Sunday, July 17, 2005

Vet Care Reaches Human Care Costs

The Washington Post, August 29, 2004

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?
by Mary Battiata

The good news: New trends in veterinary medicine can help extend the lives of pets.
The bad news: The costs, risks and complications increasingly resemble human medicine.


[The recognition that people are willing -- and want -- to spend money on their animals] is one small part of a sea change that began in the late 1980s, driven by technological innovation and the rising social status of the American house pet. At the country's leading veterinary teaching hospitals, surgeons now routinely perform procedures that were unavailable to the average house pet 10 years ago: kidney transplants, cancer chemotherapy, back surgery for herniated disks, titanium hip-joint replacements, radiation treatments for goldfish, MRIs for hawks. Even treatments once reserved for very expensive animals -- racehorses and champion purebred dogs -- are available at the sophisticated specialty hospitals that have proliferated in the past decade and that provide a range of care previously available only at the nation's 28 veterinary school teaching hospitals.

"In the 1980s, pet owners began to say, 'If medical science can remove my cataracts, why can't it take out my dog's?' " says Jack Walther, head of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the profession's primary membership organization. "And the answer was, we could. We'd just never been asked."

Until the 1940s, and through most of its history, veterinary medicine was devoted to helping agriculture manage its food animals. The creed of veterinary medicine -- to help society by helping animals (as opposed to helping animals themselves) -- reflects this. Until the 1960s, most vet students were men with a background in farming or animal science. As the United States suburbanized in the 1950s, small-animal veterinary practices began to proliferate, but pet cats and dogs still spent much of their time outside. (Try to picture Lassie sprawled lengthwise on the living room couch at Timmy's house. It can't be done.) As recently as the late 1980s, most pets were treated as second-class citizens by their owners.

The practice of veterinary medicine reflected this lowly status. Even now, most veterinarians carry little or no malpractice insurance, because until very recently, it was impossible for a pet owner suing a vet over loss of a pet to recover anything more than the animal's replacement value. The bigger part of the vet's week was spent administering vaccines and fixing the broken bones that were a common and unremarkable fact of life in the decades before leash laws. When a pet's medical problems became difficult or expensive to fix, the animal was "put to sleep," or euthanized.

"One of the most discouraging parts of my practice in the early days was having a dog come in with a simple broken leg and having the owner say, 'Well, it costs money and it's just a dog, so put him to sleep,' " says Walther, who began his practice in Nevada almost 40 years ago.

In the late '80s, however, pets began to fill the emotional and physical void created by rising divorce rates and growing numbers of single-person and childless households. "A pet may be the most stabilizing, permanent presence a child from a divorced home will ever experience," says Arlington vet Robert Brown.

Dogs and cats began to live longer, too. From 1987 to 2000, the life spans of the average dog and cat increased by more than one-third, thanks to better commercial pet foods and widespread vaccination, according to the AVMA. But longer life spans meant a jump in the incidence of the diseases of old age -- cancers, organ failure, crippling arthritis and other problems. With the family pet now ensconced on the bed instead of at the far end of the yard, the medical problems were easier to spot and harder to ignore.

Today, many people think of their pets as members of the family, and they want them to have access to the same medical technology they do, vets say. And this is possible, thanks to the same biomedical revolution that transformed human medicine in the 1950s and '60s. According to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates drugs for the veterinary market, the pharmaceutical industry in recent years has begun shifting its energies away from the agricultural market and toward companion animals. The number of new drugs approved for veterinary use has increased dramatically in the past decade, with special interest in drugs for behavior modification and pain relief.

The focus on pain medication is a particularly significant bellwether. Until very recently, desensitizing veterinary students to animal pain was an important part of their education. "When I went to vet school back in the Stone Age, we didn't really talk about pain," says Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "It was, 'Do the surgery, and the animals will get along fine.' " Today, Sundlof says, there is a growing understanding of pain as a complication that impedes recovery and healing.

