Monday, May 31, 2010

A Vet Pushes His Dependency Model



This video is typical of how veterinarians are now selling a dependency model.

The message is not "if your dog is sick we can cure it." The message is that their wallet is empty and they you need you to fill it!

Watch the video.

This vet starts off with a generalized message about the importance of vaccines. He then goes on to note that he has been in practice for 30 years and never seen a case of distemper.

Does he explain why distemper is so rare these days? No he does not.

So let me explain it: Vaccines are good for life.

After that first round of vaccines given in Year One, your dog never needs a vaccine again other than a single rabies shot every three years.

And guess what? You can skip the vet for that rabies shot too.

You can get a rabies shot for $10 (complete) down at your local shelter, and without an $80 office charge tacked on to boot.

Notice that this vet never mentions any of this. He never says vaccines are good for the life of your dog. Instead he shilly-shallies around before finally changing tack:

"Bringing the dog in for vaccination is not about vaccination, but about bringing the dog in for an exam."



Eh? So vaccines are not about vaccines? They're about "exams"??

Bullshit.

Vaccines are about vaccines, and let's not get confused about that, eh?

Routine office exams are about bill padding and selling unnecessary medical services.

This vet says you need to bring in your dog twice a year "to see what's going on."

You can skip that.

I can tell you "what's going on" if you are bringing in your asymptomatic dog to the vet twice a year: A whole lot of junk billing.

For starters, every "well dog" visit is going to cost you $80 or more just for crossing the threshold. Nothing done at all, so far.

As I have noted in the past, however, once a veterinarian gets you through the front door, their staffs are trained to start pushing nail trims (a charge), useless Lyme disease tests for asymptomatic dogs (a charge).

They may suggest a "prescription diet" (which they just happen to sell), and they will try to toss in a "booster shot" every time they think they can get away with it, and never mind if it is medically unnecessary.

Your dog will be tested for heartworm (even if it is under 6 months old and cannot possibly get it), and you will be given heartworm pills to dose your dog with every month, even if it's a Minnesota winter outside.

If your dog is spayed or neutered, there will be a push to keep the dog overnight so an additional charge can be tacked on to the bill. And, of course, you will want to get a stool test, right?

This is how it goes in the veterinary business these days.

What is being sold here is a "dependency model"

Dependency model veterinary practices generally have vets who make vague and mewing sales pitches like the one being given here.

Their goal is to get you in the door multiple times a year so that
pushy receptionists and "vet techs" can run through well-rehearsed scripts designed to get you to buy goods and services you do not need and did not ask for.

One way to get you in the door is to serve up a dish of confusion when it comes to vaccines.

For example, listen to this vet's line about how there might be different vaccine protocols for "different rates of exposure"?

What's that mean? I have no idea. It is complete nonsense.

Remember this same vet just said that in 30 years of veterinary practice, he had never even seen a case of distemper.

So much for "rates of exposure!"

In fact, rates of exposure has nothing to do with vaccination.

I am fully vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, and a whole lot of other diseases. I do not fear catching these disease when I ride subway cars filled with recent immigrants who have just entered America from God knows where.

They can all have measles, mumps and rubella, but I am not going to catch it because I was vaccinated as a child more than 45 years ago! In fact, a little exposure to a live virus is a good thing for my immune system, as it switches on my T-cells and gives them a brief workout.

What about dogs?

The same holds true for them.

The vaccines they get in Year One last a lifetime, and any dog walking through a park is going to have his immune system challenged, to positive effect, by latent diseases on fence posts and in the soil. No problem there at all.

So what is all this vague talk about "lots of different options?"

Simple: this is the windup a vet gives when he or she is sizing you up for a big bill.

And here's the pitch. It comes right out of the marketing literature and bill-padding training camps (more on them later) being funded directly by Big Pharma:

"The important part is to get that animal in and have him examined twice a year.

Every year in a dog's life, they say, is seven years in human years, so every year you are going through seven years.

It's not like you want to go in every year; you want to go in twice a year and have him examined."



If your vet tells you this, leave immediately and never come back.

Here's why: your vet thinks you are an idiot. You have just been insulted, and you should be pissed off about it!

A year is a year. There is not such thing as a "dog year." That's a story knocked up for a 7-year old to explain why his Cocker Spaniel is an adult at age 5, but his 7-year old self is not.

Question: Do you think this vet tells hamster-owners that because their animals live for only three years, "every month in a hamster's life is really two years in human years, so you need to bring in your hamster every month just to see what's going on."

Nope. And it makes no more sense for a dog.

A twice-a-year well-dog visit? Forget it!

Here's better advice: Between the end of your dog's first year, and the end of its fifth year, your asymptomatic dog does not need to see a vet at all.

At the age of five years, go in and get your dog's teeth cleaned, if you want, and do it again at age 10. In between, simply brush your dog's teeth once a week with human fluoride toothpaste and an old toothbrush retired from your sink.

Spend time on your dog, not money. Brush his coat once a day and make sure you run him thin not fat. Check him over for ticks and lumps. If your dog looks fine, and acts fine, it is fine.

Your leashes should be worn from use, not the magnetized swipe strip on your credit cards.

For the record, "Pet Doctors of America," is nothing more than a local veterinary clinic near Jacksonville, Florida.

So why the fancy name that suggests it's part of a national chain or an industry-wide trade association?

Simple: If you are a veterinarian pushing medically unnecessary goods and services, you need to claim as much authority as possible.

"Pet Doctors of America," I think we can agree, is a pretty big claim for a brick storefront located in a strip mall next to a Pappa John's.

Aside, from the grandiose name, however, this veterinary office is unexceptional in its sales techniques.

Selling medically unncessary services, price-gouging on meds, and bill padding is now normal in veterinary care.

Can you still find an honest vet?

Of course, but you're going to have to look.

