Thursday, September 18, 2014

Exotics #1 - Rabbit Care

Owning a pet rabbit.

Q. Is it a suitable pet?

Rabbits are good first pets. Recommended for children over 7, with adult supervision until the owner can care properly for their pet. They can scratch, bite or kick so due care is necessary. Decide if you want a short haired or long haired variety, taking into account if they will be indoor or outdoor pets. There are plenty of breeds to choose from. Bear in mind long haired will need a little extra grooming.

Q. How do i choose a healthy rabbit?

The rabbit should have a healthy soft coat with no fur patches missing; There should be no parasites anywhere on the skin. The eyes and ears should be clean and pink with no weeping and/or crusty lesions or bad smells. The rabbit should be able to chew normally. It should have a dry nose and the anus should be clean. The soles of its paws should be clean and soft and not stained with urine. The claws on the feet should be of average length and there should be no funny swellings. The rabbit should look lively and bright and take notice of its surroundings and have a healthy appetite.

Q. Where will they live?

Rabbits live in dens in the wild that they dig out themselves with plenty of hidey-holes to escape predators. They are very active and so naturally the biggest cage/hutch you can accommodate would be best. These animals are prey animals and so are given to flight - this means they should always have a couple of hiding spots that they feel safe in such as a closed nest box.

The floor of the hutch should be lined with such material as planed wood shavings or straw pellets. Sawdust may cause breathing problems and may be best avoided. Cat litter is also inappropriate. A heavy food bowl is ideal and fresh water should always be available ideally from a rodent upside down feeding bottle.

Choose weather they are to be indoor or outdoor. Indoor rabbits should be placed in a well ventilated (fresh air) area without droughts and out of direct sunlight. A relatively quiet area without too much excitement or loud noises. Outdoor rabbits will need shelter and adequate protection from the elements such as rain wind heat and cold. In winter the outdoor hutch and nest box should be insulated so they can stay warm. 

Rabbits love nibbling on grass and it is a good idea to let them do so or run around the house to prevent them getting stressed, fat or unwell. First you must ''rabbit-proof'' the house to prevent them chewing on cables or other dangers eg. poisonous plants. If  they are allowed on the grass you must check they cannot dig out of the garden! The outside hutch must also be protected from foxes and predators. Children can have great fun making adventurous runs for their pet out of loo rolls and other empty boxes etc.

The cage must be cleaned daily to prevent faeces and odours building up, which may also damage their lungs if not cleaned regularly. Smells and dirt will attract flies which can lay eggs and cause health problems. A triangular rabbit toilet can make this easier to clean. The hutch should be disinfected regularly to kill any bacteria and should be rinsed well afterward.

Q. What should you feed them?

Rabbits are naturally herbivores meaning they eat plant material and no meat. Fresh hay and herbs can form the most part of the diet. Pet food rabbit pellets are good but quite rich and one tablespoon per day is enough. Fresh water should always be available and changed daily. This main diet can be supplemented with foods such as lettuce, carrots, dandelions, and even some fruits such as apples.

Cabbage leaves should be avoided and starchy sugary foods also. Sudden changes in diet can lead to constipation and problems in the gut. When bringing your new rabbit home changes in his diet should be done very gradually (over 3 weeks) to avoid gut problems and it is a good idea to feed him what he is used to for a few days until gradually changing his diet to your own. If he is to nibble on fresh grass it is to be introduced very slowly.

Branches (willow, hazel and fruit trees), or special rabbit chew toys can be given so the rabbit can gnaw and wear down his teeth which grow continuously. Rabbits are one species which eat their own droppings and do not be alarmed. It is a normal trait for this animal.

Handling and restraint 

Always approach the animal from the front /side where they can see you. Talk to it and for a few days after purchasing your rabbit let it get to know your face and voice. Don't overload the rabbit at once and earn its trust by offering it a treat or two from your hand. This will just need patience and calmness so the rabbit knows you are not a threat. Every animal is different and it could take days to weeks for the animal to progress to feeding from your hand, to gentle stroking, to eventually be comfortable to pick up and let run around. Some are more aggressive than others and less socialised to human contact. You will tell from watching your pet, and how comfortable he is with your touch and presence. Don't try and do it all at once. You want to see him coming over to your hand, taking the treat, not running away or acting in a scared manner.

To move or pick him up stretch out your hand that he can see your intention (don't pick from behind where you could startle him) and grab the fur at the top of his back, gently but firmly. The other hand should be used to support its hindquarters. If the rabbit is at ease his body should relax in your arms.

Veterinary needs 

Rabbits don't need huge veterinary attention apart from a vaccination against myxomatosis and a yearly booster, and the unavoidable neutering. 

Most problems stem from poor husbandry and so shouldn't be taken lightly. Rabbits should be neutered as they are prolific breeders and they live a lot longer if de-sexed. 85% of female rabbits develop uterine cancer by age 4/5 and it greatly reduces the males fighting between each other and causing injuries. The procedure will not change their personality but if anything they will be more sociable an better company. It eliminates spraying urine and neutered rabbits can be friends as they are not fighting over each other. The last reason is overpopulation and there are already so many rescue rabbits needing loving homes that breeding pets prevents homeless rabbits getting another chance. Males can be neutered at 5 months when their testicles descend and females can be done at 6 months old.


Rabbits are very social as naturally they live in large families and hence it is much better for them to live in groups rather than on their own. I would always recommend to have at least two to keep each other company, and it is easier to keep rabbits together that have known each other from a young age.

It is vital that you neuter them at 5 months to prevent fights and accidents. It can be difficult to integrate an old rabbit with young and so ideally start both at a young age so they get on. With other pets supervision is essential and a young age also helps. There have been incidences of strange friendships - these are usually animals that have grown up with each other. Be very careful if introducing your rabbit and keep dogs and cats on a leash and make sure the rabbit has an escape. It is also not recommended for rabbits and guinea pigs to be housed together.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Common diseases of Dogs and Cats’ EARS.

Common diseases of Dogs and Cats’ EARS.

I would like to talk about ear care and some common misconceptions regarding treatments. 

The ear is a delicate organ and very important especially in our pet animals. A dog’s hearing is about 40 times greater than that of our own. The main function of the ear is hearing but it also plays a vital role in balance.

Recently we have had a lot of ear cases (some severe) needing treatment and in some circumstances the owner of the dog was wrongly treating an ear problem and had incorrect advice. Fingers crossed it is something superficial and easily treatable – but in more and more cases resistance occurs and so it is vital we treat correctly at the start.

Chronic ear infections are ones which come on slowly and stay for a long time.
The three most common products you can buy for otitis in a vet clinic after veterinary advice are;
 1. Surolan
 2. Canaural
 3. Otomax
 4. Ubavet

While these are great medicines, they do not cover every ear problem or infection. Talk to us if you are worried about your pet’s ears and we will point you in the right direction. One of the most common nasty bacteria is Clostridium. This is caused by dirty stagnant water and/or livestock. It is extremely resistant to all three medicines listed above and also worryingly to most anti-biotics. Another worrying bacteria called Pseudomonas is resistant to most antibiotics, is diagnosed only after tests and like clostridium will need antibiotic tablets as part of the cure. It is also usually resistant to the 4 ear drop medicines listed above.

A recent severe case of otitis Externa in an Irish Red Setter which we investigated by sample ear swabs proved to be a Clostridium perfringens infection and which we treated at our clinic. Our Swab results showed up Only two anti-biotics out of twelve having the desired killing effect on this nasty bug.

The crucial advice is to come in for a check-up and so we can do an ear swab. This means with lab results we can immediately start to treat it accordingly with the correct drugs and anti-biotics, and will save you time and money in the long run. An ear swab is a very simple procedure in which we take some ear cells on a cotton bud and send it to the laboratory for a culture test – to see what bacteria lies in the murky depths.

This is necessary as certain drugs kill certain bacteria. Hence there is no point giving drugs or anti-biotics if you are not attacking the appropriate strain of germs. This is worse than doing nothing, as effectively what you are doing is offering the bug higher levels of resistance and your poor dog’s immunity may suffer.

 Don’t assume any medicine from the chemist will be effective! We are seeing more people coming in with hastily bought products; For example Bingo our case study;

 Case Study: Bingo, 5yo female golden Labrador
(with a great appetite for getting into trouble.) She came in with a two extremely swollen ears and a barely visible ear canal. She had been treated with ear cleaner, canaural, surolan, and others. None of these had any improving effect on poor Bingo and her hearing and balance was also impaired not to mention very sore. We all know how excruciating a bad ear infection is. If we had of seen Bingo at the beginning she could have saved two whole years of trying inappropriate treatments. In some severe cases and in hers, surgery may be unavoidable. She had to undergo ‘Zepp’s procedure’ which is partial ear canal resection as a result of chronic scarring to the ear tissue due to two years’ worth of painful infections. Don’t let this be you!

