Posts tagged ‘cynicism’
To recap this entire nutty situation, out of the blue the Delta Society (a non-profit organization that organizes and trains dog owners for volunteer visitations to nursing homes, hospitals, and similar) made the decision to ban all Pet Partners (certified pet owner/dog volunteer teams) from feeding their pet a raw meat diet. The decision, according to Delta Society, was based on scientific evidence that a raw meat diet causes the pet to shed (in feces) bacteria (such as Salmonella) that could put patients (those visited by Pet Partner teams) at risk. The Delta Society provided some clinical evidence (emphasizing the word some) to support their decision. Shocked and bewildered existing Pet Partners provided the Delta Society with a vast amount of opposing clinical evidence that showed dogs fed a kibble or can diet as well sheds (in feces) potentially risky bacteria (such as Salmonella). This opposing clinical evidence was ignored by the Delta Society. During the shocked and bewildered stage of this dilemma, it was discovered that a Purina Pet Food executive sits on the board of directors of Delta Society and the same Purina executive is applying for a patent that appears to seek control over all pet businesses involvement with pet charities. The Delta Society, despite the suspected connection, steadfastly denies that Purina Pet Food had any input into their decision to ban Pet Partners from feeding a raw meet diet.
Just when you think this situation couldn’t become more blatant bought and sold pet charity, I received an email from a former Pet Partner (an intelligent pet owner that made the educated decision to feed their pet a raw diet then ultimately decided the health of her pet was more important to her than her than following Delta Society’s new ban) sharing a nutty piece of information. She informed me that the new Delta Society Pet Partner banner (the harness type clothing that the dogs wear indicating they are a trained volunteer) now includes a Purina Pet Food logo. In other words, every Pet Partner will now be a walking advertisement for Purina Pet Food.
I understand that pets fed a raw (generally noncommercial) diet can shed bacteria such as Salmonella in their feces – but so do pets fed regular kibble diets. I would also hazard a guess that it is not uncommon for humans fed “normal” diets to shed potentially dangerous bacteria in their feces. Last time I checked – this is one of the reasons all hospitals require all staff and volunteers to practice good hygiene.
Given this information, one wonders why Delta has chosen to ban all dogs fed raw meat products from their program. But in an odd bit of inconvenient coincidence we find that Delta’s decision to ban raw diets occurred at about the same time that Purina – a major manufacturer of kibble diets signed on as a major financial sponsor of the group. Purina features an anti-raw diet “public service announcement” on their website. But Delta assures us that this had nothing at all to do with their decision.
Even though all Delta Pet Partners will now sport prominent Purina logos…
If that connection wasn’t eyebrow-raising enough, a new update from The Truth About Pet Food explains that Delta appears to be collaborating with Purina on the design of a particularly sleazy form of subliminal marketing cum social engineering:
Brenda Bax, Marketing Director for Purina Pet Food and Delta Society Board of Directors member has applied for a very unusual patent; “Methods for marketing corporate brands”. The patent Ms. Bax is seeking is basically a means for Big Corporations to work through animal charities (use animal charities) to develop a specific marking plan to pitch their products. Nothing new in marketing really, but what is puzzling and concerning is a pet food company wishing to patent a system where an animal charity works with a corporation for donations.
The Abstract of the patent Ms. Bax of Purina Pet Food…
“Abstract: Business methods are provided for marketing and increasing sales of corporate products or brands by collecting information about one or more animal welfare organizations, collecting information from one or more consumers about animal welfare, and processing the animal welfare organization information and the consumer information to design a marketing program executable by the corporation that enables the consumer to interact with the animal welfare organization.”
I am confused and concerned. Why would Purina Pet Food want to patent a marketing method associated with an Animal Welfare Organization? Is this patent application a concern to all Animal Welfare Organizations that do not currently work with Purina Pet Food? Does this patent provide Purina Pet Food control over all other corporations working with/donating to an Animal Welfare Organization?
Is/was Delta Society their first test market and the “wherein the animal welfare organization must meet a specified requirement to be a part of the marketing program” was the ban of pets fed a raw diet?
Marketing has become such an integral part of our lives that we tune most of it out. So companies with billion dollar budgets are constantly searching for new ways to sneak their message past our protective radar. In a world that is often characterized as being dominated by sleaziness – Purina and Delta appear to have taken things to an incredibly astounding new low.
You may be surprised to discover which is more likely to send you to the hospital…
Today’s post was inspired by a thought-provoking comment on FaceBook from Sarah Wilson who posted that:
Flexi lead has more, longer and more severe warnings for their product than say Glock by an extremely large margin.