This gradual and ongoing "evolution in consciousness," says Elliott Katz, a veterinarian and founder of the advocacy group In Defense of Animals, has been spurred by the entrance of large numbers of women to the profession in the past 15 years, and by the demands of pet owners, whose economic clout is becoming a counterweight to the agribusiness interests that have traditionally underwritten much veterinary research at universities.

All of this has put new pressure on the ordinary neighborhood veterinary clinic. Vets, who 30 years ago needed little more than a stethoscope and an Army surplus field X-ray machine to set up a practice, now equip their clinics with an array of expensive diagnostic equipment, from blood-analysis machines to ultrasound scanners. Even setting up a small practice costs upwards of $500,000.

The average veterinary bill -- which has tripled in the past 10 years -- reflects this. The price surge was not an accident. It is the direct result of a half-a-million-dollar study commissioned by the leading veterinary professional organizations in 1998 to figure out why veterinarians' salaries lagged far behind those in human medicine and in such professions as law and engineering. The study, by the business consulting firm KPMG, cited federal statistics showing that veterinary practice incomes had declined during the 1990s, a decade when many other professional incomes rose.

The study concluded that veterinarians were failing to run their practices as the demanding businesses they had become. Pressed by competition, vets were mortgaging their practices to buy expensive equipment but charging clients prices that hadn't increased much since the 1970s. The veterinary profession called the study's findings a "wake-up call" and set up a national commission dedicated to encouraging vets to concentrate harder on the bottom line.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

David Harcombe's Book on Badger Digging

Badger Digging with Terriers by David Harcombe -- £19.95 from Read Country Books

Hardback, 129 pages, black and white photographs throughout.

"This little book has been produced in an attempt to impart a sense of balance to the hysterical atmosphere which surrounds the badger. The animal is now virtually untouchable, yet any farmer will testify that there are times when brock is an even greater nuisance than the fox.

The flaw prohibits humane capture and removal of the badger (at least, by terrier men) though 'naturalists' are quite often guilty and appear to place themselves above the law, even keeping them as pets, a role to which the badger is particularly unsuited.

Badgers thrive now as never before and it is hoped that the level will not cause unacceptable difficulties for those who earn their living from the countryside, whose views are usually completely opposite to the 'nature lovers' who are so often seen to be completely out of touch with reality.

David Harcombe is best known for his 'Working Terrier Year Book' which first saw the light of day in 1978 an proved to be very popular with terrier men. The Year Book is now in its fourth volume.

He is simply a worker of terriers, having a great enthusiasm for the worker and an equally great aversion to the working show scene as it exists today.

He is a campaigner for all that is best in terrier sport and seeks to counteract the unfortunate publicity which has often been attached by the actions of a certain sadistic, and untypical, minority."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Heifer International: A Gift That Keeps Giving

Heifer International is one of the great charities in the world, and if you would like to do well and know that the gift will keep on giving, this is a place to start.

Heifer International's goal is a simple one: to make more very poor families in the developing world self-sustainable by giving them the livestock they need to make a little cash. Basic principles of animal husbandry are taught, livestock is bred, and assets are multiplied. Those assets, in turn, are eventually used to help get another poor family started down the road to self-sufficiency and dignity.

Heifer International is not a scam, but the real deal -- honest and principled charity honestly given and with principles carefully framed.

Regardless of your income or donation capability, you can make a world of difference today by giving a flock of baby chickens, ducks or geese ($20), a hive of bees ($30), trees or rabbits ($60), a goat, sheep or pig ($120), or even a water buffalo ($250). You can also give a portion of a larger gift.

For more information on Heifer International, or to give a gift that will keep on giving (gifts can also be given in other people's names), see >>

Give a gift of life and hope today -- it will be the greatest thing you do all week.

A Very Bad Fourth of July

Terrier Tries To Fetch Firecracker, Is Killed

STUART, Fla. -- To the horror of her owners, a Jack Russell terrier tried to fetch a lit firecracker and was killed when it exploded.