The industry is changing rapidly and, in the field of ethics, at least, the change is not for the better. Support honest vets with your honest dollars. Stop feeding the liars, thieves, cheats, and conveniently ignorant.

Notions of Time and Reward Shape Culture




This is a terrific video. Watch the whole thing for both form and content. Nice!
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This Man Is Better Than Cesar Millan (so he says)



This man says he has a Honda Ruckus scooter, and he is looking for a "celebrity client" so he can show the world that he is a better dog trainer than Cesar Millan.

He says this video tape is proof of his awesome dog training capabilities.

He also says "Sign me to a book deal, or someone else will."

Excellent. Perfect. Crazy as as bedbug.

Does Pfizer maker a pill for this?
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Many Hands Make Light Work



This is a street camera in China.

A thief on a motorcycle tries to steal a purse.

Watch what happens next!
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pfizer, Pfrauds and Pfools


Profits leap with price-gouging, upcoding, and medically unecessary products!


Yesterday morning I booted up the computer and got an unsolicited full-on email screed from someone I did not know, who had never communicated with me before.

Mark Tye wrote:

You are pretty quick to generalize an entire profession with your loose OPINIONS. You have described less than 10% of the veterinary profession in your rant. Most veterinarians are honest hard-working people who give away way too much, work way too long, for WAY too little.


Eh? Who was this person, and what was he on about?

From reading his stream-of-consciousness email (it went on for several paragraphs), it appears he had just stumbled on a fact- and link-filled post on this blog called Veterinary Trade Says It's Time to Rip-off the Rubes.

Ah! Good. Glad someone is reading the internets!

Mark Tye, of course, called me a pinhead and an ignorant but provided no links and no facts to back up his own ... (wait for it!) ... opinion.

I had provided links to trade publications, documented pharmacy kickbacks to trade associations, and provided PowerPoint instruction sheets from the industry on how to price-gouge, upcode and suggest the medically unnecessary. Most readers of this blog know I am not short of evidence!

And what did Mark Tye have to support his contention that all was sweetness, light, and high moral fiber in the world of veterinary care?

Not. a. thing.

Nor did he explain his own passionate interest in the subject matter at hand.

Much amused I fired back a short note:

Why don't you Google my name and "pharmaceutical fraud" and see what you come up with?

Good luck on your travels. You are clearly very new to the show.


Not smart enough to take a hint and leave well enough alone, Mark Tye fired back.

I have forgotten more about this industry than you know. Why don't you go spend a few years (or 10) getting to know something about the people that make up this industry.


Much amused I fired off another email:

Why don't you tell me all about yourself?

Ten years! Wow. I am floored.

And you have a hotmail account too!


Yes I was being a little sarcastic.

I have spent a little more than 10 years in health care, and a little more than 10 minutes in the world of dogs!

And a hotmail account? Hillbilly, please!

Who was this fool?

A few seconds after asking the question, I had the answer, and I nearly spilt my coffee I was laughting so hard.

Whoo-ee!

I fired off a short email to Mr. Tye:

Never mind. I found you.

Area sales manager at Pfizer Animal Health in Texas for 6 years.

You think that's a lot of experience??

Formerly a recruiter at Matrix Resources and a sales manager at Ed Kellum & Son.

Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University.

Not much.

Shall I find out what you sell, and write about how you sell it?

Pfizer is a shit company that just got nailed for the largest criminal and civil fines in U.S. history.

Google my name and Pfizer, and see what you get.

You still want to play?


A Pfizer Animal Health rep is lecturing me about health care ethics?

Priceless.

For the record, Pfizer was nailed last year for the largest criminal and civil fraud charges in U.S. history.

As I told Reuters at the time, "What you see here is a company which essentially has a culture of corruption."

And it's not like Pfizer has only been nailed for fraud once, is it?

Along with record fines for illegal marketing and illegal kickbacks which were paid to increase the sales of Bextra, Pfzer has also been nailed for illegal promotion and/or kickbacks for Geodon (an anti-psychotic drug), Lipitor (a cholesterol drug), Norvasc (an anti-hypertensive drug), Viagra (an erectile dysfunction drug), Zithromax (an antibiotic), Zyrtec (an antihistamine), Zyvox (an antibiotic), Lyrica (an anti-epileptic drug), Relpax (an anti-migraine drug), Celebrex (an anti-inflammatory drug), and Depo-provera (a form of birth control).

Add in to the mix previous settlements for the illegal marketing of the epilepsy drug Neurontin ($430 in criminal and civil penalties), another settlement for more illegal Lipitor sales ($49 million in civil fines), and illegal marketing of human growth hormone Genotropin ($34.7 million), and the words "continuing criminal conspiracy" spring to mind.

And now a Pfizer salesman wants to lecture me on veterinary drug sales?

Oh joy and mirth!


Your Daily Dose -- now fortified with irony.


Since a salesman for Pfizer Animal Health was stupid enough to shoot me a "nasty gram" email to my home, I figure I might as well go ahead and use his résumé and his company's already soiled name to illuminate how pharmaceutical sales work in general, and how veterinary pharma sales work in particular.

I've got to write about something after all, and it's been a while since I beat this particular drum.

To begin, let's look at Mark Tye's experience.

He is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in Spanish.

No science background at all.

In fact this is normal in pharmaceutical sales, and for a reason.

As filmmaker and former pharma sales rep Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau explains:

When I first came to work for [pharma companies] I was 23 and a year out of college. I majored in political science. That was my “science background.”

I really avoided science like the plague as an undergrad; it was just not my strength. I went to work for the cellular phone industry right out of college selling phones for about a year. Then one day I got a call from a recruiter who had asked me if I had ever considered pharmaceutical sales. I said “No, I don’t have a science background.” He basically said that they can teach you all that you need to know. They’re just looking for someone with sales experience....

When I look back, I think [the lack of any science background] is part of the reason that they recruit people like me – political science majors, history majors, business majors – because I didn’t have the ability to question anything they told me.