This presented such a spectacularly delicious opportunity to pick on my least favorite dog training tool that I figured it couldn’t possibly be true. So I looked both documents up, and by golly she’s right. The Flexi lead’s product safety warning is over 1,400 words long. Glock’s is less than 250.
I understand that the number of words (or scary pictures) published in a product safety warning isn’t necessarily a fair indication of how dangerous an item is, but since is it’s no secret that I hate the ubiquitous retractable leash I decided to do a little research on accident statistics to see if I could turn up anything interesting.
The results of my search were absolutely jaw-dropping.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) 16,564 injuries associated with leashes required hospital treatment in 2007.
While CPSC doesn’t break the leashes involved down by type, based on a couple of decades spent obsessively watching people walk their dogs in all kinds of situations I very strongly suspect that the lion’s share of these injuries were caused by retractable leashes like the Flexi lead. And data provided by Consumer Reports appears to support my suspicion.
According to Consumer Reports:
The most common injuries reported were burns and cuts, usually sustained when the cord came in contact with skin as it rapidly paid out from the handle of a leash. Others occurred when the cord got wrapped around part of the owner or the dog.
The kinds of injuries described by Consumer Reports can only occur with retractable leashes like the Flexi lead. A good old-fashioned six foot long leather lead does not ‘pay out’ from a handle. It won’t give you rope burn and it doesn’t cut your hand when you grab it. The kind of leather leads favored by obedience competitors and skilled dog trainers are not likely to hurt you in day to day use. The same obviously cannot be said for retractable leads.
But how dangerous is a Glock?
The Center for Disease Control’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) is an interactive database that allows the public to create customized reports of injury-related data. Because I think it is probably safe to assume that only a vanishingly small number of leash injuries are intentionally inflicted (and a quick google news search for garrotings committed with leashes turned up absolutely no results) I decided it would be most accurate to compare leash injuries to unintentional firearm injuries. Running the numbers I discovered that in 2007 15,698 Americans received unintentional non-fatal firearm injuries.
So there you have it. While no one is likely to actually murder you with a Flexi lead, based on 2007 data compiled by the Center for Disease Control – you are more likely to be seriously injured by a leash than by the unintentional discharge of a firearm.
Think about that for a minute.
A tool that millions of pet owners use every single day is as likely be involved in an accident that sends you to the hospital as a gun is.
To take this a step farther, let’s consider how many more unintentional nonfatal injuries might have been caused by Flexi leads than Glocks in 2007.
FlexiUSA reports an annual revenue of about $3,900,000. Leads typically sell for $15-20 each so let’s be conservative and divide that number by $10. That means that approximately 390,000 Flexi leads are sold in the US each year. We’ll assume that each lead lasts an average of five years putting approximately 1,950,000 Flexi leads in American hands.
According to Glock 2,500,000 Glock pistols have been sold in more than 100 countries over the last 20 years. The Small Arms Survey published by Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva states that civilians own approximately 650 million firearms worldwide and Americans own some 270 million of them. So if Americans own, on average, 41.5% of all firearms let’s just assume that they also own 41.5% of all brands putting approximately 1,040,000 Glocks in American hands. If accidental gun injury statistics are consistent with brand that would mean that only 6,515 Americans were injured by the accidental discharge of Glock firearms in 2007.
So according to my estimate in 2007: 1,950,000 Flexi leads sent 16,564 people to the hospital (or about 0.85% of all users); and the accidental discharge of 1,040,000 Glocks sent 6,515 people to the hospital (about 0.6% of all users). This means that you are about 50% more likely to be seriously injured by a Flexi lead than an accident involving a Glock!
Of course it’s patently ridiculous to say that a Glock is inherently less dangerous than a Flexi lead. The real problem is that a frightening number of Americans have convinced themselves that mindlessly holding onto a plastic handle attached to a dangerously convenient retractable cord is a perfectly acceptable alternative for mindful dog training.
And thus we end up with a disturbing number of people who are the Flexi lead holding equivalent of this on the street:
To paraphrase Plaxico “If you see a Flexi lead you leave that motha fucka alone! You go get a dog trainer, you go get some training…”
There have been some interesting goings on at the StarTribune this week. It started on Sunday when Jean Hopfensperger published a piece titled Humane Society, fighting a “smear”.
The story quickly hit local dog boards and generated some interest both because of the subject of the story and… because the piece was quickly scrubbed not only from the paper but also from google’s archives, shortly after it was published. A few people (including yours truly) wrote to the paper asking why the story was pulled. No answers were given but the story mysteriously re-appeared on the StarTribune’s website today.