Common ailments of the ear; 
1. Ear mites
2. Infections
3. Otitis
4. Swollen ear/s

 1-Ear mites can be treated with canaural or surolan. Stronghold spot on will also kill this nasty mite. Clean the ear first with damp (not soaked) cotton wool. Remove excess dirt then apply a few drops of liquid and then squish the dog’s ear around before letting the dog shake. They are indicated by dark brown crumbly material in the ear and head shaking and scratching. Careful the dog doesn't scratch at the ear or he may create a wound and introduce infection.
 2-Infections will need to be seen by the vet to diagnose which the best drugs to treat are and if an ear swab culture is necessary. These can be smelly and dirty looking. The dog might also shake its head. Your pet may tilt its head.
 3- Otitis / inflammation – inner ear will look red, inflamed and hot, and may have infection also. This may lead to swelling.
 4- Swollen ear is a common ailment that may be caused by ear mites, which leads to the dog shaking its head which eventually becomes swollen. This may need an aural haematoma, a procedure in which the fluid in the ear is drained. Careful the dog doesn’t scratch at the ear or he may create a wound and introduce infection.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moving to wordpress!

This blog is transferring to wordpress and from now on can be accessed directly on the homepage of

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fight Club- Nearer than you know.

The term pitbull is usually used to refer to a type of dog rather than a specific breed. A Pitbull terrier generally describes any crossbreed of the American PitBull, English Bull Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier which has been bred or trained for the purpose of fighting another dog in a ring. These dogs are not naturally any more or less aggressive towards Humans than other dogs and it is acknowledged that these breeds arent dangerous when raised properly.

Pitbulls are valued by performance, like racehorses and greyhounds. Top fight winners can be valued as stud dogs at up to $20000 in the US where pit bull fighting is a growing underworld activity. Pups from fighting bloodlines of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier change hands in Ireland for more than double the price of a non-fighting Staffordshire pup. At 12 to 15 months prospects will be trialled and potential game dogs selected and trained. A rejected dog deemed unsuitable for fighting may find its way to an animal shelter and be adopted as a pet from there. Or they may be used to bait other dogs.

Staffordshire bull terriers and other pitbulls can make excellent companion dogs as they are loyal and intelligent.But their perceived menace is often a source of conflict between neighbours in built-up areas. Owners of other breeds of pet dogs in housing estates often speak of feeling intimidated by the presence of pitbulls in the area. Behind the perceived menace there is also an unknown menace if a pitbull terrier has been bred from fight winners' bloodlines or "rescued" from a dog fight trainer.

Companion animals learn boundaries and their role and place amongst people by process of socialisation as pups. Just as greyhounds and police dogs are not raised as pets, rescued fight dogs can not be relied on to have the same conditioning as dogs which have been treated as pets since birth. In the US escaped fighting dogs have killed children. Many are simply too aggressive and damaged to be rehabilitated as pets and must be euthanased.

This week in a midlands town near one of my clinics Gardai were called to a house after neighbours reported a man for keeping large numbers of dogs in confinement. Gardai found a number of pitbulls in cages along with equipment for training these dogs such as chains, treadmills and weighing scales. They found anabolic steroids which were being given to the dogs for muscle development. There were also a number of dead dogs of assorted breeds which were believed to be stolen pets used to bait the fighting dogs during their training. A freezer contained body parts of various dogs. These were believed to be pets which were stolen to feed the fighting dogs.

My wife asked me not to write a piece on dog fighting. I will limit the tags on this blog entry so that it is not picked up by anyone other than the usual few who read here. Her fears are not misplaced because the details in that house are the outward trappings of a darker capability. Those who become exercised by the animal welfare and cruelty issues of dog fighting are missing the real point. One of my recent posts on this weblog ( Tokyo Kittens and Urban Cowboys) cited research about varied types of behaviour which are considered "signposts" of sociopathic and psychopathic disorders. Animal cruelty is considered a "gateway" behaviour. We are familiar with the idea of a gateway drug. Theoretically some habits lead to more harmful ones. Psychologists believe exposure to and practice of animal abuse causes erosion of empathy. Violence towards humans is the next step forward, just across a fragile moral barrier.

There isnt a lot of Irish research on this issue. We have an ambivalent attitude to animal abuse. We prioritise more immediate interventions. We have an inadequate and reactive approach to dealing with institutional child abuse and providing support to the vulnerable. Proactive interventions to target animal neglect and abuse arent even on the social agenda. But maybe they should be. The Humane Society of the US has convincing evidence linking dog fighting and pet abuse with child and spousal abuse. Since July 2008 when a famous American footballer was convicted of organising a dog fight club, many states have amended the RICO statutes to give prosecuters a greater range of charges with which to target dog fight organisers. The famous Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation act recognizes that where you find dog fights there will be other violence, drugs, money laundering and illegal gambling.

Dispersal of a single fight kennels this week in the midlands scratches at the surface of these issues. Like a brief glimpse under a heavy rock, lifted then dropped. Unprecedented numbers of family pets have gone missing in recent months. Owners of missing small dogs can presume the worst. We must also presume there are other fight kennels in the region.The Law in Ireland lists dangerous breeds- American PitBull, Bull Mastiff, Doberman Pinscher, English Bull Terrier,German Shepherd, Japanese Akita, Japanese Tosa, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Rottweilar and crossbreeds of same. These dogs must be muzzled and kept on a lead in public and cannot be owned by anyone under 16. We also have dog licence laws which apply to all dogs. Our dog laws could be an effective instrument for Gardai to target and link criminal patterns of behaviour as the US RICO statute now does. But dog laws that arent implimented are pointless and a list of breeds without a register of either the breeder or the dog itself is an unenforceable list.

A Proactive approach to animal welfare would recognize that greater policing of animal welfare will benefit society, deter abusers, impact favourably on other violent crime rates. First and foremost we need stiffer penalties and more forceful interventions which recognize the "gateway" behaviour phenomenon. A proactive approach would also acknowledge that dispassionate coordination between Vets, Gardai, Dog pounds and animal welfare groups is needed. There needs to be firm criteria to decide which dogs to rehome and which to euthanase.I believe if a dog on the dangerous breed list is brought to a pound, it should be euthanased. Otherwise what's to stop anyone selling an impounded pitbull back to a dog fighting enthusiast?

A few days ago a sullen character of about 25 turned up at another of our clinics with a hungry British Bulldog suffering from Dermatitis which he had been given from the pound. The ISPCA paid its Vet's bill and had given him this dog even though he was unemployed and had a Staffordshire already to look after.I pointed out that this dog, having Dermatitis, would be high maintenance and require regular Veterinary attention. I had a concern about the new owners limited ability to pay for the upkeep of two big dogs and the ramifications of bringing a second dominant alpha type into a house with a Staffordshire. The ISPCA local volunteer whom I then spoke with, was motivated by the usual compassion but used no rationale for rehoming this dog other than to avoid its euthanasia. From a broader social perspective euthanasia of THAT dog would be my choice.

We need a new approach to animal welfare which recognizes how animals integrate with and impact on humans. Veterinary scientists now approach farm animal health, welfare and hygiene from the standpoint of food security, food hygiene, human health and safety. Beyond the isolated political footballs of stag hunting and dog breeder levies we need proactive and comprehensive companion animal legislation for all society's benefit.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dog Breeding bill falls victim to Reality Politics!

The term REALPOlITIK is one I remember from history class in school.It conjures up images of shady negotiations across the iron curtain where ethics and ideology came second to preservation of uneasy alliances. REALPOLITIK is the difference between what we would like to do and what we need to do. The German term defines a form of politics based on practical and material things. That's not to say it is a bad form of politics. Idealism doesn't buy the dinner,address the national deficit,or placate the trade unions.

Our coalition government is preserving an uneasy alliance. The Greens have a left-centric secularist,post-modern and pro-environmental view of the world,Bless them. Fianna Fail's nationalist core is tempered by three generations of power broking, global hustling and prioritising commercial growth over moral absolutes. Dog Breeding Legislation is well down the list of priorities for a party which used to draw votes from affording special status to Ireland's racing, coursing, hunting tradition. Fianna Fail will reposition our country in a global marketplace as a pro-enterprise economy. In return the Greens will impliment civil partnership reform, animal welfare reform, carbon offset credits, water upgrades and support fiscal austerity measures which international bondholders want.And Social advancement will ultimately emerge from difficult compromise.

The full text of the 2010 Dog Breeding Legislation is well crafted political reality, combining as it does measures to raise significant revenue from the dog industry and measures to satisfy the ideals of dog welfare and population control. Department of Finance needs revenue. The black economy in Ireland in 2009 was estimated at six billion euro. Insiders like me know that the dog trade exists in this black hole of untaxed cashflow. Now in our hour of discontent, it's time to tax some of this black hole while simultaneously reforming one of Ireland's animal welfare problems, namely the hitherto unregulated puppy farm problem

The Croke Park agreement is a good example of REALPOLITIK in that it at least keeps the country functioning and our civil servants off the streets. Brian Lenihan's last budget was a brilliant example of REALPOLITIK. His first budget most definitely was not. Being politically tactless and badly prespun it elicited protests until its most austere penuries were reversed. But the most recent budget which was full of fiscal austerity and brought reduced prosperity to one and all was grudgingly accepted with barely a whimper of protest. And such is our understanding that the country needs reality politics that we have already resigned ourselves to the next budget of expenditure cuts.The Santa Claus politics of "fantasy benchmarking" and "who wants to be a millionaire social partner" are over.

