work in the pet food industry. She says the recall of food made by Menu Foods of Toronto is a sign of larger problems. “Unfortunately the pet food industry is cutting corners, is not doing the testing it says it’s doing, is not using the quality of ingredients it wants pet owners to believe are in that bag and can, and is not forthcoming with pet owners about those facts. It is not a truthful industry.”

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST profiles three pet owners who say their pets have been made ill or died as a result of eating tainted food. They are plaintiffs in class action lawsuits seeking to recover not only money spent on vet bills, but also compensation for the emotional trauma they have suffered. One of the owners, Jovanna Kovacevic of Toronto, says, “You get very close to a cat. It’s not just an animal, it’s a member of your family. One of her cats died after eating food that was later recalled. Another is still sick and needs ongoing, and ruinously expensive, veterinary care. “It’s not my fault”, she says, “so you want them to pay for their mistakes. You’re angry.”

As Vancouver class action lawyer Lucianna Brasil explains, the claim for emotional damages indicates how our view of pets has changed over the past decades. Animals used to be thought of as companions. Now they are more like members of the family – like substitute children. In fact, about two thirds of pet owners are childless. Even though under the current law, pets are considered ‘property’, the pet food industry strongly promotes the view that pets are family members and markets its products on that basis.

Critics also say there is a big gap between how the companies want consumers to perceive their product and what it actually is. Pet food commercials and labels show fetchingly presented ingredients that humans would be happy to eat. The pet food industry often refers to its products as “human grade’. But Elizabeth Hodgkins says this kind of marketing is misleading. “I think many pet owners would be very surprised to learn about the ingredients that are actually going into the can or the bag of food that they’re feeding to their pet. They would be shocked.” Hodgkins goes into the kitchen to reveal the secrets of what’s actually in your pet’s food and how it’s made.

Dr. Meg Smart, of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, says that expensive pet foods labelled ‘premium’ are often no better or different than cheaper food. The program tests that assertion in a feed testing lab. And Smart also brews a strange concoction, made of old leather boots, wood shavings and motor oil, which in theory could pass one of the minimum standards for pet food, even though it’s inedible. Smart – an educator of veterinarians – also warns that many vets don’t know as much about pet food as consumers think they do. The program offers advice for those wondering what they should be feeding their pets.

As seen in PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, there is a growing call among consumer activists for greater regulation that will bring the pet food industry to heel. Your pet’s life may depend on it.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST is produced by yap films in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Are Pet Owner’s Healthier? Maybe Not. . .

February 2, 2008

Fuzzy Science
By January W. Payne
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

People spend billions annually on their pets — feeding, grooming, even clothing their animals. They play with them, sleep with them, approve surgery for them and mourn for them, much as they would for people.

But does owning a pet make people healthier? Popular assumptions notwithstanding, science is still out on that question.

A new study out of Finland suggests the answer may be no. Pet owners, the study finds, smoke cigarettes more but drink alcohol less than those without pets. They also have a higher body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight relative to height. Pet owners spend slightly less time playing organized sports than non-owners but take part more often in such activities as hunting, fishing and boating. Pet owners are also less likely to report having good health than non-owners.

The findings point in a different direction from many previous studies, which have suggested that pet owners enjoy such health advantages as lower cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure than non-owners, even after accounting for such variables as exercise. Previous studies also have shown that owning pets may relieve feelings of loneliness and encourage pet owners to exercise more, spend more time outdoors and socialize more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But this area of research is filled with inconsistencies, with one study’s findings often contradicting another’s.

And because many of the studies are of poor quality and not much funding goes to finding new answers, said James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, “much of this is speculation”– meaning more research needs to be done to find definitive answers. What seems most promising, he said, is the idea that pets offer social support — something that can affect how people deal with stress, which is known to impact health.

“At some level it seems obvious to me [that pets are] providing exactly the same types of support as” other social networks, including family and friends, Serpell said. Still, “while we like our friends and our family, they’re likely a source of conflict, but most animals are not. Most animals give but don’t take much.”

Gold-standard evidence of pets’ benefits to human physical and mental well-being may be scant, but examples of their use for health purposes are not. For decades, household animals have been used to assist patients with medical conditions such as blindness or seizures, as well as to relieve depression and social isolation. But when the National Institutes of Health last thoroughly explored the health benefits of pet ownership 20 years ago, its experts hedged.