The owners said the hyperactive terrier named Kaylee would chase anything thrown her way.

The dog was in her family's yard at a Fourth of July picnic when a relative, who was not invited to the picnic, drove by and threw a powerful firecracker into the yard.

The 3-year-old, eight-pound dog died instantly.

A sheriff's spokeswoman said the firecracker wasn't illegal and there is no evidence of malice against the dog. The relative who threw the firecracker will not be charged.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Shrinking Globe

I just got a new shipment of button batteries in for the Deben collars -- 100 batteries for $15 which includes shipping from Hong Kong (via EBay).

That works out to just 15 cents per battery as compared to $2 to $2.30 a battery at Radio Shack or Home Depot.

It's an odd thing that you can have batteries sent from China that end up costing a small fraction of batteries purchased from just around the corner.

The world is becoming a smaller place. The locator collars now come from Switzerland or Germany as well as the UK, the antibiotics come from India or China, the button batteries from Hong Kong. The pictures I take in the field are from a camera made in Japan and are looked at by people in Denmark, Sweden, Canada and California. Field sport books can be located in used books shops across the world, from Australia to Maine, or ordered (new) from Wales. Money is converted and changes hands with the click of a computer mouse. A dog's pedigree can be examined on line, and pictures and even video exchanged. The dog itself can arrive on your doorstep with 24 hours.

Some things don't change much, however. The animals are still the same size, and they live the same seasonal lives they always have. The dogs required to do the job are the same as they ever were, and so too are the core tools of shovel and bar. If Jacques du Fouilloux or the Rev. John Russell were alive today, they would feel comfortable with the tools and the goal (though both might be surprised to learn there are no hunt servants around to do the actual job of digging!).

Coon Dog Cemetary

You can find the Coon Dog Cemetery 7 miles west of Tuscumbia, Alabama on U.S. Hwy 72. Turn left on Alabama Hwy 247, and travel approximately 12 miles. Then turn right, and follow the signs. It's a one-of-a-kind thing -- only in America! For a quicker and easier trip, visit and -- two great sites, extremely well done!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Three on the Fourth of July

Sailor enters a tight earth.

Sailor rags a small groundhog that was terminated as it tried to bolt out of a hole three feet away. Sailor dragged it back into the hole for a little work over.

Mountain works a very large groundog that ended up bolting out of a hole I missed in the tall grass.
This groundhog entered another earth about 100 yards away, but I let it go, as I was done digging in the heat and the car battery was dicey and needed replacement it while the auto store was still open. We'll get this groundhog another day.

Another big grounhog was bolted earlier in the day. I saw this one slide under a large shed as we entered the farm, and since this was an enormous pipe and a simple two-hole affair under a concrete slab, I let Sailor drive it out the other end of the pipe. I missed the bolt on the other side of the shed, as it was very quick.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Deer population destroying own habitat

The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) July 05, 2005

EDITORIALS: Deer population destroying own habitat

Calling exploding deer populations a "public menace," an article in the July-August issue of Audubon magazine pillories the Pennsylvania Game Commission for championing a large deer herd at the expense of the ecosystem.

"The situation in Pennsylvania has gone from hopeful to hideous," according to Ted Williams, the article's author. "Apparently that state will remain the continent's most graphic example of ecological blight wrought by backward, politically inspired management."

The article is right. Bowing to a small, but vocal clique of hunters who want to venture to their favorite spot in the woods and sit and wait until the deer come to them, the Game Commission has pursued game management policies for years that have left vast stretches of Penn Woods incapable of regeneration.

Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that the forests are dying and the commission, cowed by angry hunters, appears to be quietly abandoning the promising herd-reduction initiatives begun by wildlife biologist Gary Alt, who has left the commission's employment.

The fact is that the Game Commission likely will never pursue ecologically sound wildlife management policies with the energy and long-term commitment that are required so long as it continues to be largely supported by fees from hunting licenses.