The piece presents a strongly one-sided defense of Janelle Dixon’s condemnation of Humane Watch’s campaign to inform pet owners about how little money fund-raising behemoth the Humane Society of the United States uses to directly support animals in need.
While readers may assume that a woman representing a local animal shelter is primarily driven by a desire to save as many pets as she can, it may not be quite that simple. Ms. Dixon is not only president of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, she’s also the president of the National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS).
What is the NFHS? According to the social activist networking website care2:
Earlier this year when Pacelle was criticized for his role in euthanizing dogs rescued from a dog-fighting operation, HSUS made a commitment to begin evaluating all rescued dogs on an individual basis. This commitment has led HSUS to launch The Shelter Pet Project – a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable homeless animals.
It has also led to the creation of the National Federation of Humane Societies. This is a coalition of dozens of major shelters and rescue groups throughout the country that have vowed to stop euthanasia for healthy homeless pets by the year 2020.
Stopping the euthanasia of pets is a laudable goal, but the StarTribune opinion piece story appears to have been lifted entirely from a letter NFHS wrote to Mr. Richarad Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) dated May 25, 2010. A letter that is posted prominently on the HSUS website.
The letter states that the HSUS’s “charitable purpose has never been questioned.” Apparently Steve Putnam, author of the letter and the executive director of NFHS, doesn’t spend much time on the internet. HSUS’s ‘charitable purposes’ have been called into question for years by yours truly and a host of other bloggers, forums, webgroups and advocacy groups. It’s old news.
Putnam goes on to state that “The HSUS mission has always included a focus on large-scale animal cruelty and eliminating animal suffering. HSUS has always been transparent about that mission.” Perhaps HSUS is completely transparent when they’re dealing with groups who share their ideals, but in my experience, the group makes millions by taking advantage of the fact that a very large number of pet lovers think that the Humane Society is the same thing as their local humane society. HSUS further obfuscates the truth by prominently featuring the plight of homeless pets (the same ones they spend less than 1% of their funds to help directly) in their advertising copy.
While he calls CCF’s motives into question, Putnam, for some reason, does not feel the need to mention the very strong ties between NFHS and HSUS. Neither does Dixon.
So Putnam and Dixon both have a pro-HSUS bias. Big deal. I’m a huge fan of freedom of speech, and as such, I support the rights of Putnam, Dixon, CCF, HSUS and NFHS to lobby and speak out on issues as they see fit. While I would fight to the death to support the rights of these people to speak their minds – I’m convinced that it’s immoral (and quite possibly illegal) to engage in misleading advertising.
As I’ve stated before I meet a very disturbing number of average Americans who donate money to HSUS in the mistaken belief that their money is going directly to fund their local shelter. While we all bear the responsibility to make reasonable efforts to investigate where our donations are being used, the deceptively ambiguous ads used extensively by HSUS – in my opinion – lead most people to a false sense of assurance that their money will go directly to support the care of pets in need rather than to support lobbying efforts that many of these same people disagree strongly with.
I’m also not a fan of advocacy journalism. The words you read here, on this blog, represent my opinions. I do not present this site as a news outlet so you can safely assume that anything you read here reflects my own personal bias. And unless you’re a complete dimwit, you probably understand that’s pretty much status quo for the blogosphere. The same can not (or at least should not) be said of the non-opinion pages published in a newspaper. When a journalist lifts information from a letter that is nothing more than a strongly worded opinion/PR piece and publishes it as ‘news’ without looking for, examining and discussing an opposing viewpoint – she spits on the idea of objectivity.
But, as I’m sure most of you know – that isn’t news. Spittoons appear to be common fixtures in newsrooms these days…
Rumor has it they plan to refer to themselves as the Pee-Party…
Apparently, my dogs have all been tortured at some point in their lives. A friend just sent me this link to a position statement published by a group that calls themselves the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology or COAPE.
Seriously. COAPE compares these common, humane and widely accepted dog training methods to the kind of real, actual torture that people in prison camps are subjected to. Specifically they state that:
We’re all well aware of prison and internment camps around the world established in response to various conflicts, and with the debates about what’s been going on in such places, but we often fail to realise that there is a science behind torture. Effective torture entails 3 elements:
- The obvious one,: something aversive/painful and this is what we usually think of as ‘torture’. But there are 2 other crucial elements involved as well:
- Control: in that the victim has no control over his situation.
- Predictability: in that the victim does not know what’s going to happen next and when.