The British always applied the logic of REALPOLITIK to their colonial rulings. Better to swiftly slaughter a few hundred unruly gurkhas and indulge the Maharajah's fetish for victorian china than destabilise an entire area strategic for tea, rubber or slaves.The history of Ireland's famine is a legacy to REALPOLITIK. As Ireland's wheat and beef left to feed the empire, Westminster's awkward quandary about what to do with a starving peasantry was solved by their cheap and easy exit on fetid ships.

As a small ungovernable colony, the Irish learned politics from a Machiavellian empire which once ruled half the globe. Surprising then, that Britain's new Con-Dem government has launched straight into the minefield of electoral reform, headlong into disagreement over how and what way a lukewarm electorate should vote next time. Shrewd politics would be to focus all energy on the depressed economy and all reformist enmity on Labour's wasteful expenditure. At least for the first full year. Instead Nick Clegg's overreach towards the holy grail of proportional representative voting will end in tears as Prime Minister Cameron hasnt even the tact to support his coalition partner in public. Survival instincts in Irish politics are stronger. Cameron could learn a litle reality politics from Cowen and Lenihan's handling of our banks, trade unions, the ECB and our US investors over the last 18 months.

The Irish do REALPOLITIK very well. We have a history of coalition governments held together by tenuous promise and bartered favour. The ultimate exponent of REALPOLITIK was the most cunning of them all whose singular defining triumph was to deliver the Good Friday agreement. The boy republican from Drumcondra who gave the Reverend Paisley a gift of a Jacobite Musket on the battlefield of the Boyne, finally stalled sectarian conflict in Ireland by doing what politicians often need to do as a means to an end. Real political success is the acheivement of impossible compromise. Ahern, the son of a Cork IRA man acheived that one great thing on Good Friday 10th April 1998 by painstaking brokering and building relationships to dilute ideology. Fianna Fail have always done REALPOLITIK very well; progress by process and by compromise.

But the Dog Breeding Legislation? Now watered down by default so that opprtunities of revenue gathering, regulation and welfare improvement are lost for now. Fianna Fail are hardly dealing with the UVF this time.Romantic Ireland is dead and gone surely. But REALPOLITIK is with Ahern back in St Lukes, Drumcondra. Have there been Paramilitary Continuity Dog coursers and Beagle baiters darkly threatening backbenchers lest the 400 euro six bitch levy pass into law? Will we have to summon John De Chastelain to Ireland's potholed rural seats of greyhound power to clamber into battered transits and up to Paddyjoes to check who has seven bitches and who has only five OR who bought their own microchips CHAPE off the vanman at the dogtrack last night? The party that wore down the provos have given in to the dogmen!

During todays debate in the Seanad I heard one remark amidst the confusion over breeding bitches and civil partners "Anyone would think Tipperary was full of homophobic, guntoting, deer hunters". Its not, of course. The country has changed. The appetite for regulation of hunting, for conservation debates, for animal welfare advancements has fanned out across the eastern seaboard into the midlands of Ireland with the migrations of the last ten years. Bord na GCon or should that be Bord Na Con have pulled a two fold conjob. They have convinced the government by vocal lobby that their view is still a majority view in rural Ireland and they have successfully pleaded the poor mouth to avoid paying taxes which the rest of us may well now have to pay. An opportunity lost. government TDs? You've been Bord Na Conned!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Dog Breeding Establishment Bill 2010

I read today that RISE which are the group representing the Ward Union Hunt spent 100k on their PR campaign before the wildlife amendment bill. In my view they got poor value for money. Not once in the months of publicity did we hear figures on exactly how many jobs depend on the Ward Union or just how much in tourist revenue does the Ward Union generate each year?I expect the outlawing of the live chase will not greatly inconvenience the ward union in reality as the hunt will continue in drag form which the vast majority of riders to hounds will equally enjoy. I believe that in a few years time we will marvel that it was ever legal to chase a 400 kg farm animal across suburbia with horses and dogs.

The shadowboxing of back bench TDs purporting to represent " Rural Ireland" will gather pace over the next few days as the government seek to pass a piece of legislation known as the puppy farming bill.

This bill will enforce an annual fee of 400 euro on breeders owning six or more bitches of breeding age.Local Authority Vets will be regulated to inspect licensed dog breeding premises annually or as warranted. Bitches will be restricted to three litters every two years. All pups will be microchipped by law. As I write there are indications that greyhound premises may acheive an exemption. This would be bad news as Vets and others in the animal industry know that the greyhound sector has a significant over production problem. The effect of traceability, regulation and a registration cost would be a reduction of puppy numbers at the cheaper end of the market which is where overcrowding and animal welfare issues are most likely to arise.

It is convenient for FF rural TDs to characterise animal welfare bills as part of a Green agenda or Green conspiracy. In fact this Dog Breeding Bill was put together in 2006 by Dick Roche in the previous Fianna Fail government working with the ISPCA, Veterinary Ireland and the Dept of Agriculture. My own profession want puppy farms reduced in number and size and subject to inspection. The desired end product will then be a healthy, well socialised pet with fewer genetic defects. A reduction of puppy numbers will be an important side effect of regulation in a country where over 10000 unwanted dogs are euthanased in council pounds each year.

Mattie McGrath reckons the Greens want to ban "the pussy cat from catching the mouse". Mattie is the one playing Cat and Mouse as a game of party politics. The real underlying issues are discontent with An Taoiseach's appalling retreat over the last couple of years into morose pedestrian communications, the government press office's bull in china shop relations with journalists and Fianna Fail members' real hunger for clear out and clamour for reform of party culture. Foremost though in Mattie's intentions will be the tight rope between clientalist management of his Tipperary voters and not burning his bridges completely within his party machine.

The loudest opponents of the dog breeding bill are hunt kennels and the greyhound fraternity. Hunt kennels are loss-making and rely on membership subscriptions. Traditionally kennels provided farmers with an essential service of fallen stock disposal. This source of revenue has now declined prompting hunts to seek exemption from the costs which are central to this bill. But microchipping can be done as cheaply as tattoeing. If this bill allows exemptions then we may as well admit loopholes.

Greyhound racing is seen as the poor relation of horse racing. As such it is heavily subsidised by government and no doubt this group will plead the poor mouth in the houses of the Oireachtas this week. However any insider will tell you the breeding and sale of greyhounds remains a thriving cash based trade. Declared revenues within this industry are only the tip of the iceberg where pups travel between UK and Ireland on pound note transactions. Bord Na gcon have their PR people but it is notable that there is an absence of greyhound trainers or breeders sticking their heads up to plead penury. This sector may acheive its exemption but is in fact best able to pay the modest levies proposed.

The greyhound racing industry would benefit most from Local Authority regulation for a number of reasons. DSPCA survey showed that of over 10000 dogs destroyed in council pounds in 2009, 10% were greyhounds. There are too few outlets for unwanted greyhounds which have retired or are simply too slow. The best remedy to oversupply is to discourage breeding from poorer quality bitches by imposing a cost and an inconvenience.

I and my colleagues hope this bill is passed in its entirety. Our current laissez faire animal legislation is anachronistic. In common with the now outlawed spectacle of riders on horseback following dogs in pursuit of farmed deer across suburbia I believe we will marvel in a few years time that anyone who saw fit was allowed to breed and sell dogs without regulation or licence.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tokyo Kittens and Urban Cowboys.

The words and phrases we use tell a lot about how we think about our pets. I meet owners whose fluffy bundle of joy has come from a "rehoming centre". Pets in these centres get a second chance because animal welfare advocates, in theory match animal to owner. A "rehomed" dog is implicitly part of the family."Adoption centres" are widespread. "Adoption" has a legal-sounding tone with connotations of responsibility and provision of care. "Dog Pounds" have austere echoes in our minds. They are the last chance saloon,akin to prison's death row for strays in which searching owners are in a race against time.Ten days is the usual grace period given in Ireland's crowded pounds before a dog is euthanased unless claimed.

What is significant about the words rehoming and adoption is their link to children. They have a borrowed use in animal welfare where it is understood that animals,like children inhabit our world and are our dependents. But the commonest term used in animal welfare,"rescue" is the most emotive of these words. Whether a "rescue dog" or a "rescue centre",there are negative connotations about the animal's previous relations with humans. Rescue dogs which are saved into new homes from neglect, abuse or euthanasia,are a growing phenomenon because animal abuse and neglect remains part of society.

In some countries vets encountering non-accidental injury such as obvious cruelty or neglect to an animal are legally obliged to report this.The reason why was illustrated this week by a story in the New York Times linking animal abuse to same household abuse of family members. Youngsters with "aggressive conduct disorder"(sic), according to research the NYT cited, become desensitised to cruelty and suffering by practice of animal abuse. Researchers looked at MRI scans of groups shown images of pain and suffering. Troubled youngsters within the study exhibited heightened activity in the brain's "reward centre" while viewing cruelty and abuse. The report concluded that some people have impaired systems of empathy and crucially that part of the brain involved in self-regulation switches off as empathy is eroded.