As we've recommended many times before, the Game Commission, along with the Fish and Boat Commission, need to be integrated into the larger environmental conservation and management effort, that puts preservation of the habitat at the top of the scale of forest-related objectives.

Deer overpopulation isn't just a Pennsylvania problem, of course. And far from all hunters are oblivious to the ecological damage that deer inflict when their numbers are out of balance with their habitat. And while a vocal group of deer hunters tend to drive commission wildlife management decisions and seemingly legislative indifference to the consequences, in the end, the hunter also is the solution to the deer-overpopulation problem.

A successful deer-management strategy requires harvesting more deer. For that to be accomplished, the length of the deer-hunting seasons and the bag limits need to be expanded.

But traditions die hard in Pennsylvania. As the Audubon article notes: "For 80 years (Pennsylvania hunters) had gotten used to gross deer overabundance so that their sport more closely resembled a baited dove shoot than true deer hunting."

We should be offended by that statement, not because it tarnishes the state's reputation but because it is true.

Pennsylvania needs to get its hunting house in order to save the forests and all the species that depend upon them, including a healthy herd of white-tail deer.

UK Terrierman Part of Legal Challenge to Hunt Ban

Horse & Hound Online, July 5, 2005

This morning two new legal challenges to the Hunting Act got underway at the Royal Courts of Justice in London

This morning saw two new appeals against the validity of the Hunting Act begin at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The first appeal is on human rights grounds with 10 claimants appealing against the Hunting Act, claiming that it breaches four articles of the Human Rights Act: the right to property and the uses of that property; the right to respect for private and family life; freedom of assembly, and association and prohibition of discrimination.

The barristers acting for these claimants will also argue that the restrictions imposed by the Hunting Act cannot be justified and that no legitimate aim has been clearly identified by the proponents of a ban.

The barristers acting for the claimants are Richard Gordon QC and Richard Lissack QC. The claimants are Donald Summerskill, a huntsman with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, Lesley Drage, who owns a livery yard, Roger Bigland, a terrierman with the North Cotswold Hunt, Colin Dayment, a farrier, Kim Gooding a hare coursing trainer, Joe Cowen, a landowner and Master of Foxhounds, Ken Jones, a Welsh sheep farmer, Richard May, a beagle pack owner, Giles Bradshow, a farmer, and Jason Vickery, a tenant dairy farmer.

The second challenge is on European Community law grounds, and the main thrust of this case is to argue that the hunting ban is having a major and practical impact on cross border economic activity, which is a fundamental right enjoyed by all citizens of EU member states.

John Jackson of the Countryside Alliance said outside the Courts today: "We maintain that the Hunting Act is a bad Act and it was passed in a bad way. Our first challenge to the validity of this Act is going to be considered next week at the Highest Court in the Land, but we are continuing to challenge the nature of this Act in different ways because it infringes upon the basic freedoms protected by the Human Rights Act.

"There is simply no case for arguing that hunting acts against the public interest, so we have high hopes that the basic freedoms we are all entitled to will be recognised," he added.

Colin Dayment, a farrier, and one of the claimants on the Human Rights challenge said he was inspired to get involved with the case because it is not just his business under threat but his whole way of life.

"What I am here for is not just to try and save my business, but to save my community and my social life. Hunting is tied up with the entire way I live, and if it remains illegal I will be out of a job, and the structure of my life will fall apart," he said this morning.

These new challenges are set to take a week to be heard, while the House of Lords is due to hear the appeal of the Alliance's original challenge to the Parliament Act next Wednesday and Thursday (13 and 14 July).

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Lurchers, Terriers & Ferrets

Paul Dooley's blog at is worth a visit as it has some nice pictures and narrative. Why you are at it you might invest a little money in Paul's book >> ordering information here

As for the picture above, it's a lot of rabbit holes being netted, with a ferret below ground and a deben box in hand. Looking at this picture, I am reminded of the Beatles lyric in the song Day in the Life: "Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire / And though the holes were rather small / They had to count them all".