By far the most damaging and stressful long term, both emotionally and physically (via the ongoing release of stress hormones and their impact on the victim’s neurophysiology and immune system) is predictability. But what has this got to do with our food-guarding dog? The answer is ‘lots’ in terms of owner feedback to the dog when applying a behaviour modification technique in such an emotionally charged situation. If you get this wrong then problems like aggression can soon be exacerbated. This is why, at COAPE and CAPBT, we start with assessing the science behind the emotional physiological mechanisms that reinforce the undesirable behaviour. The behaviour of food guarding, of itself tells us nothing.
This statement displays a level of confusion and ignorance about the behavior of real world humans and dogs that is absolutely stunning in extent. This group must be legislated under The Ministry of Silly Thoughts.
Even when it’s used by first time dog owners NILIF succeeds largely because it is predictable and because it’s wonderfully easy for the dog to control. The method is so simple that it’s commonly recommended for children and first-time pet owners. Instead of being overwhelmed by a lot of choices he doesn’t understand, the dog living under NILIF has lots of control. He gets asked a simple yes-no question; if he says yes, he gets rewarded and if he says no, he isn’t.
I don’t understand how this idea is this at odds in any significant respect from the “purely positive” idea of using the giving and withholding treats to train dogs.
Most of what’s posted in COAPE’s position statement appears to be the rambling, neurotic justification of a lot of bizarre ideas – I do not see any real, actual scientific evidence presented for this extremely radical (and, frankly – offensive) stance.
What COAPE really appears to be alluding to is that – unless you are a certified, advanced degree holding behaviorist – you have no business training a dog. Or maybe even living with it.
Hat tip to my friend Linda Kaim for the title of this post.
“Science is properly more scrupulous than dogma. Dogma gives a charter to mistake, but the very breath of science is a contest with mistake, and must keep the conscience alive.”
– George Eliot, Middlemarch
In the past year there’s been a lot of buzz about a University of Pennsylvania study that’s been quoted extensively as proving that “confrontational training methods” provoke aggressive responses in dogs. All the cool kids have been citing it, but being a skeptic I couldn’t help but wonder — does this study really prove what they say it does?
In the introduction to the study Meghan Herron, Frances Shofer, and Ilana Reisner (Herron et al.) write that:
The purpose of this study was to describe the frequency of use, the recommending source, and the owner-reported effect on canine behavior of interventions that owners of dogs with undesired behaviors had used on their dogs. This study also aimed to report aggressive responses from the dogs subsequent to the use of aversive and non-aversive interventions.
If you jump to the end of the study where the investigators discuss their conclusions you’ll see that Herron et al. do not expressly claim to have proved anything. They merely state that an association between the use of “confrontational training methods” and aggressive canine responses was observed in the population sampled. Confusion about that silly cause-effect thingamahickey might have occurred because some PR hack inflated the results to sex-up a press release. Or… it may have come about because immediately after Herron et al. note that they observed an association, they go on to state that: “Ultimately, reward-based training is less stressful or painful for the dog, and, hence, safer for the owner.”
[scratches head] I believe that this is akin to saying: “We found that being black in color was associated with a higher risk of euthanasia in the shelter dog environment. Ultimately, being white in color is less stressful or dangerous for a dog, and, hence, breeders should strive to produce only white dogs.”
How does a simple association suddenly morph into a cause that requires intervention? Correlational studies indicate the existence of relationships between variables, but they can’t prove that one variable causes a change in another. Correlated variables may not be linked in time, space or function, and factors that weren’t considered in the study may be important – or even causative. I come from a different world so maybe I’m being picky, but in the physical sciences it is considered quite bad form to use a simple correlation to imply one has discovered a cause-effect relation.
Unfortunately – the biggest problem in science today isn’t that it’s hard to understand – it’s how distressing easy it has become to use it to advance a personal, economic or political agenda. In some circles, using science to advance an agenda has become so common that it seems that researchers are engaging in this kind of misuse of science without even being aware of it. As Dr. Free-Ride wrote over at Adventures in Ethics and Science:
“If they are completely committed to a particular view of the world, fully expect that the evidence will support that view, and blame mistaken methodology for results that don’t support that view — indeed, to the point of openly rejecting evidence-based medicine and scientific standards of proof — the problem isn’t one of lying so much as arguing for a different standard of credibility.”
Good science and dogma don’t mix.
And what about the science? Well, to begin with, there are several bias problems in the survey population. The first one I found, and in my opinion it’s a rather glaring one, is that the study population only included owners who were actively seeking help from a veterinary behavior clinic. Given this limitation, all dog owners who found that aversive methods worked effectively for them would be removed from the study population.
