Welcome back to "The Animal House." I'm Sam Litzinger. It's a simple concept, physicians and veterinarians working together for the benefit of all animals, people included. The idea is supported by statistics which indicate that 60 percent of all human pathogens are zoonotic or, that is, transmissible between animals and humans. And although partnerships between the worlds of animal and human medicine are still considered unusual, there's a new book that could spur increased collaboration and revolutionize medical science.
The title is, "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing." And the authors are Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and journalist Kathryn Bowers. Glad to have both of you with us in "The Animal House."
Thank you. Nice to be here.
Was there a time when human physicians and veterinarians worked more closely together? Did there come to be a parting of the ways here or what?
Well, sure. A couple hundred years ago, there were just more animals in our lives and more connections between animals and people. And I think people just knew more about animals. And many times in some rural areas, the same doctor might treat humans and animals. They might be looking at maybe delivering a baby in one household and an animal in another. But then when people started moving to cities, we had, you know, more urbanization.
Animals moved out of our lives. And physicians and veterinarians around the turn of the century started a decisive split and really ended up going on these parallel separate paths. And we're hoping that we'll spur a few more conversations and connections between these two separate fields.
Do you hear those conversations beginning to take place more now, Barbara?
Well, we have been. And we're trying to generate more conversations between veterinarians and physicians. I was really lucky to be asked to come to the Los Angeles Zoo and do some cardiac ultrasound on some of their animals. They called me when one day. One of their tamarin had heart failure. And I've done a number of imaging procedures on their animals. And while I’m there I would hear the veterinarians talking about the same kinds of problems that I was hearing my physician colleagues talk about at UCLA.
So for example, I'd hear them discussing cases. You know, a Cocker Spaniel with breast cancer, a Killer Whale with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Miniature Pony with diabetes, even STDs. It goes on and on. Before writing and researching this book, you know, I kind of assumed that animals in nature died from predation, if I thought about it at all. But of course, it turns out that they have DNA, just the way we do. And DNA mutates.
And that means animals in the wild get cancer, they have genetic abnormalities, congenital problems, birth defects, I mean, anything, infection that can happen to us, can happen to animals, but physicians and veterinarians rarely talk to each other. And there's so much we could learn on the human side and on the animal side by connecting the fields.
How did studying veterinarians make you a better human doctor?
Well, veterinarians -- it's funny because when I started doing this, my colleagues at UCLA, my physicians were like, what are you doing hanging around all these veterinarians? And I think, if I can air a little bit of dirty laundry…
You know, I think physicians have been sort of maybe ambivalent or a little bit ignorant about how much veterinarians are our clinical peers. And that's ironic because in many ways, veterinarians have a harder job. They need to be pediatricians, adolescent medicine doctors and geriatricians. Depending on the kind of veterinary medicine they practice, they need to know mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, sometimes even exotic insects. And they have to do all of it with patients who can't tell them what they're doing.
But I, yeah, I definitely became a better doc working with vets. But beyond that, we think "Zoobiquity" has an application in medical education that, you know, when medical students study obsessive compulsive disorder in their patients and study separation anxiety in their patients, these are problems that affect dogs and cats and other animals. And I think our medical students could benefit from spending time with veterinary experts.
The book is "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing." Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D. and Kathryn Bowers, thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Now, the story of a dog named Blue. The dog has a Facebook page, an air-conditioned dog house and, well, something like $1800 in savings at last count. Blue also has an attorney because he's at the center of an unusual legal challenge. Here to talk to us about this is Blue's caretaker, Bob Owen, co-owner of a general store in Elephant Butte, N.M. where Blue spends most of his time when he isn't being a local celebrity. Bob, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
Thank you very much.
Describe Blue for us.
Blue is a 10, 11, 12-year-old Australian Shepherd. He's got a personality about him. He's lived on his own his entire life. He's one of those dogs that can actually think and reason out things. And he'll go do things and you just wonder, well, how did he figure that out? It's just amazing.
Blue is in some legal trouble or something's going on. What's happening?
Well, last year here we unfortunately had a mauling down in the neighboring town about four miles away. And a lady unfortunately passed away as a result of it. So our city took some proactive measures and wrote into the books a vicious dog ordinance which included a leash law. Well, old Blue's been laying around in Elephant Butte for 10 years now and never even seen a leash. Nobody's ever even tried to put one on him -- well, actually, we tried to and he won't accept it.
We've actually tried to take him home, several people have, just to kind of get him out of the way of a lot of vehicles and he just won't have that either. And we've got a couple people -- I guess somebody in town has decided that since it's the law, everybody needs to apply. And now the city council's having to do something about it. And the whole town's up in arms because nobody wants to mess with Blue.
Do we know what's gonna happen here?
No. We really don't. The city is telling us that they'd like to write some language into the city ordinance that will allow for an exception of dogs that don't fit a vicious dog requirement, but they don't really have requirements for that. And so the city's kind of backed into a corner against all the citizens and ol' Blue, he just wants to lay out there in the parking lot. And we just wanna let him lay out there in the parking lot and move around the way he wants to.
Is he getting a lot of media attention about it?
Tremendous amount of media attention. Interview requests from all over the country. A lot of people have been donating money and wanting to donate services and things to Blue. And also we're the unofficial drop-off point for kind of our county here. Everybody brings us everything they find off the highway or off the beaches in the way of dogs and cats and strays and birds. And we use that money that Blue collects to take care of those animals, to get them cleaned up, find their homes, you know, get them back with their families and/or readopted. So that's kind of Blue's fund.
Here last week we had an entire motorcycle gang come stumbling in. And we thought, uh-oh, we're in trouble. And, man, the nicest bunch of folks you ever met in your life. They just stopped in to see Blue and make sure Blue was taken care of the way they had heard on television and this and that. Then they all donated money and took pictures with Blue and roared off down the road. It was the coolest thing.
Blue's attorney, Hilary Noskin, is a longtime customer of ours, who's a lawyer up in Albuquerque. And she's known Blue for a long time. And when she heard that he was in trouble she decided that she was gonna take this on as her pro-bono project. She's working with the city in defending Blue legally, as well as some friends of hers that also know Blue.
Do you have any sympathy for the neighbors' concerns?
We do have sympathy for the rules, but there needs to be an exception for the rules. And the city's almost kind of in, you know, they're leaning that direction, too. But there's a group of people around here, we call them CAVE people, Citizens Against Virtually Everything. They pick a cause to fight against here every once in a while, and this time it's Blue.
Boy, I hope this can be resolved, Bob. We're gonna check back in with you, too. Thanks very much.
You know, we really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk to us.
We've been speaking with Bob Owen, co-owner of a general store in Elephant Butte, N.M., about Blue the dog.
This salon treatment isn't for wimps, monkey wimps, anyway. This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. It has long been known that monkeys like to groom each other. It's a friendly gesture that cements social bonds. Like, hey, buddy, let me eat those bugs and dandruff caught in your fur. Or is it? Meet Richard McFarland and Bonaventura Majola from the University of Lincoln in the U.K.
They studied a group of wild macaques in Morocco. They found that grooming wasn't all fun and games, rather dominant individuals regularly chased, bit and generally slapped around subordinates, who then usually responded by grooming the aggressor, those that didn't get their monkey butts kicked. In this species, groomers are bullied into serving others. In fact, the greater the difference in social status between a pair, the more often the high muck-a-muck forces its minion to do favors.
It's a rare case of social coercion in animals. Further study could shed light on the evolution of inequality, social pressure and punishment in human societies. We can only assume when they study the mechanics of mani-pedis and tipping, that won't be pretty either.
The Loh Down on Science online at lohdown.org, produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA CREF.
Dr. Gary Weitzman is standing by with answers to you questions about pets in "The Animal House."
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