This report is not the first of its kind.Many serial killers began in their childhood with animal cruelty. Animal abuse is now in fact proven to be gateway behaviour which on a continuum of sociopathic relations with sentient beings is a stage towards cruelty to humans. There are also hopeful studies that have shown how empathy can be rekindled by caring for animals. Learning to relate to sentient beings such as horses can improve damaging behaviours towards humans. Equine therapy programs where teenagers muck out, groom horses and learn to ride are now common in urban areas all over the world including Ireland and form part of accepted interventions for troubled teens.

Why then are punishments and sentences for animal abuse and neglect not more severe? Animal life is valued so much less than human in our value system and perhaps rightly so. But proof of a behaviour gateway to murder, rape, domestic violence and child abuse strengthens the argument for severe addressing at source of sociopaths and violent criminals. This approach is an auhoritarian view of crime and punishment. But consider the problem from the liberal perspective. If you believe that most abusers can be rehabilitated, deserve a second chance and that early interventions can and do work, the question becomes this.Why are equine therapy programs,empathy building programs involving animal companionship, NOT a widespread and integral part of our legal justice system? The reason why not is because that debate is ongoing and unresolved. Prison rehabilitates some, if not others. Intervention programs help some also, if not others. And the most draconian penalties, even the ultimate capital penalty fail to provide an ultimate deterrent to some perpetrators of heinous violent crime.

I believe piecemeal interventions and a prison service which attempts rehabilitation in an authoritarian environment are only reactive answers to violent crime. We know animal contact helps us learn moral behaviour and build empathic relationships therefore schools should provide pet interactions or even contain small pet zoos. Young offenders institutions could teach dog grooming and animal training. Prisons could incorporate responsible pet care as therapy for recovering addicts and for those most socially disconnected. Meanwhile new large stable yards as equine therapy centres in the worst urban areas of the country should be properly funded. The urban cowboys of West Dublin, Ballymun, Limerick city have a culture already of horse ownership which it would be easy to officially endorse and build on. The earlier the young bareback riders of deprived urban areas can be helped swap kalashnikov for saddle and whip the more likely that cycles of feuds and poverty can be broken.

The case for rehabilitation by animal therapy is more than a liberal do-gooder delusion.There is a need in people which animal companionship can satisfy.Peata is an Irish organisation which brings pets on visits to nursing homes, hospitals and hospices where patients are shown to benefit medically from regular contact with dogs. Peata can be reached through the DSPCA.

Overcrowded urban living paradoxically enforces isolation. The need for animal companionship can be as powerful as the need for contact with other humans. In the city of Tokyo where cramped apartment dwelling is the norm, pet ownership is problematic. To fill the void Kitten Cafes have sprung up which are "staffed" by cats and kittens ready to play with customers who pay by the hour. Kitten Cafes can also provide customers with a "doggie date" as they can rent you a dog for an hourly-rated walk or play date.This type of pet ownership by proxy is a Japanese solution to an urban Japanese problem.What void would a "doggie date" fill in a Tokyo commuter's life? Perhaps the gunslingers of Moyross and Southill experience the same void and could be helped by equine or pet therapy interventions.Make love not war or trade ponies not bullets?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Urban foxes and Urban legends.

The story of twin girls in a UK suburb who were savaged in daylight by a fox while asleep in their cots in an upstairs bedroom, filled a large slot in the news cycle this week. Urban foxes are part of the landscape and fauna of Britain nowadays. Recent wildlife census estimates a population density of 30 foxes per square mile in urban Britain. This is significantly higher than some population densities in the wild. In cities we now hear of humans and foxes interacting in closer and closer ways. Our relationship with this native wild species is thus changing.

Foxes are large predators who live on worms,beetles, mice,voles,birds and by scavenging.They are known to avoid human contact and are normally nocturnal in their habits. In the urban landscape foxes have no natural predator,if human hunters and pest control are taken out of the equation. Their habitat has dramatically altered in 100 years or so of urban sprawl.The British whose landscape once was parkland, forest and farmland are now essentially an urban people. How rapidly has the fox evolved to adapt to this change?

Perhaps our expectations about fox behaviour need to change to take into account its evolved lifestyle, instincts and even diet in an urban landscape. Householders in the UK now put food out for foxes at the end of their gardens and are forced to weigh down wheelie bin lids. Disposable nappies,filled with human excrement are a favoured target. Foxes are now known to enter kennels to eat dogfood, kitchens to eat catfood. Fast food outlets which throw out vast quantities of food are favourite gathering places for urban foxes.If they no longer fear humans as predators then it may not be long before the fox sees us as prey.

In common with foxes, urban living has separated humans from our predators. On first hearing of this fox attack on human babies I doubted it's veracity. The likelihood is that a young fox was attracted by the smell of freshly soiled nappy into the sleeping babies' cot. The injuries probably occurred as the startled fox struggled to leave the cot after the babies woke. But to have entered through patio doors, crept upstairs into a bedroom and then to climb into a cot, undeterred by human scents? This scenario implies an individual fox lacking the inhibition expected of its species. Is it hysterical to fear this mix of new brazenness and native cunning?

Foxes do not have a genetic history of centuries of coexistence on the edge of domesticity with humans as feral cats do.Domestic felines revert to feral with ease when survival instincts dictate.Dogs of course are wholly domesticated.Our pampered pooches, even the macho ones, bear little resemblance to the wild pack animal which was their ancestor. Yet even pet dogs can sometimes attack and even kill humans. Attacks which occur often when humans neglect to train their dog and assert the proper pecking order.

These isles which were thronged with wolves, bears and even large cats are now home to just one species of feral canine-the fox. Other indigenous wild species died out over thousands of years of whittling numbers and changing environment. Yet the fox has thrived through seismic habitat changes wrought in a mere 200 years since the onset of the industrial revolution.To survive these changes the laws of natural selection infer that today's fox must have evolved into a very different species from its pre-industrial forebearer. Our relationship and assumptions about foxes are formed from our tradition as farmers and hunters where the animal's fear of people is the key dynamic. If we no longer hunt the fox and we domesticate ourselves beyond recognition, surely that fear dynamic which works to OUR advantage could crucially alter.

We now live cocooned in concrete and no longer kill by our own hand to survive. Instead we rely on remotely processed produce which we eat from plastic. We forget that natural eco-systems are not stopped by the city lines.We dont live in a bubble. After hurricane Katrina, crocodiles were caught in the flooded streets of New Orleans. Alligators are said to live in the sewers of some cities in the deep south of USA. When pet owners die in locked homes their hungry pets will eat their masters to survive.In April this year a particularly brazen fox crossed a frozen lake, scaled a fence and entered an island compound to kill 12 flamingoes in Helsinki Zoo.Wild foxes are showing exceptional ability to evolve and adapt to whatever environment and food sources are available.

As a Vet I have taken an oath to work for the care and welfare of the animal kingdom. I am however a farmer's son. My link with my rural past is only one generation broken. All farmers know there are inherent dangers in working with horses, dogs, cats or in close contact with livestock. Indeed any Vet would agree that the wild instincts of all companion animals should be treated with caution. In our interactions with nature we rely on a pecking order that we impose on animals, not by brute force but by millenia of conditioning and control. The majority of people now in the UK are six or more generations removed from rural life and the familiarity with animals that rural living gives. Those who put food out for foxes at the ends of their gardens are part of an altering dynamic,an evolving natural order and are sending mixed messages to this wild animal on the edge of domesticity. Sending mixed messages will have mixed results.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Epileptic Boxers and Tripping Cavaliers- a word about seizures.

We have seen unusually high numbers of dogs presenting to us at both clinics in recent weeks either during or after seizure episodes. Full-blown seizures are dramatic and sudden in onset. This lack of warning and the violence of the convulsions mean that pet owners are often as distressed by the time they have reached Kildare Vet Surgery as the dogs themselves.

Epilepsy,a word we are all familiar with, is used to describe the syndrome of repeated seizures. It is often genetically inherited in dogs and can occur at almost any age but usually manifests between one and three years old. Secondary epilepsy is the term used to describe seizures triggered by any underlying cause such as liver disease, cardiac disease, metabolic disorder or other neurological disease such as meningitis or meningoencephalitis. Not all seizure cases will be epileptic. Nor indeed will all primary epileptic dogs develop full blown seizures especially if diagnosed early.

As I write this I am conscious that these paragraphs diverge from my usual style of(hopefully) accessible and not too reverent commentary and stray into the jargon of the science journal. This tends to happen when so-called experts are discussing topics of which quite a lot remains unknown.A great word we love to use is idiopathic which literally means "we dont know". In fact the next time you hear a scientist,politician,banker or economist baffling your eardrums with corporate esperanzo you can be sure they either dont know what they're talking about or dont want you to know.

So why would cases of seizure be any more common now than usual? One reason is certainly that we know seizures are triggered. Stress of any sort and changes in weather have both been identified as trigger factors. It's not too fanciful to think that animals in the current zeitgeist have picked up on some of their owners stress. During the recent good weather I have seen cases of latent primary epilepsy triggered by this heat wave and have also found that heat stroke can present to us as a kind of pseudo-seizure.

