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Expanding the social community: breaking down the barriers between animals and humans


Thank you very much for the introduction, Katrin and thank you for inviting me to this meeting and for all of you attending today And thanks to Pat for setting up a great start to this next talk which will expand or add to some of the examples that Pat talked about

I'll be speaking to you about expanding our view of social housing for animals to include us people to consider a broader social community environment where research animals and humans work together, perhaps where the better life of animals is strongly linked to humans and their caretakers and those working with them as researchers Ultimately with also improving the lives of people I'm just going to add two collaborators I hadn't originally included them, but as I was preparing the talk, I realized I needed to have them because a lot of the things I'm talking to you about today are things that we've been working on Oops, what's happened? Okay, oh dear

Let me just make sure that's in well Okay, Dr Joanna Makowska on the left Joanna Makowska is adjunct professor in the Animal Welfare Program, and also works for the Animal Welfare Institute, and Dr Dan Weary, professor from the Animal Welfare Program

So providing scientific evidence of sentience maybe enough for some species such as the vervet monkey on the right to spur changes in attitudes and behaviors towards animals For rodents like mice and rats however, there exists a vast amount of scientific evidence for their cognitive and emotional complexities but this evidence seems to be translated poorly into, in terms of attitude in the on behavioral changes among those responsible for their care And in this presentation I'll be presenting a bunch of examples around relationships, training methods, housing, etcetera, for research animals intended to provide those responsible with their care with immediate and direct evidence of their sentience, we will argue that providing people with that immediate and witness to the animal sentience is first hand helps motivate changes in the way that animals are cared for So why are we concerned about that? Well, we believe that people matter a lot A key element to achieving good animal welfare is a caring, having caring people who work with animals

Within laboratory environments, animals are often cared for in dispersed locations by a whole variety of people and we really rely on those individuals to care for their animals well In addition, in terms of improving implementing welfare improvements, it also requires having people who are motivated to make those changes So we know a lot about improving the lives of research animals now currently already We know a lot about the importance of social housing, we know a lot about how social housing impacts data, and if you fail to acknowledge that how it might impact your data But it's very difficult to implement changes without the leadership of people

As Pat said from within, I think would agree that's very important So attitudes of people are extremely important for safe guarding animal welfare And let me illustrate with an example recently, this was in the Canadian press, there were two ice fishermen in Northwest in northern Saskatchewan, in wildness Lake They are at the end of their day They had their full catch of the fish and they were leaving, and they came across this large head that was in the water of a moose

And Reggie Jackson and Nolan were the two fishermen, and Reggie saw the animal initially and he realized that the moose was exhausted probably from fruitless struggle to get out of this hole in the ice She was stuck So the two fishermen worked tirelessly They took their chain saws, they cut water, they've placed a straps on hooves of the moose, and they managed to pull her out The amazing part of the story is listening to how Reggie talks about how that experience influenced him and how it changed him, and he doesn't know that if he could ever hunt moose again

So Reggie said, "It's okay honey, we'll get you out here" And he also said, "She got up, looked us straight in the eye I don't know, it's almost as if she was thankful She appreciated what we did It's weird to say, it's a feeling we both felt

She chilled there for five minutes and trotted off and that was that I've hunted moose all the time but this scenario perspective, it's giving me a different view It's hard to explain, it's a good feeling A really good feeling locking eyes on her and being so close to her It changed my perspective for sure

" As much as Reggie likes eating moose meat, he also wasn't sure whether he could eat it again So this one intimate direct experience with this individual animal perhaps this sharing this struggle together, had a huge impact on Reggie So we believe these types of experiences are important for changing attitudes and there are reasons why this is the case Concepts such as empathy for example, are important for For why this may be the case

Empathy is a concept that it is, as we all know, it establishes concern in connection with another being, in this case, animals; it directs our interest and understanding of what is going on with that other being; and I make someone want to refrain from hurting, and instead, helping So, lack of empathy, then, would mean you're less interested in the situation of others and how we affect them Another closely related concept from psychology on attitudes towards animals is belief in animal mind And research has revealed that people's support for certain types of species and research is strongly affected by whether you have belief in animal mind, whether you believe that animals have mental capabilities, such as intellect and reasoning, whether they experience a range of emotions People who believe in animal mind are more concerned about animal welfare, they behave more humanely towards animals and they have more empathy to both animals and humans

