27 bad decisions by cats

27 05 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 9.00.55 PMI love this (though occasionally it made me wince): thanks so much Hanno!


Hanno’s PS: “And has PRS made a decision?” Nope not yet. Here’s hoping it will be good this time, not bad…

Sorry, I’m staying right HERE

27 05 2015

This is the one mink Andrea‘s struggling to get “boredom” data from. Half her animals have a large enriched compartment now, but they all need to be tested in their home cages because this is the same for enriched and non-enriched subjects (so making the test environment standardized).

When it comes to testing time, most of these enriched animals are good at trotting over the bridge connecting their enriched compartment to the home cage, but not Mr. Happy here: he’s always having too much fun with his balls and toys to budge.


Showering mink with enrichments

21 05 2015

Half of Andrea’s mink got exciting new homes yesterday: extra large cages, full of objects to chew and shred, with elevated towers and overhead tunnels.

This is so that she can first assess whether upping the enrichment rapidly reduces signs of boredom. Then, once these data are got, she’ll give the second half of the group enriched cages too, and scan all of them to see if their baseline forms of stereotypic behaviour (SB) predict how reduced their SB is by enrichment.


Losing it in Lansing

21 05 2015

Postcard from Andrea on Sunday:

20150517_181345Arrived safe in Lansing after a swift and easy border crossing. But at some point in Michigan I heard something dragging,  and it turned out this part of the car had got loose. So I drove via small roads for the rest of the trip: fine for most of the journey because I pushed it back up so it wouldn’t drag. 

However 3km away from “home” the damn thing loosened, and I just had to pull over to the first stop I could see. This happened to be a sketchy motel. It was obvious I couldn’t really drive like this, and a man there kept trying to help me — which was fine until he called his friend (without telling me). On seeing another stranger drive into the already sketchy hotel, my anxiety hit the roof. I was on the phone with Enterprise’s road assistance by this point, but I just took off and drove away. At this point the loose thing (pictured right) came right off. I wonder what the two guys thought, seeing me leap out of the car to pick it up before speeding away again? 😂😂😥

End of Experiment 1

21 05 2015

The final part of Maria’s cage height study ended last week. Mink had access to an enriched compartment whose ceiling was progressively raised or lowered every 2-3 weeks to see if that’d affect how much time they spent there. No idea what’s in the data yet.

The end of this experiment meant killing all the animals save those Andrea’s keeping on for another month. We do this because we don’t want to move animals from our large enriched cages to small farm ones (that’s what’d happen if they just went back to farm stock), and because we want to take responsibility for and control their deaths so that they are as humane as they can be. Over the years we’ve refined the killing method, balancing three things: MSU’s desire to use CO2 (rather than the super-effective CO used on farms) for human safety; our strong desire not to expose conscious mink to it because it’s so aversive to them; and new rules about using anaesthetics like isoflourane (which, mis-used — not that we ever did this — can irritate animals’ eyes and be nasty for humans). All went very smoothly this time, though it’s always a sombre process. Maria’s summary:

So sad. But killing went better than last time. Having two separate chambers, the first one for the anaesthetic, and then a second for the CO2, really helped. Only two or three mink (out of 27) urinated while in the anaesthesia chamber; no-one ever shrieked (what mink do when threatened); and no-one ever attempted to escape. Before the anaesthetic knocked them out, they just didn’t seem particularly upset to be there: our ideal.

The vets were with us all day, and very nice too: very good about caring. They are going to officially train us to use the vaporizer in June (it’s easy), so that next time they’ll just help us set up and then they’ll just come back for the equipment at the end of the day.

More empathy-like behaviour in rats

20 05 2015

Must read this…. though am still curious to know if rats will just work to turn off distress signals..

Also, was it really a near-death drowning experience???? if yes, that’s quite an absence of empathy in the researchers.

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Effects of oxytocin are like alcohol

20 05 2015

New study (a meta-analysis?) finds oxytocin can make you boastful and aggressive, as well as loved up.

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CSAW Research Day

19 05 2015

CSAW Research Day has grown and grown, and this year the room was full to bursting, many having to log on to watch it as a video conference (see programme here).

Jeff Rushen was the guest speaker, first giving a great if old talk on cattle handling (in Comic Sans!) as requested, and then the new talk he really wanted to give, which was on play (featured here on You Tube). Some 4th year philosophy students also provided an entertaining break from the back-to-back welfare science, trying, for example, to persuade us to sidestep the trickiness of identifying sentient beings by simply behaving as if we were virtuous (but can you really behave virtuously to insentient objects? Not convinced this ruse solves the problem).



My group’s role was pretty low key this year (unlike last year’s triumph): I presented Laura’s stuff, and Stephen (below) gave a 5 minute overview of his summer project plans (for which he I spent a fun few hours watching mice in the dark last week, refining his ethogram, and being amazed at their ability to make a small predictable cage look interesting).


“We Must Preserve The Earth’s Dwindling Resources For My Five Children”

18 05 2015

Another priceless gem from The Onion.


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Terror in Nepal

12 05 2015

Can’t believe this new earthquake. My friend Naomi and her family are safe (though they have a garden full of homeless camping neighbours). Alexandra‘s student Bishwo‘s family is safe too.


Last week we had a collection at the ABW meeting (here is Bishwo telling us what things have been like for his family in Kathmandu). We raised $495 for the Red Cross, which Jonathan and I matched and the Canadian government will match again, so that turned into a very respectable sum. But still just a speck really, compared to the problem.