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.




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