“Persuasive evidence was presented to conclude that pets are likely to be medically beneficial to some people’s health,” they wrote in a consensus statement. “However, much is to be learned about many of these relationships before broad generalizations of medical benefit can be made.” No comparable group of experts has since been convened to reexamine the question.

The health differences found between pet owners and non-owners in the Finnish study, published in December in the online medical journal PLoS ONE, were small and may not apply to Americans, the authors say. What’s more, the study found a “difference only in the proportions of people reporting ‘good perceived health’ and not in the proportion reporting ‘bad health,’ ” said lead study author Leena Koivusilta, a researcher at the University of Turku, in an e-mail interview.

“We wanted to report the slight differences” between the pet owners and non-owners who both reported good perceived health “but, at the same time, to make sure that no ‘larger than life’ interpretations could be made,” Koivusilta said.

Her analysis was based on a survey of more than 21,000 Finnish people who responded to a questionnaire as part of a 15-year health and social support study. Eighty percent of those who had pets reported good perceived health, compared with 82 percent of those without pets. Twenty-eight percent of pet owners smoked regularly, compared with 23 percent of non-owners; 33 percent of pet owners smoked occasionally, compared with 32 percent of non-owners; and 39 percent didn’t smoke, compared with 45 percent of non-owners.

But overall, pet owners in the study also were less educated than non-owners, suggesting that any health benefits observed might be due to socioeconomic status rather than pet ownership, the researchers said.

“The grand message of the study could be that pets provide us all with a vast potential for health promotion as has been shown previously,” Koivusilta said. “Walking your dog makes you feel better, for your sake and for your hairy friend’s sake, and perhaps also helps you to lose some weight.”

Some research has suggested that pets offer social support that acts as a stress reliever, which affects health. One such study, published in 2001 in the journal Hypertension, found that pet owners had lower blood pressure readings when undergoing mental stress than people who did not own pets.

A 1995 American Journal of Cardiology study reported that dog ownership by men was associated with decreased risk of death within one year of a heart attack, compared with those who didn’t own dogs. A 1999 Journal of the American Geriatric Society study found that men and women who owned a pet scored better on a scale that measures the ability to complete daily tasks — such as bathing and dressing themselves, preparing food and walking several blocks — than peers who didn’t own a pet.

In 2005 BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published a review examining studies that helped popularize the idea that pet ownership positively affects human health. The review found that while some studies reported pet-owning benefits such as better physical and psychological well-being in the elderly and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, many later studies failed to confirm these findings.

Given this inconsistency, the BMJ review suggested that researchers focus less on whether owning a pet offers measurable health benefits and instead on how pets affect individual quality of life and how humans are affected by a pet’s death.

Future research also should tackle more specific questions, gleaned from what’s already known. “If pets are another form of social support, [then] we should start to ask more directed kinds of questions about the kinds of people who would be more likely to benefit from having a pet — maybe the kinds of people who don’t have a strong social support network,” Serpell said.

Have you heard about the Zombie Dogs?

February 1, 2008

Science marches on. What would you think of a process that drains the blood from your dog, replaces it with an artificial fluid, then returns the blood and has that same dog fetch some brains for you?

The Zombie Dogs of Pittsburgh. It sounds ghoulish or like someone’s idea of a sick joke, especially given that this is the hometown of George Romero, whose most recent film was Land of the Dead. But the Zombie Dogs are real. Sort of.

“It’s so unfair and so bizarre,” Dr. Patrick Kochane, of the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Pittsburgh said. “Somebody must have thought the title ‘zombie dog’ would be a catchy phrase.” But the researcher adds, “That is the farthest thing from what we are doing.” It sounds like a complete denial that science is crossing the line into the unholy Black Arts and seeking to create an army of unstoppable canine zombie warriors. Cool as that might be. . .

The point is to save human beings who have suffered cardiac arrest or massive blood loss. As they have for centuries medical science has turned to the dog for experimentation. We get to do this since we are King of the Jungle. The calculation has always been that if a few dogs die helping conquer human disease, this is a price we’re willing to have dogs pay for us.

Given that some 4 million cats and dogs a year are euthanized in the US and their deaths don’t assist our research at all. (But some of them come back as pet food).

It works out that a cat or dog is put to death every 8 seconds in our animal shelters. The cost of this is around $1 billion dollars a year, (and you know that Animal Control Officers are never the highest paid municipal employees).

We’re actually doing a lot better these days, in the new millennium and some 10 years or so after the rise of “Dog Culture.” In the 1970s it is estimated that the kill rate was 13.5 million a year. And we had to listen to disco music, too.