So, it seems reasonable to think, then, that the research community would benefit or needs people who believe in animal mind, with empathy I'll briefly describe a study, I talked about it on OLAW webinar not too long ago, but I'll go over it a little bit That try to intentionally try to influence those working with animals, in particular, researchers The goal of the study was to capitalize on features important to empathy and belief in animal mind, to test if exposure to well-socialized rats that demonstrate complex mental and behavioral capabilities increases empathy of those working with research animals The idea is that if the students in the class see these cool, what we call superstar rats perform, they'll go back to their labs and they'll just be a little more attentive to their animals, and they'll think differently about them

So, we designed an educational intervention around this as part of mandatory animal training course, introduction to working with rodents at the University of British Columbia Students either saw the intervention or controlled rats, and so, the intervention included observing the seven, what we call superstar rats, highly trained rats, perform And the intervention tried to use things that are important for influencing empathetic feelings We tried to encourage feelings towards the rat by witnessing personalities, the relationship of the rats with us, the handlers Feelings of compassion motivate us to direct our attention to others

We try to provide that direct experience Again, we know that the more direct experience one his with individual animals, more likely we are to perceive them as deserving of our compassion And finally, too, we wanted to increase understanding of mental experiences This is known to help foster empathy, if you see animals as more similar than different to us Some of the students who are enrolled in the class just saw the regular, what we call the control rats that weren't trained, they had a limited amount of socialization

The study was in four phases: Socialization, training, the intervention and then focus groups The first two were necessary to get the rats ready for the final phases, the actual intervention where they saw the rats, and then, we followed up with focus groups to ask people about To see whether the intervention had any impact on their views

So, just a little bit about the housing of our rats We kept them in these large, Critter Nation cages, with some examples of some of the enrichment that we had Some of the participants of the workshop would see the rats in this cage We house them under red lighting As many of you know, rats are nocturnal, active at night, they can't see red

So, we thought we be best for us to work with the rats in their active phase And the socialization, the first phase was the socialization phase We got two pregnant rats from Charles River, Sprague Dawley and a Long-Evans rats And once the pups were born, in the first few days, we started to gently handle, let them get used to our smell, being picked up and so on, over a gradual process, getting them used to us And then, at about four weeks of age, we started clicker training using positive reinforcement training and targets

We found that the rats, the Long-Evans rats were a little bit easier to train, ultimately And the females, once the males reach puberty, the females were a little bit more attentive than the males And so, we ended up with a small subset of the seven female rats Once the rats are ready, here's the day of the intervention Here's Sarah and Vanessa walking the rats down on this transport box into the room where the intervention would take place

I should say that we did end up training the rats in the regular lighting, because that's where they're gonna end up for the intervention Here's just the setup It was a U-shaped table We let the rats free-roam on the table, we called the rats by their names We ourselves didn't wear gloves, and when it came time for the students to handle the rats to practice, they handled the superstar rats that they'd just see perform in the background

You can see screens, and on those screens was basically some of the personalities that the rats and their names, so the students could see this We had Orcha, Brandon, Jane, Marie, Emilia and Theresa I'll just give you some examples of what they said Here's Marie "Marie's 100% food-motivated, who'd sell her siblings for treats

" And these were statements curated by the people working mostly with the rats "Brandon probably loves to fetch more than any dog" So, I'll show you a clip of A shortened clip of some of what the students would see in the class So, following the intervention, I invited the participants to share a pizza lunch with me where we did focus groups and where I asked some questions about the impression of the class, what their impressions of the rats where, if they would consider doing anything different in the future And there were 29 participants How many focus groups? Eight focus groups, three controls, five treatments And I'll just go through a couple of quotes, I won't do it in thorough, just to illustrate some of the comments from the participants in the class

I'll say, for sure, there was universal amazement and surprise at what they saw in the rats In contrast, just a quick comment, the controls rarely talked about the rats themselves They focused more on the technical aspects of the class So, one researcher said, "My dog can't do any of that" Participants were amazed at what they were doing