Precise data on the incidence of epilepsy is not available. But best estimates cite figures of between 1 percent and up to 5 percent of dogs suffer from epilepsy. Figures at the higher end definitely apply to some breeds. As much as 5 percent of Boxers are believed to suffer seizures. While the unfortunate Cavalier King Charles breed which has been the subject of controversy over selective breeding for it's unnatural head shape also have an above average incidence of seizures, epileptic or otherwise.

Treatment protocols for true epilepsy in animals are more limited than the human equivalents. But are relatively simple and successful. Once a diagnosis is confirmed we can often reassure pet owners by giving a quite favouable prognosis. The work will be ongoing. Treatment is continuous and dosages of medication will be modified regularly in the first year after diagnosis. We will be guided by both quarterly blood tests and the feedback we get from owners on how their pet has responded to the meds.

The tests we need to undertake to rule out a whole range of possibles before diagnosing primary idiopathic epilepsy are in themselves the best advert for Pet Insurance. At the end of all that ruling out our drug options generally narrow down to three namely valium, potassium bromide and phenobarbital. The trick however is often in the dosage and in the mix of all three. After that it's down to you the owners to live with your epileptic dog. Become good at giving pills!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The problem with Ivermectin and Collies....!

This morning in Sunday clinic in Portarlington I have treated two cases of suspected canine Lungworm infection. It's a minor epidemic at this stage. When new pathogens or parasites emerge in the animal kingdom they propagate with impunity until medical treatments, host immunity or preventive controls catch up.

Vets, Doctors and Scientists share a common culture of learnng and vigilance in the face of evolving pestilence.At this time we, the veterinary profession are winning the war against Lungworm. Round one. Advocate is the simple and effective treatment and prevention against the Angiostrongylus Vasorum parasite. There are no miracle drugs in this life however. Medicines are only as effective as the protocols underpinning their use. By this I mean, in the case of Advocate for example, the pipette used must be the right dosage for your dogs weight and must be used monthly to prevent parasites developing partial resistance.

If your dog has signs of Angiostrongylus infection such as anaemia and coughing Vets may use other drugs such as Ivermectin or Moxidectin which can both be administered orally and by injection as additional treatments to accompany the use of Advocate.

Ivermectin is one of the oldest drugs of a group called Anthelmintics which control internal and external parasites in animals. Ivermectin is still very effective and widely usd. There is however an unusual genetic exception to its use. Dogs of Collie blood mostly have a genetic intolerance to Ivermectin and its mistaken use in these dogs has had fatal consequences in the past. Dogs with this genetic intolerance to Ivermectin include Collies (Rough and Border), shetland sheepdogs, minitiature shelties, Australian shepherd dogs, old English Sheepdogs and any crossbreed of these.

Lets face it- using ivermectin in any but the sickest of dogs is risky because every Heinz 57 in Ireland has some collie blood in them somewhere. Even the ones who dont look the least like sheepdogs.

Moxidectin is a newer generation derived avermectin and is contained in Advocate. It has the benefits of its older relative without any risk to dogs carrying the susceptible gene.

I can reassure any concerned collie owner that Advocate is safe to use in all dogs even the bluest blooded collie.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When is a cough not just a cough? .

...When a Cough is more than just a Cough.

Climate change.Some of us are sick hearing about it.A growing number of sceptics are beginning to ask just what's all the fuss about. God knows we could do with a bit of global warming around these parts, since the ash cloud wont let us leave the island anyway. Eco-sceptics you could call these people(did I just make up that word?) who couldn't care less about the polar bears, the icebergs or the ozone layer. To these people however, I have two words of news today.
Angiostrongylus Vasorum.

Scientists love words of Latin mystery. Their own secret code to confuse the punters. The real mystery however is Nature. Just when Vets like me think we have the job sussed, Nature moves the goal posts. Or as in this case, moves the Climate. Angiostrongylus is what you and I can call Dog Lungworm. And it's here. It usedn't to be in Ireland , but it's here now.

Angiostrongylus was once known as French Heartworm and was confined to warmer regions. One more thing the French have given us;Sarkozy, Dog Lungworms and Thierry Henri (quel horreur!).This Lungworm which is carried by the Slugs and Snails in our gardens is now infecting greater numbers of Irish Dogs because wetter and warmer Summers have seen a massive recent rise in the Slug, Snail and Frog populations in Ireland.

French Heartworm which we now call Dog Lungworm has spread to Britain and Ireland as global warming has brought warmer weather allowing the Angiostrongylus Worm to survive further north. More Slugs, Snails and Frogs now carry the Lungworm and increasing numbers of dogs in Tallaght, Leixlip, Lucan , Wexford and Kildare have been reported by Vets to be infected with this sometimes fatal parasite.

So how do dogs become infected? Tell tale slimy Slug and Snail mucus trails which you find at this time of year on garden paths, on the dog's toys and feedbowls are full of Lungworm Larvae. Dogs are curious rummaging scavengers. Your lovable mutt with the palate and appetite of Homer Simpson may ingest Frogs, Snails, Slugs or even their mucus trail to become infected with Larvae which migrate through blood vessels to the Lungs where damage occurs.

YOU are not at risk from Dog Lungworm but your dog unfortunately is. Infected dogs can suffer fatal Lung Bleeding, Pneumonia, Anaemia and other clinical disorders. Infection begins with a cough, breathlessness or fatigue. Vets may then observe blood clotting anomalies and/or Anaemia.Severe cases can progess to signs of vomitting, seizures or diarrhoea. The good news is that this modern problem has a very modern prevention and cure.

A simple spot-on remedy which your Vet can prescribe will deal with infection. Importantly the same spot-on is recommended monthly by Vets like myself as prevention against not only Lungworm but also fleas, Lice, ear Mites and other creepy nasties. Advocate from Bayer, for example, is licensed to give just this peace of mind to dog owners. Vets all agree that prevention is safer than cure. If Angiostrongylus Vasorum are two words too many, then one word Advocate is enough. Just ask your Vet.
Des Groome,
Groome PetVets,
South Green road,

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nine Lives; Part Two- The Naming of Cats!

Somewhere in the region of ten years ago, not long after marriage but well before the arrival of our children, Glenda and I decided we needed a cat. In so far as one ever needs an animal around the place we needed a cat. Perhaps as a counterfoil to the dog. Perhaps as a comforting presence on the windowsill. An urbane symbol of domesticity and settlement. But practically, rodent control was also a factor for consideration in a house beside a stable yard full of horses, full of horse feed and full of mice.

Friends in Newbridge had a litter of kittens delivered to them by their own queen.We went to visit and found four bundles of snotty matted taggly meowing catflu in our friends' kitchen."Pick the sickest one; You'll be able to treat it" said Glenda.We took home a jetblack Tom Kitten. We named him Ted. Our two dogs were Dougal and Jack. Around that time we also rehomed a terrier named Mrs Doyle. Dermot Morgan's bizarre TV show about the priests on Craggy island was popular in our house. Not least because our house itself with leaking roof, wind-tunnel corridors and telephone number heating bills resembled Fr Ted's parochial house in a field. Thus the black kitten became Ted.

Ted grew and thrived.He was the biggest young tom I had seen by the time he was a year old. After Neutering he grew even bigger. And being wormed regularly and fed sparingly he developed the sleek coat and body lines of a miniature cougar. He was allowed indoors rarely, perhaps at feeding time or on a particularly wet night. He curled up most nights in the stableblock with one or other of the horses and patrolled the loft above, ruthlessly maintaining it rodent-free.

He was regularly fed but hunted whether hungry or not. True to the independence of his species, he reserved the feral rights of his ancestors to come and go as he pleased. He would disappear for a day or two. Then reappear dragging a large dead rat, rabbit or misfortunate young bird. These he would drop at the back door.I regularly teased Glenda "He is doing you a favour- bringing you food. He feels sorry for you that you're not able to hunt for yourself". She fondly wrote "Ultimate Killing machine" in the space for "breed" on Ted's vaccination card. Though she was also conflicted.She felt a pang of sorrow at the feathered confetti he nonchalantly left as evidence. Proud that Ted kept our house and yard rat-free while appalled at his callous, sanguine approach to killing for fun. This was the dichotomy of nature. Feral cruelty alongside urbane hygiene in a species on the edge of domesticity.

The writer TS Eliot was a cat lover. But you dont have to love cats or admire them to respect them. Cats are a species of contradictions and retain some primeval mystery. The dog is man's best friend and in creeping close to stone age camps for warmth and food, formed an alliance with huntergather man which has endured the millenia. Cats were slower to trust, to be taken in. The cat is nobody's fool. Eliot's poem "the naming of cats" whimsically points out the elusive nature of cats "The naming of cats is a difficult matter, it isnt just one of your holiday games, you may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter, when I tell you a cat must at least have three names"... The meaning I take from Eliot's fun poem is that you may name a cat but you'll never really own one.

Ted disappeared early one winter a few years ago. We turfed him out after his supper to his regular night's hunting and that was the last we saw of him. Glenda blamed herself. He had wanted to stay in that night but as the mother of a sick baby which refused to sleep Ted was now a lower priority. I had also begun a boarding kennels at the surgery which I reckoned was a barking indignity to Ted's sensibilities. Ted had probably exercised his prerogative as a cat of means, by no means and hit the road. That winter we were plagued with mice and paid a pest control firm for the first time ever.

