Thursday, July 26, 2007

The cat that can predict death

Ignoring the horrible headline, this article is fascinating. Make sure to follow the link to the New England Journal Of Medicine article about this kitty from Rhode Island.

The footsteps down the corridor of the Steere House Nursing And Rehabilitation Centre are light but purposeful as Oscar makes his way towards the end of the hallway and stops outside room 310.

The door is pulled firmly shut and, untroubled, he sits down outside it, and waits some 25 minutes until a nurse's aide appears, her arms full of dirty linen.

"Ah, Oscar," she smiles, and with a nod, almost as if she were expecting him, allows him to pass into the room where a frail elderly lady, her body ravaged by cancer, is sleeping fitfully. Oscar sniffs ostentatiously around, resists the blandishments of the relatives gathered round the bedside, struts out and continues on his round. For the lady in room 310, the time has not yet come.

The patient in the next room into which Oscar pokes his grey-and-white head is not so lucky. This time, Oscar weighs the situation carefully, then leaps on to the bed and curls up beside the woman lying in it.

A few moments later he is spotted, snuggled up there, by a passing nurse who immediately raises the alarm, not kick-starting a security alert to rid the ward of an unwanted intruder but a frenetic flurry of activity as medical records are fetched, a priest is called, and relatives are alerted to the likelihood of the patient's imminent demise.

Because Oscar, as everyone in this nursing home is agreed, has special powers - more even than the doctors and palliative care specialists who come to tend to the terminally ill here.

Yet his skills of divination are beyond question - and have even been the subject of an article in as august a publication as the New England Journal Of Medicine. To date he has predicted the deaths of 25 patients, and done so with such accuracy that he has completely won the trust of even the initially incredulous medical staff.

"This cat really seems to know when patients are about to die," says Dr David Dosa, a geriatrician at Rhode Island hospital who also attends patients at Steere House.

So what draws him so strongly towards those who are nearing the very end of their lives?

"That's actually the most puzzling part of it," observes Daniel Mills, a specialist in veterinary behavioural medicine at Lincoln University. He believes the idea that a cat, or indeed another animal, might be able to intuitively sense the proximity of death is not nearly as fanciful as it seems.

"Animals are particularly sensitive to a whole range of cues of which we are not always aware and can pick up on minute chemical changes," he explains. "For example, you can train a dog to predict an epilepsy fit in a patient before they even sense it themselves, or even detect cancer, so it seems reasonable to suppose you might be able to train a cat to detect that a person was terminally ill, particularly as they have such a good sense of smell.

"The challenge is that it's hard to see what the cat might get out of it. After all, the person they've gone to sit with dies - so why should it engage in that sort of behaviour?"

During my years of nearly 17 years of private practice with dogs and cats, I have seen many different responses from animals to the passing of another animal or a person in the house. As a result, when my clients ask "What should I expect from my other animals when this one passes away?", I often tell them it is very difficult to predict.

I've seen animal pairs who seem very attached where the one left behind doesn't seem phased by the passing. On the other hand, I've also seen situations where animals don't seem particularly close, and yet the one left behind certainly seems to go into a deep depression.

It will obviously take much more research to figure out the details, but I do agree with the behaviorist that animals can certainly sense things which escape humans. Perhaps they can pick up emotions or body language humans may overlook due to their own prejudices or emotions at the time. And certainly there is still much to learn about the incredible sense of smell possessed by both dogs and cats.

Anyone else have experience with animals sensing illness or death?

LGVMA on XM - confirmed

Appearance on XM confirmed. From LGVMA President, Michael McElvaine:

I will be on XM radio on Monday, 6:38pm EDT, The Agenda with Joe Solmonese. XMLive channel 120, XM Online channel 134. You can sign on for a free XM trialonline if youwant to listen.

See you on the radio!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stay tuned to XM.....

LGVMA has been approached by the producer of "The Agenda with Joe Solmonese", to appear on the HRC-connected interview show on XM satellite radio to discuss our highly successful Annual Meeting last weekend in Washington DC. Stay tuned as more details become finalized.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Vet Wars in NYC

DON'T miss this fascinating article in the New York Times about the "new kid in town" in veterinary referral centers:

WHEN his 6-year-old St. Bernard developed a limp, Seth Weinstein noticed immediately. A real-estate developer who has never married, he takes his 140-pound dog everywhere, from job sites to his home in Stamford, Conn., and to his pied-à-terre on Central Park West.