"I'm thinking about them differently We got to see more of what they're capable of and how they act I have a bit more respect for them" Participants also talked about their personality and wanting to get to know the rats "I thought it was funny that they knew and could respond to their names

It made them like they had their own separate little personalities, so when I went to handle the rat I got, I was, 'Who is this?' I wanted to know, which is weird, because in my lab it's just numbers" There is also mention of a reciprocal and trusting relationship "I think they're really trusting you guys The relationship is different if you treat them like that They trust you as well as know you

" This researcher commented on the novelty of letting rats roam "I've never seen rats be able to just kind of roam around and let them crawl on the table, and they were kind of just sniffing around I thought it was nicer than having them each in their individual cages" And, finally, participants spoke about their responsibilities as researchers, how easy it is to see the animals as objects, and witnessing the social interactions was a good reminder for them "So, when you're in a lab, it's very easy to get cold sometimes, just seeing them as the object

Their ability to interact with each other and interact with humans, it does show a bit of personality, so it is good to have this reminder" So, overall, there was promise that the intervention promoted feelings of empathy and belief in the animal mind, at least in the short term One of the things that we didn't consider was the impact that this study had on our own volunteers, people who worked on the study themselves And we had eight at this time Billie

Starting on the left, Billie, Joyce, who's a grad student, Vivian, Lara, Nevene, Sarah, myself, and Vanessa And these women, most of them were volunteers, spending upwards of six hours a week with the rats And we've had many since interested, and some who have continued on volunteering

One of the things we did is we sat down with the volunteers and asked them about their experiences and why they were willing to spend so much time So, here are some of their impressions "I love that feeling when you first open the door and they, the rats, go crazy in their cages It's just really a nice feeling" "They're very curious, sociable

I didn't realize that they would be so sociable I expected that they would be more standoffish, and less interested in whether or not I existed" "After long periods of time working with them, and they wanna come jump on your arm, it's nice You gain the trust of an animal It's not like just you going, 'I wanna go play with you,' they are like, I wanna play with you

" "One of the biggest things I think you get from this is really getting to know your rats on a personal level I know that this is sort of the point of the whole training system, but I don't think you realize the extent of it until it's finally hands-on" And, finally, we asked Sarah We asked the participants The students Sorry, the volunteers, whether they talked about this with their friends and family, or brought them in to visit the rats And here's an audio clip of what Sarah said It was quite impactful In a sense, the people working on the project sort of had the intervention done to them, in a sense

And so, I'll follow with a few more examples of animal relationships in our facility that have this project has gone on to trigger a few more things I'll tell you about the story of Marge Marge was a miniature Yucatan pig who arrived as a young weanling You can see her on the left with one of the husbandry staff, and on the right, one of my colleagues Shelly, getting goosed at a later age Marge was intended for diabetes research

Two other pigs joined her a little bit later, Ethel and Bertha And they had some blood collected, but over time, the researchers decided they weren't going to use them any more So, by this time, these pigs had become pigs in the facility This is not uncommon, and has been documented in the literature, in the anthropology literature for a long time, lab animals And so, they were really concerned with what was gonna happen with these pigs

They didn't want them to go into invasive study So, I approached the researcher and he agreed to adopt the pigs out, and this was new for our institution, for larger animals to adopt out While waiting for their new home, these pigs were quite productive We used them a lot in enrichment testing, we did behavior studies looking at free range versus confined living, we tested out all sorts of training methods, etcetera They were pretty useful pigs at

When the researcher agreed to give them, we created a card to acknowledge our appreciation of the pigs to that researcher, which was exciting for everybody And in the end, they all got adopted out, and this is their new home And this is a recent email

I was contacting the owner on what she said about the pigs "The Three Amigos are all great They're lovely girls Now it's warmer, they love staying outside all day, just rooting around and sunning themselves It was colder than usual this winter and they short forays out, but spent much time snuggling indoors in their giant nest