Last week,some three years since Ted was last seen,a new customer brought a chronically ill old neutered tomcat to me for treatment. His admittance forms and record card labelled him with some name which shall remain nameless and by which this lady client knew him. But I knew Ted and he knew me. He was in a critical state of viral infection, needed a battery of tests and IV fluids but I smiled as I explored his familiar ear scars and skin folds, knowing that Ted had come to the right place to have his new life,or the next one, saved. I also took my hat off to the poise, resourcefulness and self-mastery of a cat who finding himself in a life of barking stress and waning appreciation, had simply taken off to make a new life.

It is people and not cats who struggle to make new lives. Look around today at a jaded Ireland and see the human detritus of unravelled lifestyles. Some angry at lost business, collapsed equity or that collapsed house of cards. Others bewildered at lost identities, certainties, not to mention lost livelihoods. A feeling of being tossed out- like the cat on that cold winter night. Most of us are survivors. Some of us like the cat with nine lives, can reinvent, cope, move on. Those whose identity is wedded to a house, job, place or status will struggle.The hard part of coping with extreme change and upheaval is to retain an inner equilibrium of self,of moral compass, of identity and pride,of cherishing family and priority. And to shrug off lesser things before moving on. That's the trick of survival of the cat with nine lives.

When Ted came off the IV drip and gained some weight again I imagined I could see his inner equilibrium return.I called him Ted. His new owners called him something else. Glenda cried when she came to the surgery to see this surprise,the proud independent tom who had adopted a new family years ago and miles away. Like all cats he probably doesnt much care what anyone calls him. He knows who he is. A survivor. TS Eliot finishes the peom thus " when you notice a cat in profound meditation,the reason I tell you is always the same, his mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation, of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name, his effable ineffable,
deep and inscrutable,
singular name.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Cottontail's wire-meshed Shawshank.

Long Ears is a blue and white cotton-tail inhabitant of a large well-made hutch of wire mesh and steel behind the back door of the Groome family abode. He moved in with us over a year ago after a client who had taken in a labrador puppy brought a young traumatised rabbit to me and shared a tale of prey and predator incompatibility. He had lost some weight,was refusing to eat and in a state of chronic stress(the rabbit that is- not the client).

Predator and prey species frequently do not mix. It goes against the natural order to attempt to make a rabbit and dog coexist as domestic pets. Remember the old looney tunes cartoons of the tomcat thwarted by tweetie pie or terrorising the goldfish? There are exceptions such as when socialised together from a few weeks of age, but in general natural urges supercede conditioning. When we have rabbits, hamsters, parrots, other prey species or exotics to stay at KIlDARE VET SURGERY we isolate them from our inpatient dogs and cats for this reason. Its not fair on either to mix them.

Thus Long Ears was adopted by the Groomes. Daniel,(7), James (5) and Tom (3) are too young yet to care for a dog or cat. A rabbit is an excellent first pet. That is until Dad, yardman Lar and grandad Tom get left to do everything. This winter in fact was so harsh that Long Ears shamefully was left in his outdoor hutch and coop largely to interact only with the adults.

A few days of snowman building and snowballing being memorable exceptions, the three boys spent the winter in the playrooom as engineers on the Island of Sodor or roadbuilders in Radiator Springs. Long Ears was sorely in need of some attention as rabbits need constant handling and interaction with people to ensure they remain socialised, do not revert to semi-feral and can be managed or cared for by a young owner. More importantly constant interaction is necessary so that the relationship between child and pet is wholesome and stress-free for BOTH.

Recently when the bikes were polished off and the boys started using the garden again they resolved to get Long Ears out to play. The first few episodes of manhandling led,not unexpectedly, to the rabbit wriggling and leg-thumping his way to freedom. Tom discovered that bunnies can have a nasty nip when startled. But after a week or so of handling, boys and rabbit became friends and played a sort of tag or hide-and-seek game in our enclosed side yard. Each day Long Ears would agree to be enticed by lettuce back to his hutch until the next time.

One day however our bunny found a new spring to his step. The time came for supper and to return Long Ears to lockup. But I looked out to find three boys of varying size and athleticism galloping around the yard trying to turn and corner a now fitter and confident Long Ears. It was definitely a Looney Tunes version of a Clonmel Hare coursing contest. At one stage as Long Ears paused for a breather and turned sharply to unbalance his twolegged pursuers,he looked across at me and I almost heard him say " Whats up Doc?".

That pursuit ended on Long Ears terms, when he decided he was tired of the chase and returned himself to barracks. But the next morning I looked out from upstairs to see his run empty. I spotted something beyond the back garden some 100 metres away and opened the window to get a better look. There he was in the long meadow keeping the pony company. Ears forward, aloft on hind legs with a blade of grass between his paws. No doubt smelling the sweet breeze of freedom.I laughed at the joie de vivre of our cotton tail, this time definitely less Looney Tunes and more Shawshank Redemption!

The boys' Mum warned darkly of the grim fate that could befall this fluffy innocent abroad in the long grass. A capture party was thus swiftly dispatched and soon Long Ears was reincarcerated to stare at the four small wire sides of his prison. As the old sage "Red" in that great movie said from his cell "Same old shit, different day!". We repaired the never before eaten-through wire meshing.

But something had changed. Long Ears escaped again. And again. And Lar the yardman nodded one day and said "he's got the taste of freedom now. Only the crows will scare him. He will breed with the wild ones and there'll be blue and white little lads everywhere!". Lar was our "Red"; the Morgan Freeman character who watched Andy in Shawshank always trying to escape in the 1994 movie and provided the slow voiceover "I have to remind myself that some birds aint meant to be caged, that's all".

Here's the thing. Long Ears hutch hadnt changed.But his attitude had. Now he could escape because he wanted to. For the previous year the blue and white cottontail had languished behind a wire mesh wall he himself held the power to breach. Held captive only by a barrier in his bunny brain.A taste of freedom had empowered him. The smell of free air had shown Long Ears the possibilities of life. Now escape was as easy as his dreams of a new reality!

There's some work to do tomorrow in mending that hutch.It will be no laughing matter for three little boys if a certain cotton tail meets a sad ending in the long grass. For now though remember "Shawshank" brought to you by eternal optimist and escapologist Andy Dufresne, AKA Long Ears. What imaginary prisons hold any and each of us back? A negative equity mortgage holding you back from a fresh start or a re-education? Fear of failure holding back that germ of a business idea? Unemployed, bankrupt or squeezed by the weight of institutional credit? Feel the failure if you need to- and let it liberate you.

I will leave the last word to Andy Dufresne who finally did escape."Dear Red. If you're reading this it means you've gotten out. And if you've come this far, maybe you're willing to come a little further.Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies".

Friday, April 23, 2010

High Rise Syndrome- The science of the nine-lived feline.

A young Jack Russel of my acquaintance is now newly christened Kamikaze Jack.When Jack presented at Kildare Vet yesterday he had some bruises and a shoulder injury. While I xrayed Jack to reveal nothing more sinister than a bad sprain his owner told a tale of derring-do and a death-defying leap.

Home alone while his owner shopped, Jack was locked in the kitchen as a regular routine. This recent fine day his owner returned home to find his dog in the garden at play. Doors remained locked. No other family member had been home. How did Jack get out?

A neighbour solved the mystery by reporting that he had watched while Jack poked his nose out an upstairs window,tentatively placed first one paw on the windowsill, then squarely positioned the other paw for take-off, until with ears cocked confidently forward, Jack had launched himself groundward off the upstairs windowsill.

Jack landed with nose, teeth and shoulders all a muddle. Like a tangled canine Wilbur Wright. True also to my son Daniel's favourite Buzz lightyear catchphrase " flying is falling with style"!

The solution for this owner now is to obtain a travel crate which is a type of collapsible cage large enough for a dog bed. Kamikaze Jack will now be cage bound in his owner's absence to curb further flights of fancy.

This behaviour is indeed strange in a dog. And of course in this case our patient was lucky not to sustain serious injury. Cases of falling cats are altogether more common however and a myriad of injuries are seen in association with cats falling from buildings.

Veterinary hospitals in New York first reported high-rise fall injuries in felines in Manhattan in the sixties. Appropriately they termed these cases " High Rise Syndrome". What made these cases news worthy was the surprisingly high survival rate in those cats who made it as far as the veterinary hospital after an often shocked and traumatised owner had peeled their pussy off the pavement.

This catalogue ( if you'll pardon the pun)of feline falls reveals the following; Two or three storey falls are more likely to be fatal than a five to ten storey fall. Survival rates were optimal for six storey falls as cats have time to right themselves to extend all four limbs ground-first but not time to reach terminal velocity. Having reached terminal velocity all is not lost as the cat will sprawl all four to extend body area in order to dissipate its force of impact. Their lower ratio of body mass to surface area is also an advantage cats have over many other species including of course the hapless human jumper.