A veterinarian on the Upper West Side gave Mr. Weinstein the bad news — X-rays showed a likely tumor on Molly’s left leg, which could mean amputation. The veterinarian offered Mr. Weinstein two choices of animal hospitals with the best specialists in the city.

He knew of one, the Animal Medical Center on East 62nd Street, long recognized for its pioneering treatments and its annual Top Dog charity gala attended by Manhattan’s social elite. At one soiree,
Barbara Walters told of how Brooke Astor, an honorary trustee, famously said, “If I ever get really sick, take me to the Animal Medical Center.”

Mr. Weinstein had taken a previous St. Bernard of his to the Animal Medical Center, where, he said, the dog received excellent, if slightly impersonal, care. But he was intrigued by the second choice: NYC Veterinary Specialists, a for-profit hospital that opened last fall on West 55th Street.

“As soon as I walked in,” Mr. Weinstein said, “it seem liked it was a great place. It was clean. You could pull up with your car right in front, and the receptionist was nice.”

Doctors performed a groundbreaking “limb spare” surgery on Molly, sawing off the tumor-ridden section of her radius and grafting another bone in its place, saving the leg and, by all indications so far, eliminating the cancer.

Mr. Weinstein’s choice of hospital cost the Animal Medical Center the $25,000 he has spent on Molly’s care and the chance of allowing its student doctors to learn from a fascinating case.


A new player has arrived in New York, a city more obsessed than most with its pets and willing to spend lavishly on them. While it is not quite a cat- or dogfight that has broken out between the grizzled 97-year-old Animal Medical Center and the puppy-eager NYC Veterinary Specialists, vets around the city say the two are using every weapon in their arsenals to be considered top of the heap for advanced — frequently expensive — animal care.

If the competition gets too out-of-hand, maybe they'll call in the Special Forces:

And back to the NYT, don't miss the accompanying Reader's Opinion question: To what lengths have you gone to care for your pet? Currently, the comments are at 262 and rising.....

Friday, July 20, 2007

LGVMA Crosses the Pond

News of Professor Roughgarden's groundbreaking lecture has now reached the gay press in Europe:

Trans academic challenges Darwin's evolution theories

The annual meeting of America's Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association has heard a damning critique of the sexual selection theories of Charles Darwin.

Joan Roughgarden, a biologist at Stanford University, says that the accepted notion that male animals compete for mates, while the females choose males with care, is "locker room bravado projected onto animals."


Gay news source Metro Weekly reports that Dr Roughgarden's appearance at the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association in Washington DC is another sign of increasing confidence in being out of the closet in a profession that is perceived to be deeply prejudiced.

The LGVMA annual meeting was held as the American Veterinary Medical Association's held its annual convention.

"This was the first time we've advertised to the broader convention," Tim Withers, a former president of the gay group, told
Metro Weekly.

Not sure if I would agree with the part about "a profession that is perceived to be deeply prejudiced. " -- I certainly never used those words or that type of language in describing today's AVMA to the Metro Weekly reporter. But still, nice to get some coverage overseas.

We are still lobbying the Washington Post about writing the story after they had expressed interest a few weeks back.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Roughgarden lecture featured in local gay press

From Metro Weekly, a Washington DC GLBT publication:

Birds and Bees
Gays make headway at veterinary convention
by Will O'Bryan

"The mood in the basement ballroom of the downtown JW Marriott seemed fairly sedate Sunday afternoon, July 15, as Joan Roughgarden of Stanford Univesity presented her lecture, ''Sexual Diversity in the Animal Kingdom.'' But there was more going on than met the eye. In a sense, there was a revolution playing out on two fronts.

The more obvious of the two was Roughgarden's talk, challenging the ''sexual selection'' leg of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution.


The more one ponders Roughgarden's research, the more revolutionary it seems. But it was the setting of her lecture that illustrated the second, smaller revolution. Roughgarden's talk was the keynote lecture of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association's annual meeting, running concurrently with the American Veterinary Medical Association's annual convention, held in Washington July 14-18.


''It was an incredibly major event in several respects,'' says Wells. ''It was the first time that I'm aware of at an AVMA conference that the issue of sexual diversity in the animal kingdom has been discussed.''

Wells calls Roughgarden's presentation ''a call to arms'' for scientist to be truthful about their observations."

Read the whole article at Metro Weekly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another first: GLBT talk at AVMA meeting

Just one day following Professor Joan Roughgarden's groundbreaking lecture on "Sexual Diversity in the Animal Kingdom", the LGVMA marked another historic moment. As part of the official program of the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual Convention, GLBT issues were brought front and center for the first time into an AVMA-sponsored forum.