I can’t tell you how quickly I could get in over my head if I was talking with a physician about these things. Although I might have known a specific amount about my specific pill or a specific disease stage, once the doctor started asking questions outside of that, I would start to glaze over.

The typical course of my day would be going out, driving around to different physician’s offices, making appointments, and schlepping in a lot of food.

We used to joke that you don’t even need a political science degree for this job; you need a professional caterer’s license.


Mark Tye fits this mold perfectly.

While he claims vast experience and deep knowledge it's mostly bluff, bluster and bunk.

His real background is just 6 years and four months in veterinary sales, and for a single company.

Mark Tye's first job out of college was as a regional sales manager for a consumer finance company (June 1986-April 1991). His next job was as a sales manager for a consumer electronics concern (April 1991-December 1999), and after that he worked as a recruiter for an information technology company (December 1999 to December 2001). He then worked in sales for his family's document copying company (December 2001 to February 2004), before being hired on at Pfizer.

Nothing wrong with any of this, but let's be clear; Mr. Tye's expertise is in separating people from their wallets. It's not dogs, it's not cats, and it's certainly not health care policy, law, ethics or economics!

So that's Mr. Tye, and the company he works for.

Now what about his division, and the products they sell?

Pfizer Animal Health has a lot of products, and I don't have the time or energy to go through them all of them, but I'm going to look at a few products targetted to dogs so you can get a general idea of how it goes.

One of Pfizer's main sales products is Rimadyl. As I have noted in a previous post, Rimdayl is a COX-2 drug, and most of the COX-2 drugs like Bextra (see previous mention of Pfizer's record criminal and civil fines) and Vioxx were pulled from the market after they proved to be harmful (Vioxx, to put a point on it, may have killed over 25,000 people in just four years according to the FDA).

Pfizer Animal Health's COX-3 drug, Rimadyl, (aka Carprofen) is not approved for human use because it has so many serious side effects it could not compete against the other COX-2 drugs in the human market, and this was even before those other COX-2 drugs were withdrawn from the market.

But don't take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 13, 2000 that "Most Arthritic Dogs Do Very Well On This Pill, Except the Ones That Die".

Except the ones that die?

Woops! I'll bet that's an article that never made it into Mark Tye's veterinary sales kit!

For the record, my objection to Rimadyl is not that it might kill your dog (a very low chance), but that it is unnecessarily expensive due to Pfizer and veterinay practice price-gouging, and because it requires an expensive visit to the vet for a prescription.

For the record, COX-2 drugs have never been proven to be better than common COX-1 drugs (i.e. NSAIDs) such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen. They are simply more expensive and less safe for dogs (cats are a different issue), and NO, they are not gentler on the stomach than buffered aspirin.

Knowing that, why would anyone dose a dog on Rimadyl?

Of course there is an answer, but it's not an answer that Mark Tye or any veterinarian wants you to hear.

That said, if you know where to go, you can hear it being said and see it too.

At a Pfizer-specific online bulletin board for veterinary sales representatives, for example, someone wrote in to note that "A family member of mine paid $58 for 6 pills and they were Rimadyl and I work for [Pfizer Animal Health], so I know that these mark-ups can go this high."

Right. Point made, and by a Pfizer Animal Health employee to boot! Nice.

Another drug being sold by Pfizer is "Slentrol." This is the drug you are supposed to give your pet if it is obese.

What??! We are supposed to be drugging our dogs because they are obese??

Anyone else see a problem here? Gina Spadafori over at Pet Connection did.

She notes that obesity in pets is a human problem, not a pet one, and that the cure is not drugs for the dog, but self-restraint on the part of the owner.

Want to save yourself $2 a day? Take a walk with your dog (it’s good for you both), or play with your cat. Cut back on the treats. Use the tried-and-true trick of substituting shredded green beans for some of the volume in your pet’s dish, and steel yourself against begging.


Excellent advice!

But, of course, it's not the kind of advice you are going to get from a Pfizer Animal Health sales representative struggling to make his or her quota, is it?

Another drug marketed by Pfizer is Convenia. As I noted in a previous post:

[This] drug is a one-time injection which provides up to 14 days of antibiotic treatment for common skin infections.

The injection must be administered by a veterinarian, which will cost you about $80 for the visit.

What neither a vet nor Pfizer will tell you is that you can get cephalexin to treat skin infections at a fraction of the cost and without a visit to the vet or a prescription.

Shhhh! Tell no one!.


OK, so Pfizer's sales force has its full share of fools, the company has embraced a culture of corruption, and at least some of the products are crap.

But what about the veterinarians? Surely they are all models of cost containment, self-restraint and probity?

Well some are, but certainly not all of them!

As I have noted in the past, vetererinary ethics are about the same as you will find in any poorly regulated trade with few consumer protections, and a public that is not too sure of what it is that they are actually buying.

Are all vets price-gougers, bill padders, and flim-flammers?

No, of course not!

That said, all vets are human, and they are not any more (or less) honest than car mechanics, human doctors, or anyone else.

Caveat emptor with all vendors, and especially when you are being "handled" by a "vet tech" or receptionist whose job description is to set you up for "additional services."

To be clear: these front-office people know next to nothing, and generally have been hired to give the real veterinarian cover in case the client calls "bullshit" to the veterinary equivalent of "Can I Super-Size your meal?"

A word to the wise should be sufficient: use Google to get informed and cut costs, do as much basic veterinary stuff as you can yourself, and negotiate pricing with the veterinarian, not the receptionist.

Finally, never forget the best money-saving advice ever, in terms of canine care: Breed choice matters a hell of a lot.

For more on that, read Making and Breaking Dogs In the Show Ring and peruse the canine health links in the blog roll at the right.


Once again, you do not have to take my word for anything.