The "record" is reportedly held by Sabrina ( not a teenage witch) who lived to meow the tale of her 32 storey fall off a frosty Manhattan window ledge. Incidentally the sorts of injuries these falling cats sustained were often no more serious than a few broken ribs, cracked jaw or chipped teeth.Of course critically serious injuries can also occur. But the good doctors of Happy Vet 5th Avenue can and will save one of your proverbial squashed cats nine lives IF your credit card can bear the pain. Strong Coffee and plush waiting rooms come as standard.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Irish Wolfhounds- echoes of a proud past.

Journeying the other day back up onto the Curragh from Naas to the junction 12 roundabout I met the new imposing ironcast sculptures now filling the eye at the gateway to the Curragh plains. I took three spins around the roundabout to admire Fionn MacCumhaill flanked either side by his impressive hunting hounds Bran and Sceolain.

Kildare people often think themselves to be living in a bland modern and almost suburbanised landscape. We assume perhaps that words like tradition and heritage fit Connemara,Dingle, Lisdoonvarna or the Giants Causeway. A reminder of the pagan, celtic and rebellious history of our own townlands might incite a bit more civic pride in the people, place and history of Kildare perhaps.

I was saddened to hear one of Kildare's county councillors on the radio complaining that Fionn MacCumhaill's aculpture shouldnt have been paid for out of Newbridge town council's parking funds.I disagree and believe in fact that cultural pride, identity and a sense of dreaming the possible can lift people to think above the everyday and believe themselves capable of better.

Civic Leadership needs to excite again. People need to be asked to believe in themselves and their country, to strive for a noble cause again and to rise above the mundane. Leadership is effective when it incites to what Maslow, an early psychologist, called "self-actualisation".

The presence of Fionn MacCumhaill, Bran and Sceolain towering over that motorway junction is an echo of Ireland's mythology and awakens in me a sense of patriotism. And a sense of identity that allows us as an Irish people to define ourselves apart from the euro-mush and globalised Americana that dominate our lives now.

Legend has it that Fionn MacCumhaill was a Kildare man. His grandfather Tadhg the Druid had a fortress and lands on the Hill of Allen. Fionn was the lovechild of Tadhg's daughter Muireann and Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna. Fionn was reared in the Slieve Blooms but returned to Allen to claim his grandfathers lands.The title of leader of the Fianna was bestowed on him in Tara as his father's legacy.

His two favourite hunting hounds were bewitched warriors imprisoned in animal form.The theme of humans bewitched into animal form was a common part of Irish celtic mythology. My view is that these stories educated people to have respect for nature.The closeness of the link between man's fortunes and the cycle of nature was a core belief of celtic druidism.

Bran and Sceolain were Irish wolfhounds. However the early writers often termed this breed of huge dog a wardog or deerhound/wolfhound.They were fit for purpose and could kill a wolf by snapping its neck. A pair could bring down a bear of which there were many in the Irish iron age forests. The Fianna were footsoldiers who went into battle with their hounds at heel and as the dog would fight to the death with his master and guard the homestead at night they were a revered and treasured possession.

Roman historians of the second and third century AD write of these hounds being brought in cages to be exhibited in Rome and to fight in the Collosseum. The ship that brought a young St Patrick out of Ireland carried a cargo of hounds to Britannia. There is evidence that there was a thriving trade in the export of the Irish wardog to the continent.

We believe that the Romans never came to Ireland. However it is more accurate to say that they never established an occupational presence in Ireland. They certainly traded with the iron age Irish and pre christian celts. A Roman temple and baths in Gloucester today has a life size statue of an Irish Wolfhound which dates to 365AD. I would like to think that the fearsome indigenous footsoldiers of Celtic Ireland who went into battle with their loyal and savage wardogs at heel provided a strong deterrent against Roman invaders.

The Fianna disbanded within a few hundred years of St Patrick's christianisation of Ireland. The land lay open to Viking, Norman and then British invasion as the millenia passed and the landscape, culture and genepools of Ireland were altered and diluted over time. Fionn, Bran and Sceolain on the roundabout are an echo of what Irishness might once have looked like.

When you next drive by there picture Fionn, leader of the Fianna standing on the Hill of Allen, watching his favourite hounds Bran and Sceolain as they hunt the Curragh plains below.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Parrot is for life- not just for Christmas!

If the Bank of America cant float their stocks and bonds these days, signs are they are preparing to float a new Noah's Ark if the activities of their debt collectors are anything to go by.

A character of our times, a woman in Somewheresmallville Florida, a woman in serious arrears of her mortgage repayments, arrived home to her subprime humble abode the other day to an empty house. But this was an empty house with a difference.

Monica Florent who was recently unemployed and had ignored correspondence from her mortgaging bank for some months, lived alone except for her 11 year old Blue Macaw Parrot named Luke. The Bank's collection sheriff believing the house to be vacant,followed the bank's salvage policy and efficiently emptied its entire contents. Including Luke, a very large, vocal, valuable but more importantly much-loved Parrot.

There followed an anxious time for Monica. Separated from her beloved Luke she repeatedly negotiated with bank representatives over the course of seven increasingly fraught days. Bank officials admit that they had to insist Monica stop calling as twenty to thirty daily enquiries after Luke's welfare eventually wore them down. Luke was released back to his owner after over a week in bank custody in a debt collector's warehouse 80 miles away.

Monica is getting her own back now. In a court case which has attracted world media attention Luke's owner has claimed severe emotional distress over the whole sorry episode and is suing Bank of America for reparations over separation anxiety.The outcome of this case no doubt will set a precedent for the work practices of debt collectors across the US.

The case of Luke's apparent kidnapping is interesting on several levels. Blue Macaws have a market value of 1500 to 3000 Dollars. Thus Luke could conceivably have bought Monica significant additional leeway on her distressed mortgage.However the distress caused, not to Monica but to Luke could bring a storm of animal welfare protest down on an already unpopular banking symbol of financial malfeasance.

Blue Macaw Parrots are the ones seen on every Treasure Island screenplay, made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson. Standing up to 20 inches tall with a tail of a further 15 inches, they have a brilliant-blue wings and back, yellow chest and splash of green on the crown and beak. Their formidable beak can give a nasty bite and when angered they will loudly startle strangers with a hissing wing-flapping charge. They form a strong emotional bond with preferably just one owner. They also can live for up to 70 years.

Bank of America could therefore have bitten off more than they could chew,so to speak, with Luke. I was reminded of a veterinary colleague owed a considerable sum of money by a racehorse trainer, who recently obtained a court order to collect his debt by the legal channels. The court sheriff arrived out to the trainer's yard to collect the debt to the vet only to find the only thing in the yard that wasnt bolted down had four legs.

Next day the county Sheriff ( yes,they actually are called that outside the pale)rang the vet to deliver his official line that " no goods were recovered". He did mention the horse in the yard as the only thing that could conceivably be seized and sold. " Why didnt you seize the horse?!That gelding won in Galway last month and would fetch a right few quid!"said the hapless vet.

The Sheriff's reply" The court service dont equip us with horseboxes!".

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The taming of the Tiger Cubs.

RTE's "The frontline" with Pat Kenny on 22/2/2010 featured a panel of two "young" Politicians facing an audience of a representative section of Ireland's Tiger Cubs; young, newly graduated, newly skilled and unemployed.It was an evening of frustrations and misunderstandings and the Tiger Cubs were angry.

Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fail and Lucinda Creighton of Fine Gael both agreed with this audience's agenda for CHANGE, though differing in their view of what actual changes could happen.Byrne had the better of the exchange with a clarity of communication, three solid points and a speech without notes. Neither Politician could offer radical enough plans to satisfy this audience. A need to mobilise the unemployed, harness the educated, nurture and retain Ireland's investment in youth skills and training was, of course, widely agreed. But there was a gulf of understanding and a youthful frustration at the slow pace and extent of change which reflects the difficulties facing these young Politicians attempting to exercise power in a multilayered system of bureaucracy, vested-interest resistance and tradition.

Both TDs argued that becoming involved in existing political channels IS the most effective way to influence change. The increasing disillusionment and disengagement of younger citizens in Politics will lead to a self-fulfilling cycle which will only serve to enforce the status quo through an increasingly older electorate electing older Politicians.

Frustrations and misunderstandings were also manifest amongst the contributors. Bill Cullen was frustrated that this group, highly educated and highly skilled in the professions and trades, lacked the self-reliance, initiative, Can Do attitude and resilience of HIS generation. Architects, engineers, business graduates, carpenters,physiotherapists etc should do more for themselves argued Bill. A creed of self-responsibility which was met with sullen misunderstanding and a rejection of his perspective as that of an establishment capitalist.

But Bill is right. Most of that group have the skills to make their own living. Most have the tools, gained by education and training in the good times, to set up their own businesses, hang their own plinth, ply their own trades in their own neighbourhoods. What many of them dont have though is the street sense, people skills,ability to improvise and the practical survival instincts that Bill Cullen's agegroup have.

We have channelled the Tiger Cubs through well-oiled educational and training systems. Their fees were paid. Summer jobs were plentiful and cushy.Apprentices were well paid and valued. We instilled them with a sense of entitlement that they would never be subject to the inequalities, dead-end jobs and the emigration of our past. But the consequence of prosperity is that the well-funded, well-meaning, well-signposted scaffold of Ireland's social supports has domesticated the Tiger Cubs to see only the safe and structured channels. The expectation that the Government should provide is a clear legacy of the boom years.