Herron et al. don’t mention anywhere the strong and, I think obvious, likelihood that the population selected was also likely to include a very high percentage of people who were frustrated with their dogs. Frustrated owners are a lot more likely to lash out at their dogs in anger — something no trainer I’ve met would consider a valid “training method”. Including this kind of angry, frustrated behavior in the same category as a thoughtful, well-timed leash correction makes about as much sense as calling free-feeding a “reward-based training method”.
Herron et al. also don’t discuss how many of the dogs included in the survey exhibited aggressive behavior before implementation of the training methods. If aggressive behavior preceded implementation of a training method, that training method should not be considered the cause of the aggressive behavior because, by definition, cause must occur before effect.
Sampling a non-representative population may not be good science, but it can be a nifty way to screen results to justify preconceived notions.
The training methods included in the study are described only vaguely and Herron et al. do not state why each method is considered to be confrontational, neutral or nonconfrontational. For some reason “leash correction” and use of a “choke or pronged pinch collar” are considered separately, as are “dominance down” and “force down”. Three different kinds of verbal corrections are evaluated separately, and two different trained commands (“sit to get everything” and the “watch” attention cue) appear to have been included in the “non-aversive” group without considering what kinds of methods were used to train the dogs to obey these commands.
The discussion section does not present a balanced presentation of the training methods studied. Detailed discussions on the potential negative aspects of some of the aversive techniques were included, but for some reason no information was presented on any potential positive effects of these techniques. No discussion of potential negative or positive effects of the nonconfrontational or neutral methods was included.
The most obvious examples of this is the detailed (and IMO rather convoluted) justification presented to discredit all use of shock collars. A similar discussion is provided regarding of the use collar corrections. I’m not sure why Herron et al. felt obliged to include detailed discussions on the possible adverse effects of these methods and no others, though I think it is important to note that leash corrections were ranked by owners as the fifth most effective method (of the thirty studied) and resulted in aggressive responses in roughly the same percent of cases as the positive / neutral methods “using food to trade for item” and “avoidance”. The use of “shock collars” resulted in the same low percentage of aggressive responses (4-6%).
Intended or not, the unbalanced discussion of methods casts a strong appearance of bias on this study.
I found the study to be somewhat confusing because in places the discussion does not appear to match the results obtained. While Herron et al. describe the use of Cesar Millan’s characteristic ‘schhhtt’ sound and “jabbing at the dog in the neck” as “potentially provocative” – according to their own data these methods elicited aggressive responses in the same percentage of cases as the use of food rewards. Given these results, I do not understand why Millan’s methods are considered to be provocative and the use of food rewards is not.
Herron et al. state that owners of dogs with aggression problems who consult dog trainers instead of veterinarians are at risk because “the lack of standardized oversight of many training programs has resulted in a range of competence and ethical practice of behavior modification and owners may be at risk of receiving unsafe advice”. I find it interesting, given this statement, that so many trainers have latched onto this study as gospel truth.
In the sentence immediately after the one where Herron et al. recommend that veterinarians be consulted instead of trainers, they state that the most common intervention recommended by veterinarians is the use of a muzzle. In an interesting bit of irony — this was the method that resulted in the highest percentage of aggressive responses.
In the conclusions Herron et al. note that “confrontational or aversive behavioral interventions applied by dog owners before their pets were presented for a behavior consultation were associated with aggressive responses in many cases” and that “reward-based training is less stressful or painful for the dog”. I am not at all convinced that the study demostrated this, and I can’t help but wonder if a bias to support positive methods and condemn aversive ones polluted this study.
I find it disturbing that a study with so many obvious holes in it is being touted as “accepted science” throughout the media. Herron et al’s “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors“:
- Sampled a heavily biased population;
- Includes a discussion section that is heavily slanted against all use of aversive/confrontational methods even though this opinion does not appear to have been supported by the survey data;
- States a conclusion that is not supported by the data; and
- Presents correlation as cause, and then uses the inferred cause to manufacture a problem and a sense of urgency to address it.
I’m afraid that instead of presenting a balanced, scientifically rigorous evaluation of the data they collected, Herron et al. presented the results they wanted — and expected — to find. Whether you agree with their philosophy or not, this was not good science. Good science involves a commitment to follow the data, even when that data leads you in a direction you’re not ideologically comfortable with.
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia”
Press reports would be filled with diatriabe about another “pitbull’ attack.
But – because he’s a hero who took three bullets to save his owner… he’s just a dog.
The linked story is the only one I found that mentioned the dog’s breed (boxer mix). I’m sure that if this dog had been injured attacking the maid instead of valiantly protecting his owner from her criminal cohorts – news outlets would have taken one look at this photo and featured headlines screaming about another “pitbull attack”.
Best wishes to hero dog Aslin for a speedy and full recovery.