They do really enjoy nest building under the heat lamp They don't much like rain either, more sun lovers Me too" So, perhaps these three pigs can be ambassadors for how important and interesting they are, both within the institution and outside the institution And I will say that, since that time, we have continued to expand, based on the superstar rats and these pigs, more positive reinforcement training, programs, severals researchers are letting us use their animals and work with them as part of their research projects

We continue to test a variety of training as well, even in highly debilitated animals And I will say, obviously, that the social interaction is a benefit for the animals working with the people as well Here's just a video of an undergraduate student, as part of her practicum study, who was training this Duroc pig, Rachel, who's part of a wound-healing study, to lie down, 'cause we needed full access to her abdomen It was for another study that we're testing it, and we didn't wanna use sedation Okay, come on

Whoops Not so keen on sitting up, but, oh well A bit slippery floor So, that was Rachel Here's Petunia, another pig who became a social companion for a pig who'd lost his pen-mate because of laryngeal paralysis

She's currently up for adoption, and I said, this is a new thing for UBC, so I think this is positive change These sorts of personalizations and emotional attachments have become more common in our facility We now have the employee of the month, where Petunia's featured for the month of May Recently, we had a veterinary resident who has been spending some time as part of a residency program in the facility, and she was hanging out with the pigs one day, and it was interesting listening to her talk about this "How cool is that? Just getting to hang out with pigs

Who ever gets to do that?" Claudia also said that, "I found it just great to sit with the two pigs, watching them and forage the entire time I also found it interesting to see how they interact with each other, responded to social stress and how they interacted with people When you watch them for just a few minutes, you don't usually get to see just how much time they spend foraging, moving around, or sleeping I did feel more connected to them after that time spent with them" And as Pat mentioned, these sorts of relationships are likely to induce more emotional attachments with staff and researchers, which is potentially challenging

And participants in my superstar study also commented on that, and we talked a lot about that However, I do think these things can also be celebrated For example, Short Jaw, he had an underbite, was a long-term pig A pig Long-term sheep in a longer-term study, so a lot of people knew him When it came time for euthanizing Short Jaw, we had a Short Jaw cupcake day, which was quite well received Bonds form with all sorts of other animals Here's Micro Mouse and friends, and Micro Mouse is sitting on top of the shoulder of this lab tech

And she initiated a play-pen situation, where this cage of mice would go into a larger and rich cage every day for some enrichment Pooh, was the mouse I featured at the beginning, who was photographed professionally Pretty fancy And then, I'll leave with the final, very cool example of Joyce Sato-Reinhold, who was a neuroscientist researcher studying jealousy in rats and whether rats can be jealous And I'll show you a clip of Joyce, where she's starting her testing day by placing her rat on the top of this large cage and asking the rat to come and participate in the study

So, Joyce trained rats to freely participate in the experiment They were never food or water deprived for training They were given treats, not just for the training for this episode, for a variety of other things, and they still chose to participate in her behavioral testing Here's just another clip of Joyce illustrating a well-socialized rat in her research program She's sitting with her on her lap and there is the bat detector, you'll hear the high-frequency chirping, the 50 kHz chirping in the background, which represents positive emotional states

The ultrasonic vocalizations was just Is a bat detector hooked up to computers, so was a very cheap set up So, in

Oops In contrast here's a video of some rats in some standard housing This was filmed at In the dark hours

So, the yellow is because of a low sodium lamp that we used So this is our normal impression of rats in standard housing So, in conclusion, we think it's important to rethink the social environment, and to consider things like allowing animals to show off their complexity by housing them in appropriate environments, allowing caregivers to have meaningful positive interactions with animals, allowing animals and their caregivers to be ambassadors, helping to change societal views of research animals, and focusing on direct experiences and individual narratives between the human-animal relationship

And just to finish off, I'm gonna show you one more video of rats in a playpen cage, so Dr Johanna Machowska has been doing a study where she's looking at whether temporary access to large and rich cages is a benefit, so that they're not in them all the time, can still be in somewhat standard cages, and here's some video clips from that work So, finally, I'd just like to thank you all for your attention Thanks to all the animals and people featured in this presentation, and funding from the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing for the Rat Superstar Study Thank you very much

Happy to answer questions

Source: Youtube

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