As part of the AVMA's Third Annual Diversity Symposium on Monday, July 16, current LGVMA President Michael McElvaine offered a presentation entitled "Reaching a Broader Client Base: How to Make Your Practice More Attractive to the GLBT Community":

Dr. Michael D. McElvaine, president of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association, offered ways to attract and retain the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

"Display brochures and signs of local events of GLBT interest," Dr. McElvaine said. For example, he said, in Washington, D.C., where he resides, businesses often display promotions for an annual AIDS walk in the area.

Dr. McElvaine also recommended having a written non-discrimination policy that all of the clinic's employees are required to follow and participating in a referral program or advertising in the local gay media.

All who attended felt the presentation was well-received by the AVMA audience. Congratulations & thanks to Michael for his participation in this symposium on our behalf!

Dr. Michael McElvaine at AVMA Diversity Symposium
As our LGVMA festivities in Washington DC started to wind down, Dr. McElvaine also reported that he was approached by a wide variety of folks including "current, past and future AVMA presidents" and Board members, offering their congratulations to him and to "LGVMA for everything that has happened this week".

Once again, thanks to everyone whose hard work made this year's AVMA convention a milestone, a truly ground-breaking year for LGVMA!

Monday, July 16, 2007

i love mama - speaking dogs

THEY didn't want that piano-playing cat to get ALL the attention.

Roughgarden Lecture: History in the Making

Professor Joan Roughgarden presents special lecture for LGVMA
TODAY as part of the LGVMA's 13th Annual Meeting in Washington DC, Professor Joan Roughgarden of Stanford University presented a fascinating lecture entitled "Sexual Diversity in the Animal Kingdom". Prior to the lecture, Professor Roughgarden told the LGVMA:

“This talk is especially timely,” Roughgarden says, “in view of the Oslo Museum exhibit on homosexuality and animals that opened in 2006, which has been widely reported in the press. It would be wonderful if all the information on domesticated animals could be folded into the wider zoological picture that is emerging. What is coming out now is to the rest of the animal kingdom what the Kinsey Report was to humans.”
Prof. Roughgarden's lecture was well-attended (over 40 folks of all stripes) and well-received. Afterwards, Prof. Roughgarden said she was delighted by the turnout, found the audience to be very attentive, and thought the questions from the audience to be very insightful.

Many attendees stayed afterwards to thank Joan for her work and her lecture, and to purchase Evolution's Rainbow at the book-signing set up by Washington DC GLBTQ bookstore, Lambda Rising.

Prof. Roughgarden signs a copy of Evolution's Rainbow
The event was videotaped and we hope to make the recording available as either a DVD or online. Our goal is to make sure the valuable information and insights Prof. Roughgarden presented today can reach as wide as audience as possible. Please contact us at if you are interested in receiving a copy of this valuable -- and indeed historic -- presentation, or if you would like to contribute funds for the production/distribution.

This event was partially sponsored by grants from the PETCO Foundation; Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS); PETS-Washington, DC; Wag Hotels - San Francisco; and Pets Unlimited Veterinary Hospital and Shelter. Many thanks to them as well as individual donations from LGVMA members and friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

If Dr. Tim was a Simpsons character...

YOU too can recreate yourself in Homer's image.

LGVMA @ UC Davis in SF AIDSWalk

FILE this under "better very late than never" on my part. :-)

Shop for items with this logo at CafePress A group of students and faculty from the veterinary school at UC-Davis are participating in AIDSWalk San Francisco later today, July 15, 2007. Its never too late to send in a donation. Great job, LGVMA @ UCD!!!

Welcome to Good News! Online

WELCOME to the inagural post of Good News! Online. The Lesbian & Gay Veterinary Medical Association has been a big part of my adult life, both professionally and personally. Over the past 10-plus years, it has given me purpose and personal growth, given me friends & mentors, and now has given me a new challenge.

I've run a blog or two before -- although technically this is not so much an official "blog" as an "extension" of the official LGVMA organization -- but its been awhile so I'm open to any constructive criticism or suggestions on how to make this place fuction (or look) better.

We'll try to use Good News! Online to make it easier for our members and interested parties to communicate. We'll pass along items of interest from the veterinary world, items of interest from the GLBT world and perhaps sometimes, just a few items of interest to me personally.

So welcome. We're not looking to take over the blogosphere -- but ya never know. :-)