The figures from 2006 are that there are 50 million US households that have a total of 73 million dogs in them. Proof that we live in a cruel and indifferent universe, there also are 90 million ‘owned cats.’

From the dog’s perspective, let’s consider what’s called ‘clinical death.’ Your heart stops beating, you stop breathing and all brain activity ceases. That’s what these Zombie Dogs were revived from, clinical death. Creepy, right? The 24 dogs in this experiment had their circulatory systems flushed with an ice-cold salt solution that would bring their core body temperatures down to 50 degrees from a normal 102 degrees.

Our Zombie Dogs were in a state of suspended-animation (just like Buck Rodgers). The difference being that if you are revived intact, it was suspended-animation. If not, it’s just an extra salty clinical death.

The big news out of the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Pittsburgh was that they had set a new duration record: 3 hours! They achieved this by adding tiny amounts of glucose and dissolved oxygen to the cold saline solution. They were revived by pumping warm blood back into their bodies and giving them a small electric shock. Told of the findings, Keith Richards expressed immediate interest.

The report says the dogs emerged without brain injury. So these dogs were clinically dead for three hours and came back. . .normal. Not hungry for brains, for instance.

The goal is to get this procedure to a stage where it can be tried on humans, as a way of stabilizing someone who’s seriously injured so doctors can, for example, locate bleeding sites and repair them. Suspended animation for even a short duration would have a major impact. Thus, people who before would have bled to death before medical intervention could take place would now have a much greater chance of survival. Then they’ll have to put up with a lot of Zombie-related ribbing.


George A. Romero’s fifth entry in his zombie series, Diary of the Dead opened on Feb. 15, 2008. Click here for the New York Times review.


It’s a good time to be a fan of zombies.

Zombies are making a huge come back these days in films and popular culture. People go on organized Zombie Walks. Max Brooks’ two books The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z strike just the right tone and are darkly hilarious. Max was a writer for Saturday Night Live and is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. If you haven’t read ’em, buy ’em today! Tell them necessity sent ya’. World War Z has been optioned for the movies and should be filmed like a Ric Burns’ documentary. The straighter this material is handled, the better.

The Zombie costume is now featured along side your Freddy Krueger’s, your Frankenstein’s monster, your Sexy Witch in all the Halloween catalogs. There’s a great comic book about zombies being published by Image, The Walking Dead.

Of course, Pittsburgh’s George Romero will always be known as the creator of the modern-day zombie conventions. You really do have to overlook the skilion or so low-budget zombie horror exploitation flicks. Zombies are among the cheapest monster effects in film, so it makes sense that this theme would be exploited by filmmakers with limited budgets. There are only a handful of ‘straight’ zombie pictures that are worth your time. The four Romero films, certainly: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead.

You’ll get some nit-picking over details (fast moving zombies vs. their classic shuffling walk or the victims of rage plague vs. the truly undead) but I would include 28 Days Later, the remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004 by Zack Snyder, the Resident Evil series with the incomparable Milla Jovovoch and Carnival of Souls on the list. This last one will send the fan boys over the edge.

There really aren’t zombies in COS, just the undead who keep popping in for inopportune visits, though they do fit under the low-budget make-up rule. The actors playing the ‘souls’ wear little more than white pancake make-up to indicate their status. And they are in constant pursuit of the heroine, a beautiful blonde church organist. At one point in the film she plays some ‘unholy music’ (could it have been Ina Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly? No, that was a Simpson’s episode: “Hey Marge, remember when we used to make out to this hymn?” ).

Afterwards, she is remonstrated by a priest.

There’s also a distinction between stories where animals can be affected, as with Resident Evil’s undead dobermans and crows and zombie worlds where only humans are involved like the excellent comic book series The Walking Dead, written by Robert Kirkman.

The reason I find a good zombie film satisfying is probably part of the same paranoid thinking that leads me to identify with all the screen versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing (from Outer Space). Because in my own delusional way, this is how I see the world. There are a (very) few awake and thinking people, who need to band together for protection, surrounded by an ocean of soulless consumers and sheep who want to make us behave just like them. And in a zombie film the ‘monster’ is everyone around you; neighbors, family, strangers from two towns over. This also seems to be the case in the alleged ‘Real World.’ We echo Dr. Kochane here: “It’s so unfair and so bizarre.”

Source: “Pitt scientists resurrect hope of cheating death” by Jennifer Bails
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Wednesday, June 29, 2005

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