Most welcome error message ever

22 10 2014

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A second before I emailed the nearly complete ANSC*4090 midterm exam to Mike and Hillary Dalton (my other TA), Luke leapt onto the coffee table and walked across the computer… and just after I’d pressed ‘send’, I realised he’d cat-typed, and changed Mike’s name from ‘mwalk04’ to ‘rtmwalk04’.

In the minute it took to get the error message, I actually did not breathe: if that had turned out not be a real person, we’d have had to re-write the whole exam …

My Amazon cart right now

20 10 2014

Still on the hunt for stimuli that mink might find scary. Who knew rubber snakes were this expensive?

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Surreal email of the week

20 10 2014

“Hey Becky, did you keep or chuck that polar bear urine from last time?”.

Andrea and I are interested in re-assessing boredom, to see if it predicts how mink respond to enrichment. The quest for stimuli that range from attractive to scary is taking us to many strange websites: some sell predators’ urine (e.g. ““; nope not making that up), while others help trappers set lures (some to buy, some to make in your very own kitchen …)


You know you’re in Canada when…

16 10 2014

… you wake to find  skunk poop on your doorstep … but deposited in a cute smily face.


Sir James Dunn Centre animal welfare meeting

15 10 2014

End of last week I headed to Prince Edward Island: the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre was hosting a conference on mink welfare.

I was scheduled to give two lectures. One was easy: a talk on the effects of enrichment on mink behaviour and welfare. My group’s produced a nice mix of fundamental work on perseveration and mate choice, and applied work on farms, and so I just recycled my Davis seminar. The other was potentially more challenging: a public talk on welfare issues in mink farming the evening before the conference proper. This was open to anyone, and though it was likely some farmers were coming as they’d registered for the meeting the next day, it wasn’t clear who else would.

In the run up, I became convinced that people from animal rights groups would be there too (it was, after all, a public lecture on fur farming), and then worried that they’d ask me about some recent SPCA cases (in particular, one involving some pretty sick & miserable foxes on a farm in Quebec). This sent me into a flurry of preparation. I read all about this farm. I read about welfare laws in Quebec and other provinces. I asked the whole group what bad things they’d seen on farms that weren’t actually code violations (since that’s when things get tricky: they’re legal but still awful). I worked on slides to carefully present my own views, to explain why I work with mink even though I don’t like any intensive systems, farm or lab. I even tried to work out my ethical stance more formally: I don’t care about death as long as no suffering is involved (don’t care about abortion for example, as long as there is no pain or misery); I don’t care why animals are used (partly because the animals don’t know why they are there, partly because self interest seems to play a huge role in how essential or frivolous any form of animal use is judged to be); but I do really care about suffering. So…if Wikipedia is to be believed, I’m a ‘negative utilitarian‘ (but it really is time I sorted this out properly, especially since apparently this view is ‘wicked or absurd’).

By the time Friday night came I was ready for anything: if the room had been half gnarly trappers, half young pierced vegans in plastic shoes, I still could have steered it so that no-one got upset — even if absolutely everyone disagreed with me.  In the end, to my slight disappointment (though it made for an easy evening), the audience was 3/4 industry people, 1/4 vet students, and no-one was even vegetarian let alone vegan: incredible!! But anyway, both lectures went well, and the conference on Saturday was truly great. Everyone’s talks were really interesting and well-presented (and here we are below: Kirk Rankin, Kirsti Rouvinen-Watt, Dave MacHattie, and to my right, Jim Goltz).

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My personal highlights were hearing Kirk quote Darwin; and hearing mink vet Dave telling everyone to install shelves and use Metacam to relieve pain from wounds or birthing problems, and reporting on the positive changes he’s seen on farms over the last 5 years or so – see his IMG_1312slide below:


What was great was not just that he’d seen these changes, but his easy assumption that reductions in stereotypic pacing and fur-chewing are both good things.  When I first got to Canada, these were seen as normal: the mink were just ‘running’, for example, or even ‘playing’.  And I just know that it’s the work done by Maria, Jamie, Dana, Becky and Misha that has helped create this shift in view…



I am thankful…

14 10 2014

.. to have finished marking 100+ annotated bibliographies!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Emma has the bug

12 10 2014

Got an email from Emma today that confirms she has a bad case of the research bug:

Presentation1“Just a quick ‘un to tell you that Schmid et al. (2006) found that parrots that were not able to fly in captivity were more likely to have FDB … very similar to what I originally found with my analyses – parrots that did not have the opportunity to fly being more likely to have FDB… Anyway, I got very excited about it and it made my lunch-break that much better”

This telling email adds to growing evidence that she really should do a PhD!  Am v much hoping something works out for her with Mike Mendl.

Meantime I’ve dried some of her flowers, and very lovely they are too.

Hmm… why is blogging is so so much more fun than marking?