The people "before profit" and the TCD student union heads and the soft-socialist young labourites like to think they are radical. But the wildest voice in the room last night was Bill Cullen's.The entire collective of Cubs failed to match Bill's passion.The most radical thought in the room was Bill's message of the mastery of one's own fate. The Cubs have been domesticated and tamed. But there is a solution.

The most innovative and visionary speaker in that room last night was a young software entrepreneur. The cross-pollination of Bill Cullen's school of hard knocks with the mosern globalised IT savvy of that young entrepreneur is needed to finish the Cubs education.My solution? Put business parks IN universities. Allocate incubation pods to IT startups IN Science faculties. Rent office space in business schools to entrepreneurs and to last years graduates. Incorporate participation in successful business projects into undergraduate work.
The Tiger is dead? Long live the Tiger!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Jungle Book- We be of one blood you and I.

A young fella of about 19 came into the surgery in Kildare on saturday morning carrying a large open-necked and heavy-looking sack.what did the sack contain? I was expecting the common story of the family pet which had died overnight, now brought to me for cremation. As I ushered him into the consulting room with a greeting "come in, come in, what have you got in the bag?"I got a surprise. Without reply the young fella,now grinning broadly as I warily stepped back, emptied a coiled, surly, growling,three mtr and ten kg python onto the floor.

Even diseased or dull, the supple power, luscent pattern and very mystery of a rare serpent in the banal setting of a domestic Vet Clinic elicited a sharp intake of breath.

I thumbed through Kipling's "Jungle Book" over the weekend.Our python patient promptd me to remind myself of Kaa the Rock Python, a deep character of dark jungle mystery from one of my childhood favourite writings. The story of Mowgli the Man-Cub reared by wolves and mentored by Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear.The chapter on Mowgli's snatched kidnapping by the Bandar-Log or Monkey people and rescue by Kaa, an awesome 30ft Rock Python captivated me again."And they the Bandar-Log fear Kaa the Rock Snake. He can climb as well as they can. The whisper of his name makes their wicked tails turn cold.Let us go to Kaa".

"They found him stretched on a warm ledge in the afternoon sun admiring his beautiful new coat,for he had been in retirement these last ten days changing his skin and now he was very splendid- darting his big blunt-nosed head along the ground, and twisting the thirty feet of his body into fantastic knots and curves and licking his lips as he thought of the dinner to come."He has not eaten" said Baloo as soon as he saw the beautifully mottled brown and yellow jacket" Be careful Bagheera!".

Reading parts of Kipling now as a forty year old I picked out social commentary and satire that was lost on me as a ten year old. "Listen man-cub" said the bear " I have taught thee all the law of the jungle for all the peoples except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees.They have no law. They are outcaste. They have no speech of their own but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up in the branches.Their way is not our way. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten".This could be a commentary on our modern papparazzi or the tabloid media and those who inhabit its world.

There are also echoes of Victorian morality in Kipling which a ten year old boy might assimilate. Kaa the great aged Python assisted Mowgli's escape from the monkeys and afterwards surveyed the small boy."Have a care manling that I do not mistake thee for a monkey some twilight when I have newly changed my coat"." We be of one blood, thou and I"Mowgli answered."My kill shall be thy kill if ever thou art hungry, O Kaa".The Python dropped his head lightly for a minute "A brave heart and a courteous tongue. They shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling".True today as ever;even jungles have a code of ethics.

The attraction of owning an exotic pet such as Kaa the powerful python is hard for the faint-hearted to understand. But the challenge of caring for and gaining the trust of a complex serpent or reptile has its own rewards for some. My Python visitor had severe fungal pneumonia which I was able to treat with oral liquid antibiotic medication. He had lost weight, lost his lustre and a caseous scum across nose and eyes indicated severe debilitation.I was able to sherlock holmes my way to tracing the source of this disease to inhalation of mold grown on straw, an inappropriate bedding for a snake in a humid tank.

The snake hadnt eaten in a month. "What does he normally eat?" I asked his young owner. "Rats, the biggest whole ones you can buy frozen and defrost!" replied the young fella in gleeful Dublinese.I suspect a more gothic fascination with serpentine habits may motivate some exotic pet owners. To give him his dues though, he was under no illusions about his snake's potency and expertly restrained the python with extreme care as I gave the first antibiotic dose.

Anthropomorphism is a phenomenon we see in pet owners all the time.It means the attribution of human motivation and behaviour to animals.In fairness to this Python owner he was in no way anthropomorphic about his snake.But apparently thousands of owners are killed every year by their own exotic pets. Trust is their fatal weakness. Mowgli too was guilty of anthropomorphism as he initially was attracted by the monkey-people who play all day. Later however he cried bitterly as he realized their treachery "All that Baloo has said about the Bandar-Log is true. They have no law, no hunting call, no leaders- nothing but foolish words and little pickish thieving hands. If I am starved or killed here, it will be all my own fault".Kipling, the Victorian moralist now sounding like a 21st century ecologist.

One of those urban myths of a veterinary nature which I heard once at a Vet's conference goes like this- a python owner in the states had a snake for years and it grew to twentysomething feet long, grew to trust its owner and she it.The snake spent long periods of time out of its tank until the owner eventually let the snake pretty much have the run of the house and go in or out of its tank when it wished. Anyway by the by,she would wake up in the morning and find the snake on her bed which was not the least disconcerting for her. Instead, as a person living alone she found it strangely comforting. One morning she found the snake lying alongside her, cheek to jowl in the bed and happened to tell her Vet this tale of snakely companionship.

The Vet was luckily experienced in the ways of the footless hunter. He spoke with sharp and sudden urgency" Get that Python out of your house and into care immediately. Do not enter your home to get that snake on your own!".Kaa the Python had coldly reasoned that the time had come.He had been measuring up his owner and biding his time, sizing her up to swallow her whole.We be of one blood you and I.But trust is a weakness!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Can you teach an old Dog New tricks?

The new show on MIDLANDS 103 FM on MONDAYS at 11.20 exposes me to more unvetted commentary than the radio coverage of George Lee's long goodbye. Yesterday's on air phone-in heard the case of the lady with four house cats, two male and two female, which were all neutered and of varying ages. Her problem was the particularly smelly and unhygienic case of the eldest male cat who insisted on coming indoors to relieve himself each day.

This behaviour is known as spraying and is normally a territory-marking habit of entire male cats. In this instance I surmise that this Tom was neutered too late for his characteristic male sexual behaviour to change.

My answer was simply not to tolerate this, to keep the cat outdoors, to prioritise the comfort and hygiene of your own home over the disrespectful moggy's egotistical territoriality. My motherin law who is a farmer with a commonsense innate knowledge of animal behaviour texted me after the show. Her solution to that lady's cat issues would involve the combination of an open back door, a large boot and a feline projectile. There is a time for diplomacy and a time for action to paraphrase Ian Paisley and King Solomon.

Speaking of old dogs and old cats and new tricks, an owner of two springer bitches lives across the road from the clinic in Portarlington. Yesterday morning before heading to Tullamore for the radio show I stitched a few nasty bite wounds on the older bitch of the two who is now being bullied by the other bitch, her former friend. These new hostilities began after bitch one had a litter of pups which are now all weaned and are some four months old. One could speculate on the reasons for the new fights.Perhaps it is jealousy or perhaps the younger bitch now wants to assume the alpha or dominant role. Undoubtedly the recent presence of the pups changed the dynamic between the pair.

Our client collected his bitch this morning and against our advice put the first one straight back into the yard with the aggressor. Ten minutes later he appeared back in the clinic with his bitch newly lacerated and standing in a pool of her own blood. More triage followed. Now the course of action will have to be separate yards, a new fence and a period of acclimitisation across the fence before these two can MAYBE become pals again. OR maybe not.

Speaking of acclimitisation and indeed decontamination, the Boy George was very naive to think his self-proclaimed talents would automatically gain him a controlling role at the centre of Oireachtas power. George was hardly fulsome in his compliments of any of his Dail colleagues in his work with RTE. More loose cannon than messiah, in my view George's high decibel indignation as a reporter did more harm to Ireland's foreign credibility than good over the last couple of years.Both his own political colleagues and other parties'were therefore bound to keep him at arms length for a while until he gained some allies or victories. In any organisation the new boy has to use his elbows, his diplomacy and due diligence to gain management's trust. Why would Fine Gael be any different to any working environment?

In the climate of hype and hyperbole that the national media perpetuate the other argument we hear is that " George's talents" should have been "used". To do what exactly and how? The fact is that George is one of many well-qualified economists in the country. Economics is an inexact science. In economics the right answer is often only evident after the fact. Many more qualified economists than George have proffered as many different opinions as there are PhDs out there on the world economic stage. To pull one lever of economic policy is often only as wrong or as right as the political philosophy underpinning the policy. Trade unions, banks, brokerages, as well as political parties all have economists as well qualified as George. The best place for George is behind a microphone- dont mistake that talent for political talent.

Richard Bruton is still there and holding his counsel. The one shining light of the current government has been the finance minister Mr Lenehan. It is however likely that Mr Bruton will be minister for finance in the next government.
The old dog for the hard road.