And net them too ...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sailor Ratting a Feed Bunker

The only entrance was this small crack in one end but once inside, she did well.

America's Founding Terrier

George Washington fox hunting in Virginia.

The case can be made that America might not exist today were it not for "our Founding Terrier."

Robert Brooke of Maryland introduced foxhunting to the United States in 1650, and imported the first pack of foxhounds from Great Britain.

Dr. Thomas Walker of Virginia (who discovered the Cumberland Gap and for whom the Walker Coon Hound is named) imported another pack to Virginia in 1742. The first fox hunting pack maintained for the benefit of a group of foxhunters rather than for a single owner, was instituted by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, in 1747 in northern Virginia.

Walker and Washington were good friends and business partners, and were co-owners (along with Washington's brother-in-law) of the "Dismal Swamp Land Company" (1763) which was to develop land near present-day Norfolk, Virginia. Walker was probably the person that got Washington started in fox hunting.

Washington moved to Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River just below Washington, D.C., after marrying Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759. It was at Mount Vernon, while still in his 20s, that George Washington first began fox hunting in earnest, setting up a rather lavish set of kennels and carefully breeding a new line of American foxhounds that were faster, lighter and less pack-centered than their English brethren.

In 1768, Washington was appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and managed to fill his need for fox hunting at the Gloucester Hunting Club across the River from Philadelphia in New Jersey near present-day Haddonfield.

It was largely because of social and political connections made while fox hunting that Washington's social prominence rose, and in 1775 George Washington was Congress's unanimous choice as commander of the new Continental Army that was to lead the American forces against the British.

In truth, Washington did not have the forces and equipment to wage a successful fight and hold ground, and his chief battle-field opponent, General William Howe of Great Britain, was a master tactician.

Howe defeated Washington time and time again. In August of 1776 Howe landed on Long Island, captured New York City and defeated Washington at White Plains.

In 1777 Howe defeated Washington again, this time at the Battle of Brandywine (near present-day Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania) and took Philadelphia.

In October of 1777, the Battle of Germantown was waged. This battle took place near Philadelphia, and it too was a defeat for American forces, but it was a turning point in the war.

The turning point occurred when a small fox terrier was found wandering between the battle lines. The little dog was scooped up by American soldiers and the dog's collar identified it as belonging to none other than General Howe.

The dog was brought to Washington as a war prize -- a taunt to use against the British -- but Washington was having none of it.

A true dog-man, who missed his own fox hounds and terriers at Mount Vernon, Washington personally wiped the little terrier clean and brushed its coat. He then dictated a short note to his aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, and secretly tucked a private note of his own tight under the collar of the dog. The dog, and both notes, were then returned to General Howe under a flag of truce.

Washington's private note has not survived, but Howe was extremely pleased by it. The public note, a copy of which has survived (see picture below), reads: "General Washington's compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe."

After his terrier's return Howe praised Washington's actions as an "honorable act" and historians note that although he continued to win his battles, he never pursued Washington with quite the same vigor.

In fact, when ordered to fight harder and show the rebels no compassion, Howe resigned in protest.

Howe was replaced by General Henry Clinton, who was a poor tactician, and General Charles Cornwallis, who was a poor field commander.

In the end, the United States won the war and Washington returned to his beloved Mount Vernon where he continued breeding fox hounds and chasing foxes at least once a week.

Shortly after returning to Mount Vernon, Washington imported massive hounds from France with the help of his friend the Marquis de Lafayette. American hounds were crossed with these new French imports, and some of the progeny were sent to the Gloucester Foxhunting Club, outside of Philadelphia, where they proved extremely popular due to their speed.

In 1787 Washington headed the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and again his friends at the Gloucester Foxhunting Club lobbied for his election as the first President of the new country.

After the Constitution was ratified, Washington was unanimously elected President and in time the new Capitol was constructed just down river from his Mount Vernon estate.

Draft of note from George Washington to Howe, in the handwriting of aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton.