Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Island Thanksgiving!

I think it's really funny whenever my friends or family back home say things like, "Oh, you poor thing! You don't get to celebrate American holidays down there!"

If they only knew...

Because we're so far from home, Ross students actually tend to overdo the American holidays. We have 3 or more potlucks for every holiday with everyone making some favorite traditional dish from back home. We do it up big time, people! This past Sunday my nearest and dearest down here threw together our own potluck. Everything that makes a traditional Turkey Day dinner was present and accounted for: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin bread... It was awesome. And I got to spend it with people who have come to mean a great deal to me in a very short time.

From left to right: Vanessa, Justin, Sako, Mia and Tricia. Not pictured: Laura, Jessica and Angie, who showed up a little later.

Tricia's mom sent us a care package of Thanksgiving-themed plates, napkins and tablecloths to set the mood.

Angie also made this delicious, traditional Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dessert called tembleque, a coconut custard with cinnamon and cloves. It was amazing!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A classmate of mine posted a Facebook status about how you would go about handling a situation where a friend has asked for advice regarding their dog showing aggression toward their four-year-old. In this situation while I can offer advice from my experience and the literature that I've read on canine aggression, there is a child involved and I am not a behaviorist. Ultimately anything I say can have real consequences for that child. So I told my friend that I would refer her friend to a behavior expert. A few people offered the same advice. Then another girl chimed in (we'll call her M) with the following gem: "put him in his place - dominant dogs are dangerous!"
I just... *facepalm* So much wrong with that statement. Let's ignore for a moment that she automatically assumes that a dog displaying aggression is dominant - which absolutely is not always or even usually the case. Aggression has many causes, a very common one being fear or insecurity. Anyway! Moving along...

Usually when people use the phrase "put him in his place" they are referring to using dominance or positive punishment-based methods, otherwise known as being your dog's "alpha." I've written about this topic before, and why you shouldn't get your dog training advice from Cesar Millan. But in this case, she is explicitly recommending that the owner use these methods to deal with a dog that is aggressive toward a small child. I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when I see someone making a badly wrong statement in general, let alone when the safety of a child is involved. Of course I said something.
  • Julie Lada: @M - Depending on what you mean by that - usually people who talk about putting a dog in their "place" mean to be dominant/alpha over the dog - you could very well make a bad situation much worse and get that child bitten. http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/experts_say_dominance-based_dog_training_techniques_made_popular_by_televis
  • M:  ‎@ Julie - Not addressing the issue in fear of a bad outcome is worse than trying with the chance of failure - In which case it would probably happen anyway. There is no point in keeping a dangerous dog - there are too many good dogs that need homes!

    I pointed out several more times that numerous studies have shown that the use of positive punishment in aggression cases results in higher states of arousal and more frequent incidences of aggressive behavior as well as escalating levels of aggression. And that positive punishment is known to result in the cessation of all behavior wherein the dog has not formed an association between an action and an adversive stimulus and therefore has no idea what is causing you to yell at and/or hurt them and stops doing anything for fear of inciting the adversive stimulus. This often gives the appearance of having "cured" the aggression, when really the underlying cause of the aggression (be it fear, medical, etc.) is still left untreated.

    She clung to her guns. Used "in my experience, dominance works" as an argument. Nitpicked the linked study (after I reminded her to read it three times) with some valid criticism and some outlandish and clearly biased such as implying that referring veterinarians had not assessed the dogs for a medical cause of aggression before referring them to a behavior specialist as well as attempting to chastise the study for not assessing data that it was specifically never designed to address (receiving professional training vs. at home use of methods learned through social media). It got ugly, I got more aggressive and eventually we stalemated. She's clearly not interested in having her worldview of dominance and aggression shaken up.

    But what killed me was this line...
    • M: Just because I am not up do date on the latest research regarding dog aggression does not make my knowledge inadequate to help a friend.
      THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THAT MEANS! If you don't know what the current consensus in the field is, you shouldn't be speaking on that topic! You shouldn't be giving advice to anyone based on something you are not up on the current data about, especially when it involves the safety of a child!

      I feel like her statement is in line with a lot of my colleagues. "I don't have to know what I'm talking about, because I have a right to share my opinion." A right to do so? Yes. Is it ethical to do so? Not a chance.

      Sunday, November 13, 2011

      Gettin' my nerd on.

      Not much going on. Cookie has been adopted by one of my close friends but she won't be able to take her home until January, so she's staying with me for another two months until my friend moves into her new, pet-friendly apartment. I can't believe the progress that Cookie has made while she's been with me. In just a couple of months she went from being completely unapproachable to now being a huge snugglebug and lap cat. She also has the loudest purr ever.

      I got to practice my blood vessel ligating skills! We have a clinical skills class each semester where we learn aspects of surgical technique so that once we get to small and large animal surgery, we'll already know how to tie sutures and handle instruments in a sterile manner with correct hand positions. This semester we're learning knot tying and had to learn three knots; square throws, Miller's and surgeon's knots. Then we had to practice tying off a severed blood vessel on a model of rubber tubing attached to a syringe full of red dye. We had to use needle holders to tie a Miller's and then three square throws to completely occlude the vessel and then try to squeeze dye through it. If we could, it would be a bleeder in a live animal and we'd have to go back and resuture. It was a really fun learning experience and I learned that I am a suture-tying natural!

      One cool thing did happen last week. In my pathology class we were going through metabolic diseases of bone with nutritional causes such as too little calcium and vitamin D or too much phosphorus. My professor asked who in the class had ever owned an iguana and only two of us raised our hands. He called on me and had me briefly explain about calcium supplementation powders. Later, after class, I showed him a photo of my foster iguana, Katelyn, who came to me with a moderate case of metabolic bone disease brought on from being allowed to free-roam her apartment and therefore not getting enough UVB.

      Brief explanation:

      • Vegetarian reptiles don't get a lot of vitamin D in their diet. They also don't get a lot of fat in their diet, so what little vitamin D they do ingest doesn't get absorbed very efficiently (since vitamin D is fat soluble and is absorbed in the small intestine in a fat globule called a mixed micelle). So the manufacture of vitamin D from UVB in the skin is very, very important in iguanas. When they don't get enough UVB they wind up vitamin D deficient. The activated form of vitamin D, calcitriol, is necessary for adequate calcium absorption from the small intestine. No UVB --> too little vitamin D --> too little calcium being absorbed from food --> the body starts pulling calcium out of bones, leading to softening and deformity of bone.
      Anyway, he basically said, "That's really cool! Wanna talk about it tomorrow at the start of class?"

      And I did, and it went really well! I've had a few opportunities where I've been able to talk to my peers about a topic that I'm really passionate about. In undergrad I got to give a guest lecture in my Companion Animal Management class on exotic animal care and husbandry where I brought in a bunch of animals from the rescue that I volunteer for. It was super awesome. I actually really enjoy teaching.