A reader of this blog is a veterinarian, who left the retail vet trade to work in the regulatory arena. As Sara B notes in A Vet Writes About the Veterinary Business Model:

About five years ago, I was a young enthusiastic new grad and I was looking forward to serving my patients and clients. Instead I was constantly reprimanded for not adhering to 'protocol'. I was chastised in front of the staff for scripting out medications to local human pharmacies where I knew my clients would get a financial break for drugs that were exactly the same as those on our shelves. I didn't always want to use the laser for surgeries. I told people to purchase bottles of goat Panacur at the local farm & barn store instead of selling them pricey Drontal Plus tablets. I didn't recommend the Lyme vaccine. I didn't vaccinate everyone every year for distemper. I will surely burn in hell for mentioning the use of ivermectin rather than selling boxes of HWP to my beagle & coonhound kennel clients. I constantly spent too much time talking with the clients in each appointment. I would "give away" recheck exams. I didn't really care what brand of food people fed their pets (Most of the time they were being fed too much anyway!) And, most egregiously, I was forever giving away nail trims.


Now to be clear, good honest vets DO exist, and you CAN find them if you look.

But as I noted in the very blog post that seems to have gotten Mark Tye's underwear in a knot, the best thing any of us can do to contain costs and push back on chiseling corruption is to begin doing a few things ourselves.

Above all, we can stop going to the vet for “well pet” visits and unneeded shots.

We can end the yearly teeth cleaning nonsense, and take control of end-of-life decisions.

We can give our pets their own vaccines.

We can worm our own dogs, and we can stop giving heartworm medicines all winter long.

We can treat our own dogs for Lyme disease, and stop the testing altogether.

We can stop buying "diet” dog foods from the vet and start feeding less.

We can learn more about cruciate ligament injuries and be a little less quick to operate at a cost of $3,000 per leg.

And, of course, the most important thing we can do is find an honest non-price gouging veterinarian.

They exist within 15 miles of all of us if we will only take the time to research and look.


THIS is heretical information?!

Apparently it is if you are a salesman working for Pfizer Animal Health!

Caveat emptor!


Get your own Pfraud t-shirt here!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Justice Would Be Swift and Done With a Sword



A reader of this blog writes:

I read your blog every day and while I haven't as yet commented on any posts I am always interested in what you have to say. My daughter is a sophomore at The Ohio State University and is majoring in animal science. This is an email she sent me. I hope that you will read this and investigate this story. If what Mercy for Animals did to this dairy farm family is true, I am outraged! I told my daughter that this dairy farm could not stay in business for 80 years if they treated their animals the way you see them treated on this horrible video. I do not for a minute believe it and yet so many people will look at the video and they WILL believe it. Please help. Thank you for your time.

Feeling a little uneasy, I scrolled down to find an email allegedly written by Mariette C. Benage, Coordinator, Student Success, Department of Animal Sciences at Ohio State University. The email reads:

Dear Students,

Here is a story that I just learned about after class today. I'm passing it along to you as an example of both direct pressure and animal activist techniques that you, as young adults, need to be aware of. My personal opinions about this are unprintable!

All:

Ryan Conklin, a senior in our department, has asked me to put out this email to you to make you aware of a situation involving his family farm in Plain City. At 11:00 today there will be a news conference that will show terribly graphic footage their animals being mis-treated on their dairy farm. Ryan told me that a man was hired to work on their dairy last month that turned out to be an under-cover investigator for a group called Mercy For Animals, an affiliate-I believe-of HSUS. Ryan told me that this man from Mercy For Animals coordinated the video footage with another person working at the dairy, and he is the one seen causing the abuse on the video. The person recording the footage is the Mercy For Animals advocate, and he quit his position at the dairy on Sunday. The young man seen in the video was released of his duties at 6 am this morning.

I know some of you in the department know Ryan and his family very well, and I can tell you that they are very honorable people and that they would NEVER condone any of these actions. I believe they’ve been in the dairy business for close to 80 years, and they are certainly people that genuinely care about the well-being of their animals. This appears to be a trap that HSUS has set up to gain voter support in the state at the expense of a well-known dairy. This is a very difficult time for the family, and I know Ryan would appreciate any support that we can offer.

For those of you that are interested, here is the link to the video: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/ohdairy/

I will warn you…it’s not easy to see.

Now I was beginning to really feel uneasy.

You see, here was an employee of Ohio State University writing to students about an explosive and legally actionable issue, and suggesting to them that there was a smear campaign being waged against an "honorable" family farm that had never abused animals.

And yet this Ohio State University employee had quite obviously not taken a minute's time to actually investigate the situation!

"Who are you going to believe, me who has not bothered to investigage anything at all, or your lying eyes," she seems to be asking.

Wow! The stupidity of this email was dizzying.

Bracing myself, I went to the video tape.

When it comes to abuse, I thought I had seen it all. Apparently not.



I wrote back to the regular reader of this blog, trying to measure my words as carefully as possible.

How could anyone see this video tape and frame the story as if the dairy operator was the victim? My mind boggled:

Sorry, but this one does not pass the smell test and I will be going in the opposite direction.

I cannot speak to what the farm management knew or did not know (a court will decide that), but a couple of points need to be made here:

  1. No one is going to voluntarily appear in a video showing this kind of abuse. The suggestion that this was a put-up-job is complete nonsense. What is shown in the video is extreme, shocking and totally unnecessary violence to animals, the kind that gets you a prison sentence in a place where your teeth are pounded out with a bar, and your assh*l* is stretched by your bunk mate. No one signs up for that tour. No one. Ever.

  2. This is not just one person doing violence, and this video tape was not shot in one day. This video tape shows at least two people doing criminal violence to animals, and the change in clothing makes clear it was shot over at least six or seven days.

  3. If farm management did not know what was going on here, they are criminally negligent. The employees shown here are overt sadists and sick twisted souls, and this fact would have been self-evident over even a brief period of time. The fact that this farm hired these people and retained them, speaks to negligent omission at best, and criminal comission at worst. They better get a damn good defense lawyer and throw the people on the video tape under the bus!

I do not feel sorry for this farm<; I feel sorry for these cows and the honest and hard-working dairy industry of Ohio which has been tarred by this horror. You want me to defend this farm and suggest Mercy for Animals or HSUS (allegedly, by inference and suggestion) put up some kind of fabrication? Nope. Sorry, but I am not blind or stupid. Very clearly, the managers, owners and administrators of this dairy, however, are. It is a horror. It is a sadness. And YES, someone needs to go to jail.

Put me on the jury and I assure you they will.

Any question of where I stand?

Just because I stand for farmers, do not salute every inanity of the animal rights community, and will not wink at the direct mail pettifoggery of the Humane Society of the U.S., does NOT mean I will ever defend true animal abuse.

Put me on the jury, and make me jury foreman, and I will see to it that the men in this video get the electric chair if that is at all possible.

Sadly, however, it is not.

You see, one of the people on this video tape has already been arrested.

But guess what?

The people beating and stabbing these poor cows and calfs are only going to be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750.

Outrageous!

If an animal abuse case ever cried out for criminal prosecution with real jail time, this is it.

But in Ohio, farm animals apparently have no real protection even from this kind of wanton and horrific cruelty.

Should that change? Very clearly, YES.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best Great Sword Ad You Will See All Day



This is the best Great Sword promotional video you will see all day. This little beauty costs only $318 and it appears to be worth every dime.

Suggest your butcher buy one and put on a performance in his shop window; sure to boost business!
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Autotune Wolves are Better Than Lady Gaga



I hate Lady Gaga, so the bar is pretty low, but this is still pretty cool. The video clip has a note that says:

"This song was created automatically by LaDiDa, using only real wolf howls as audio input, from the actual video clips shown here. No tricks. Just some clever artificial intelligence."


LaDiDa is, apparently, an I-phone application. Nice!.

Friday, May 21, 2010

God is an Aversive Trainer?

Yesterday I posted a long piece entitled The Radical Notion of Consequences in which I noted:

Well-timed rewards and praise are the basis of most training.

But not all learning is accompanied by rewards, is it?

For humans, domestic animals, and even wild animals, powerful aversive experiences also educate.

A fox may get a ripped muzzle, a cow a shock from an electric fence, a horse a mouth full of nettles, a young man a police arrest or black eye.

Live and learn. Such is life.


This mornings edition of The Daily Mail has a nice visual example in an article entitled, Pecking order: Jackal is nipped on the nose after trying to snatch hungry vulture's scrap of meat.

See the whole array of pictures at the link, but the money shot is below: aversive training in the wild.


A bite on the nose: lesson learned!
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Old Age Is Not For Sissies


Trooper at the vets. Photos with camera phone.

Trooper, as I have noted for a long time is OLD. He is just about deaf as a post now, and his back legs are so weak you can push him over while patting him on the head.

Yesterday, my daughter came up the driveway a little too fast, and accidentally hit Trooper with her car. She was, of course, mortified and the dog was rushed to the vet.


The sign in my study.

The long story short, is that there does not seem to be anything broken, and damage seems to be restricted to one paw. Of course, that's enough to make it so he cannot stand, what with his back legs being so wobbly even before all this.

What to do?

Trooper does not seem to be in pain, and I have decided to give the old man a few days to see how it goes. Time will tell.

This is Trooper, after all; he has slipped the coils of death before and remains a lamplight for hope.

There is no getting out of this world alive, and Trooper does not have long. His day will come, but as of yesterday and this morning, I am not sure his day has come quite yet.

I will not be too late, but I will not be too early either. At age 50, I have seen a few miracles. Life wants to live, and my job is simply to control pain and make sure the exit is as dignified as possible.

Trooper does not seem to be in pain, and though his dignity is bruised, he still grins, even if he cannot stand and needs help going to the bathroom as a consequence.

We shall see....


Old age is not for sissies.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mountain is Famous!


This is sort of cool! I just got an email from someone who says Mountain's picture was lifted and used at "Ihasagotdog.com" which is a LOLCat for dogs (if that makes sense).

And sure enough, that is indeed my dog and my picture! Give the link a click and give Mountain a vote.

And YES, she really is that happy underground.
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Fox Hunting on the Political Agenda Again in U.K.

From The Daily Mail comes this report of political promises being kept:

Tory plans for a free vote on scrapping the foxhunting ban are to go ahead, despite opposition from many Liberal Democrat MPs it emerged last night.

Government sources said ministers had agreed the move at yesterday’s meeting of the Cabinet, despite concerns that it could split the Lib Dem Parliamentary party down the middle senior Government source said: ‘There will be a motion on a free vote in the House of Commons. The coalition will bring forward that motion enabling the House to express a view on repealing hunting.

'If the view is yes, that will require further legislation and there will be a repeal Bill.’

In a further sign of the new Government’s intentions, it emerged that the Agriculture Minister Jim Paice had also been made Minister for Hunting and Shooting - the first time country sports have had a dedicated minister for decades.


Who could be opposed to a vote? Well, supporters of the ban on hunting with dogs have opposed a vote in the past, and for a simple reason: they could not win. The ban itself was only passed with extra-legal tactics that were non-Democratic to the core.

So can ban supporters win a vote now, after the ban on hunting with dogs has been shown to be a legal and legislative farce? We shall see....
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Forest Gump Was From Alabama




This is a real ad. Dale Peterson wants to be Alabama's next Republican Agricultural Commissioner. Apparently he thinks that means he will be in charge of U.S. immigration policy, reducing unemployment, and capturing the bad guys with his Red Ryder BB gun, cowboy hat and horse. Not a mention of a single agricultural issue in this ad. Nice!




This is a real ad by one Republican attacking another Republican in the primary for Governor of Alabama. The smoking hot accusation in this ad is that Bradley Bryne believes in evolution. It turns out, of course, that this is nothing but a damn lie! Bradley Byrne wants the world to know:
" I believe the Bible is the Word of God and that every single word of it is true.... As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. "



This is a real ad. Tim James wants to be Alabama's next Republican Governor. He says he wants everyone to speak English and ends with a question: Does it to you?


This is supposed to be a parody, but after watching the previous ads, it's a little hard to tell.
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Dog Training Up the Leash



John Kelly notes that not all dog training is down the leash:

Even the smartest dog can't speak English. But every dog can tell you something, if you're willing to listen.

I think of a dog as a human-training device. I might teach Charlie to sit or to shake, but he's teaching me, too: to be observant, to pay attention, to discern through the wag of a tail, the cock of an ear, the look in an eye the thoughts of a living being who shares time with me on this all-too-imperfect planet, in this all-too-finite life.

I Hate It When This Happens



Everyone so calm here, of course, because none of the elephants are pink.
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

They Invented Animal Training


This article was written for the June issue of Dogs Today magazine. Illustration by Kevin Brockbank.

Who invented animal training and what can we learn from them?

The question may seem silly. Animal training is older than the hills. For certain, it is as old as the dog.

That said, most of what we call animal training today fits into the folder of "operant conditioning," a term first coined by American psychologist B.F. Skinner in the early 1930s.

Chase it around the room, and operant conditioning is simply learning from consequences.

Skinner codified the basic principals of operant conditioning, and he invented a laboratory-based mechanical-training machine which rewarded animals with food when they pulled levers and pecked at spots.

Skinner's real claim to fame in the world of dogs, however, is that he hired Keller and Marian Breland -- two young assistants who more or less invented the modern art of animal training.

Teaching Pigeons to Bowl

The Breland's made their first big discovery while working with Skinner in 1943.

As odd as it sounds, the goal on this occasion was to train pigeons to "bowl" a ping-pong ball down a short alley to knock down a few pins. Keller Breland decided to use a hand-held switch to trigger a food reward, rather than a purely mechanical device. A small problem was that the pigeons had no interest in pecking at the ping-pong ball! Though Keller waited for hours for the right behavior to express itself, it never happened. In frustration, Keller decided to give the pigeons a reward for doing anything approximating movement in the right direction. To his amazement, the pigeons caught on pretty quickly, and the completed trick was learned in short order.

Thus was born "shaping," or progressive rewards based on approximating a task.

The second big development occurred in 1945. By this time, B. F. Skinner had left the University of Minnesota, and the Brelands had decided to strike out on their own as professional animal trainers.

While shaping tricks, the Brelands noticed that the animals themselves seemed to be paying attention to the noises made by the hand-held food-reward switches.

Keller and Marian Breland soon discovered that an acoustic secondary enforcer, such as a click or whistle, could communicate to an animal the precise action being rewarded, and it could do so from a distance.

The Brelands called this a "bridging stimulus," (now generally called a bridge) and it dramatically sped up animal training by increasing the amount of information going to an animal.

Thus was born clicker training.

The Rise of Commercial Animal Acts

By now the Brelands had created their own animal training company -- Animal Behavior Enterprises. Their first contract, with General Mills, was so successful that other contracts with movies, circuses, museums, fairs, and zoos soon followed.

Over the next several decades, the Brelands trained more than 15,000 animals representing more than 140 species. At one point, the Brelands had more than 1,000 animals under training at a single time -- a jaw-dropping level of production.

The Brelands did not just train animals; they also trained other animal trainers who went on to work at such venues as Busch Gardens, Disney World, and Sea World. The Brelands themselves signed contracts with such major amusement parks as Marineland of Florida, Marineland of the Pacific, Parrot Jungle, and Six Flags.

Rewards-based clicker training worked so well that in 1951, the Brelands authored an article in American Psychologist, in which they said they thought rewards-based clicker training might work on any animal to train just about anything.

And then something happened. They noticed that clicker training was, in certain circumstances, beginning to fail in ways they could no longer overlook.

When Clicker Training Failed

In a 1961 paper entitled, The Misbehavior of Organisms, Keller and Marian Breland described their first experience with the failure of reward-based operant conditioning.

It seems that when working with pigs, chickens and raccoons, the animals would often learn a trick and then begin to drift away from the learned behavior and towards more instinctive, unreinforced, foraging actions.

What was going on?

Put simply, instinct was raising its inconvenient head.

Though Skinner and his disciples had always maintained that performance was driven by external rewards or punishments, here was clear evidence that there was an internal code that could not always be ignored.

The Brelands wrote:

These egregious failures came as a rather considerable shock to us, for there was nothing in our background in behaviorism to prepare us for such gross inabilities to predict and control the behavior of animals with which we had been working for years.... [T]he diagnosis of theory failure does not depend on subtle statistical interpretations or on semantic legerdemain - the animal simply does not do what he has been conditioned to do.


The Brelands did not overstate the problem, nor did they quantify it. They simply stated a fact: instinct existed, and sometimes it bubbled up and over-rode trained behaviors.

Clearly, every species had different instincts, and just as clearly, a great deal of animal training could be done without ever triggering overpowering instinct. Still, the Brelands noted,

After 14 years of continuous conditioning and observation of thousands of animals, it is our reluctant conclusion that the behavior of any species cannot be adequately understood, predicted, or controlled without knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and ecological niche.


The Problem with Dogs

What does this have to do with dogs?

Quite a lot. You see a small, but vocal and militant group of clicker trainers believe everything a dog does is learned by external rewards, and internal drives are "old school" fiction.

While the Brelands argued that a species could not be adequately controlled without “knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and ecological niche," the most extreme militants in the world of clicker training now seek to minimize and disavow the very nature and history of dogs.

Dog packs? There are no such things, we are told.

Dominance? It does not exist in feral dogs or in wolves, and never mind the experts who disagree.

Prey drive? Not too much said about that!

Of course, instinctive behaviors and drives do not disappear simply because they are inconvenient.

As Keller and Marian Breland put it,

[A]lthough it was easy to banish the Instinctivists from the science during the Behavioristic Revolution, it was not possible to banish instinct so easily.


Of course, one must be careful to qualify the role of instinct.

Yes, dogs have instincts, but the history of dog breeding has largely been about reducing instinctive drives. As a consequence, most breeds have instinctive drives that are sufficiently attenuated that they are not much of an impediment to basic rewards-based training.

That said, not all dog breeds are alike. Not every dog is a blank slate, as the owner of any herding dog or game-bred terrier will tell you. Prey drive does not disappear because you want it to. Many problematic behaviors in dogs -- especially behaviors in hard-wired working dogs that are being raised as pets -- are self-reinforcing behaviors that express themselves without any external reinforcement at all!

Clicker training, the Brelands remind us, cannot solve everything.

Is rewards-based training the most important tool in any trainer’s box of tricks and methods?

Absolutely. There is not much debate there.

But the Brelands remind us that dogs do not come to the trainer as a tabula rasa, nor should we think of all dog breeds as being more or less the same, or that all responses are equally conditionable to all stimuli.

Dogs and other animals, it turns out, are a bit more complicated that white rats, and the real world is not a laboratory.

In the wild and on the farm, animals have managed to learn, all by themselves, since the Dawn of Time and long before clickers came on the scene. How did they do that? Does the real world have as much to teach us as the lab? Keller and Marian Breland thought it did.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

You Can Go Home Again



Kwibi, the gorilla, grew up with Damian Aspinall at his Howletts Wild Animal Park in England. When he was five, he was released into the forests of Gabon, West Africa as part of a programme to re-introduce gorillas back into the wild. Now Kwibi is 10 years old, much bigger and stronger, and with his own family. Damian goes to Gabon to see if he is remembered. >> Read more at The Aspinall Foundation.
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Terrific Fox Photo



This terrific fox photo comes from Cson who is in Maine, Texas, Pennsylvania. Click to enlarge.

Complete Chihuahua Skeleton in a Bag



Over at Skulls Unlimited they're selling this complete Chihuahua Skeleton in a plastic bag. Some assembly required. "This is a One-of-a-Kind Item. Once this item has sold, it will be removed from the web site." Yours for $449.

Notice the molera, or skull hole on top where the skull has not fused and in fact leaves the brains exposed. This defect is considered by some Kennel Club patrons to be the sign of "a good one" as the skull of the dog is too small to cover the brain. The "Chihuahua for Dummies" book, I should note, rushes in to say "a molera is not a defect," which no doubt is comforting news to the dummies. Here's a hint: a massive hole in the top of the skull of an adult animal is a defect. Of course, the Chihuahua community also counts the wrecked dental structure of their breed as simply another attribute as well.

Tony Rice :: Nine Pound Hammer



Tony Rice on vocals and guitar, Sam Bush on mandolin, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Mark O'Connor on fiddle. These are among the finest bluegrass musicians in America in my opinion. This video was taken some years ago -- Jerry Douglas looks like a baby!
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Friday, May 14, 2010

If It Was "Iranian Petroleum," We Would Nuke 'Em



If it Was "Iranian Petroleum," we would Nuke 'Em, but it's British Petroleum so we merely talk firmly, as seen below.




Just so people have a handle on the numbers.... the company originally downplayed the size of the leak at about 1,000 barrels a day, but later accepted a government estimate that it was at least 5,000 barrels a day.

It was only after Obama Administration rained fire down on their heads that underwater video was released. The video makes clear that the leak is gushing about 70,000 barrels per day (2.94 million gallons) into the Gulf of Mexico, which means this spill has already far surpassed the Exxon Valdez oil spill in size.

Meanwhile BP's CEO, a half-wit twit by the name of Tony Hayward, has given an interview in which he says the oil spill is "relatively tiny" compared to the "very big ocean."

Let me be the first to demand his extradition to stand trial on criminal charges in the United States.

How long do you think this fellow will last in an American prison?


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Complete English Bulldog Skeleton in a Bag



Over at Skulls Unlimited they're selling this complete English Bulldog Skeleton in a plastic bag. Some assembly required. "This is a One-of-a-Kind Item. Once this item has sold, it will be removed from the web site." Yours for $695.

Complete Lhaso Apso Skeleton in a Bag



Over at Skulls Unlimited they're selling this complete Lhasa Apso Dog Skeleton in a plastic bag. Some assembly required. "This is a One-of-a-Kind Item. Once this item has sold, it will be removed from the web site." Yours for $395.

Dogs for Rent


The Always New and Continuing Evolution of Dogs


A repost from this blog, circa February 2007.

A lot of people want the undifferentiating affection of a dog, but are not entirely willing to pay the price: forced awakenings at 7 am, expensive fencing, veterinary care, shedding coats, barking, and strange smells in the living room.

Dogs are small tyrants that crap on your rug, chew up your glasses and steal your sandwiches.

If you own a dog, you can still ride off into the sunset, but you better be back by 8:30 to feed it, and by midnight to put it to bed for the evening.

In the era of schooners and candles, when people lived on large farms with slow traffic, things were probably a little bit easier. Back then a large dog could sleep in the barn and roam more-or-less at will.

Now a lot of folks live in condominiums and multi-story apartment buildings surrounded by six-lanes of traffic. Others are retirees looking for less work. The result is a growing market for small dogs that are as easy to take care of as a cat.

In fact, what is wanted today is a dog that acts like a cat, and a cat that acts like a dog.

Towards that end breeders on both ends of the spectrum are working towards a middle ground, with cats that have affectionate personalities and legs too short to jump up on the furniture, and dogs that do not shed, rarely bark, and are so small they can be tucked inside a handbag.

I suppose all of this is simply a logical extension of Robert Bakewell's earlier efforts to control sires in order to produce animals for a particular function.

Cats, of course, were slow to domesticate as prior to the rise of the "indoor" cat, felines were free to roam and cross-breed at will.

Dogs, on the other hand, have been the product of controlled breeding for so long that most Kennel Club breeds now seem to specialize in two or three genetic defects. As a consequence, more and more prospective pet owners are are now looking at cross breeds in some hope of avoiding expensive veterinary work to "fix" defective canine hips, eyes, knees and teeth.

Another factor, of course, is that a lot of the small "toy" breeds are so fru-fru that no self-respecting heterosexual man is eager to be seen walking one. A Toy Poodle? A Papillon? Please.

A cross-bred small dog at least offers the potential dignity of being something a little "outside the box."A small dog described as a "little mutt" or "attack rat" by the husband, can be described by the wife as a Shitpoo (a Shih Tzu crossed with a Toy Poodle), a Cockapoo (a Cocker Spaniel crossed with a Toy Poodle), a Schnoodle (a Schnauzer crossed with a poodle), a Bagel (a Beagle crossed with a Bassett Hound) or a Puggle (a Pug crossed with a Beagle).

Pardon me if I do not join the Kennel Club crowd which clucks and moans about "little mongrels" being cranked out by puppy millers and "back yard breeders".

How, I would ask, does that differentiate these new dogs from most Kennel Club breeds? After all, most of the dog breeds on earth today are less than 140 years old, and most were invented by puppy peddlers doing their business between 1860 and 1900.

The harsh truth is that most canine breeds were not forged by honest field work, but by professional breeders seeking to sell dogs for the pet trade.

In short, the true history of most dog breeds is one of "backyard breeders" creating contrived names and fake histories for their dogs and producing enough of the dogs in a short enough period (a puppy mill by any name) to create a "class" of dogs to fill a Kennel Club ring.

And it's not like the Kennel Club breeds cannot be improved by a little outcrossing!

The Yorkie has such serious teeth problems that they invariably require attention from expensive veterinary dentists.

The Pug's bulging eyes make it prone to eye injury, and nearly every one of them is born caesarian.

The Toy Poodle is a barker and often mentally unbalanced.

Dachshunds are prone to serious back and joint problems.

Papillons and Chihuahuas have all kinds of health problems, not the least of which are that their bones may be so light they can break jumping off the couch.

The Lhasa Apso is a walking mop requiring more grooming than a Hollywood starlet, and is often a mental case as well.

Of course, most cross-breeds are not all that successful, and only a very few show a marked advantage over a common pound dog.

That said, enough crosses are working out that a few crosses are developing into regular replicable breeds. The most obvious candidate for "new breed" distinction is the "Labradoodle" -- a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle. In Australia, this very tractable dog has been standardized and now breeds true after more than 15-years of focused work. In the U.S., however, most "Labradoodles" remain hybrids which, when crossed with each other, throw a wide array of very different-looking pups.

Contrary to what many hybrid dog advocates will tell you, a hybrid dog is not always healthier that its purebred cousin. Genetic loads are never revealed in one breeding, and "hybrid vigor" is not a perfect curative for all canine ills.

A final note is that when dogs are combined, the positive characteristics of a breed are not necessarily those that are transfered.

The tale is told of the time when Marilyn Monroe met Albert Einstein and coyly mewed, "Professor Einstein, we should get together. With my looks and your brains think of the wonderful babies we could produce." To which Einstein is supposed to have replied: "Yes, but what if they have my looks and your brains? That too is an equal possibility."
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Science Does Not Come With Ads



Watch this video, no matter what your opinion is on global warming.

If you want to know what I think about global warming (and why would you?), see An Inconvenient Truth.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Political Hybrid Vigor?



The BBC reports:


The mayor of London has likened the coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to a cross between "a bulldog and a Chihuahua".

Boris Johnson said the new government, led by new Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, would have a "fantastic hybrid vigour".

"It will be a new strong proposition to put to the British people," he added.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is to be the new deputy PM and Vince Cable will be business secretary.

Hmmmmm. I am not sure you get 'hybrid vigor" by crossing two defective dogs.

I think I got it right a little over a week ago when I predicted:

Cameron will win, Gordon Brown will disappear into a monastery, and Clegg will become a popular gadfly who will be given the reins to moderate Cameron so that the widows and orphans in the U.K. will not be sold off to the cannibal islands to balance off the foreign trade losses.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Artificial Earths Go Pre-Fab


This post is a repost from this blog, circa March 2005.

Some folks in Germany have developed a company that manufactures pre-fab artificial earths for fox.

The German design for these things suggests several possible motivations:

  1. A very serious shortage of natural dens for fox (not likely);

  2. A shortage of time to locate these natural dens by paying customers who want to work their over-large show dogs in a safe manner (very likely), and;

  3. A confusion between killing fox and hunting fox.


This last point is suggested by the photos on the site showing more than two dozen dead fox laid out one after another.

Even when found in dense numbers, fox need a certain amount of space in which to hunt, and the number of dead fox shown here suggests the stocking of fur farm fox so that people can shoot them as they exit a concrete pipe. If this is what is occuring, it is ugly business. One does not have to be an animal rights lunatic to think a fox deserves more respect than a skeet shooter's clay pigeon.

Let us not confuse confuse hunting with killing. Anyone can kill and it takes no skill. There is a reason Teddy Roosevelt embraced the concept of "fair chase," and there is a reason that the best fishermen in this country do catch-and-release.

Respect the land and the creatures on it, and we will never lose our right to hunt.

Take time to learn about the wildlife in your area and be ready to stand up and speak out for land conservation issues from forest protection to open fields legislation, from riparian protection to farm conservation tax easements.

Above all, keep the wild in wildlife and keep the hunt in hunting. If we allow bullying slob hunters to define us, we will lose a great deal of what we value.
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