Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Biter Bitten

Wilbur Cerate holds a photo of his family's dog, Maya, on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, on the porch of his home, where he says PETA workers stole her. He says the workers returned days later with a basket of fruit and told him the pet had been euthanized.  <span class='credit'>(Jay Diem | Eastern Shore News)</span>

PETA "devastated" after dog taken from porch is euthanized
Wilbur Cerate holds a photo of his family's dog, Maya, on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, on the porch of his home, where he says PETA workers stole her. He says the workers returned days later with a basket of fruit and told him the pet had been euthanized. <span class='credit'>(Jay Diem | Eastern Shore News)</span>
By Tim Eberly  The Virginian-Pilot  © February 27, 2015            

Norfolk:  A little girl's pet Chihuahua disappeared from her family's mobile home on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

With the dognapping caught on videotape, the girl's father suspected workers from PETA.

As a state agency's investigation is about to become public record, the Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is breaking its silence on the bizarre ordeal.

It's our fault, the agency acknowledges. We're very sorry. And we'll do whatever it takes to keep it from happening again.

A contract PETA worker who previously was the agency's human resources director took 3-year-old Maya last fall from the family's porch in Parksley and had the dog killed the same day.

The state has determined that PETA violated state law by failing to ensure that the animal was properly identified and failing to keep the dog alive for five days before killing it, according to the notice from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Because of this "critical finding" and the "severity of this lapse in judgment," the agency issued PETA the organization's first-ever violation and imposed the largest fine allowed, $500.

"We were pretty devastated that this happened for obvious reasons," said Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior vice president for PETA who oversees the team that was responsible for the euthanization. "It shouldn't have happened. It was a terrible mistake."

PETA has made several changes to prevent such an incident from happening again. Field workers who pick up animals now must complete an additional form to verify that all proper steps have been taken. Supervisors also must approve of any unscheduled "animal surrenders" in the field.

In interviews this week - PETA's first time speaking publicly on this matter - Nachminovitch could not provide answers for some key questions about the incident. She said PETA's attorney instructed her not to talk to the worker involved because of the state and criminal investigations into the situation.

For example, Nachminovitch said, she doesn't know why PETA staff members didn't try to find a home for the dog after taking it into custody.

"That was a major part of the error," Nachminovitch said. She could not explain why it was killed the same day.

Asked how the breakdown occurred, Nachminovitch said she didn't know. "I can only tell you I worked very hard to make sure that it never, ever happens again."

The setting for this case was a mobile home park in Accomack County, near the Maryland border.

PETA's workers had been contacted by a nearby farmer who reported that packs of abandoned dogs had been attacking his livestock, Nachminovitch said.

At the trailer park, PETA workers found that some residents were feeding the dogs, which also reportedly had attacked a child and some pets there.

PETA workers caught some of those dogs on their five or so trips to the trailer park. They also spayed and neutered some animals and provided animal food to residents.

They even gave Maya's owner, Wilbur Cerate, a dog house and light-weight cable for one of his other dogs, Nachminovitch said.

Cerate had also asked for PETA's help with removing some feral cats that were under his trailer.

"So there was a relationship," Nachminovitch said. "He was familiar with the person who, you know..."

On the day that Maya was grabbed, the PETA workers were there to help remove cats from Cerate's trailer, Nachminovitch said.

They caught two feral cats that day. But they also took Maya, who had been a gift for Cerate's daughter.

PETA contract worker Victoria Jean Carey, the former human resources director, fetched Maya from Cerate's porch. She put the dog in a white van and was driven away by a second woman, PETA staffer Jennifer Lisa Woods. Woods, PETA's senior communications administrator, volunteered to go with Carey that day on her own time. Their actions were caught by Cerate's security camera.

Carey mistook Maya for another Chihuahua, Nachminovitch said.

A month earlier, a woman who lived in the trailer park signed paperwork to give up her tan female Chihuahua and two other dogs to PETA.

Maya, who fit that description, wasn't wearing her collar because Cerate had just given her a bath.

However, the state investigation revealed that, in animal surrenders, the owners "should directly identify the animal before the exchange of custody."

The Pilot asked Nachminovitch whether Carey checked with the owner of the other Chihuahua to make sure she had the correct dog.

She said she didn't know.

Nachminovitch said she learned of Maya's death two days after it happened.

She and a Spanish-speaking colleague - Cerate is a Mexican immigrant who speaks broken English - traveled to Cerate's home to break the news to him.

They brought a fruit basket with them, a detail that subjected PETA to additional criticism: We killed your dog; here's a fruit basket.

Nachminovitch says it wasn't like that.

"I felt very odd showing up empty-handed with such horrible news," she said. "It was just a sincere token of apology to say, 'We made a very bad mistake.' "

Cerate was sad to learn of Maya's death, she said.

"It was a very emotional visit for all involved," Nachminovitch said. "I shed tears."

Neither Cerate nor a friend who has spoken on his behalf could be reached by phone on Thursday.

PETA, meanwhile, is responding in writing today to the state's investigation. The letter, from PETA President Ingrid Newkirk and provided to The Pilot, takes responsibility for the incident and lays out how the organization dealt with it and the changes that followed.

Criminal charges of larceny against Carey and Woods were dropped. While PETA terminated Carey's contract, Woods kept her job because the internal probe showed it was Carey's decision to take the dog.

Nachminovitch said PETA continues to do the animal advocacy work that it has always done.

"Don't judge us by this one mistake," Nachminovitch said. "We do many good things. If we could change what happened, we would be the first in line to do so."

Tim Eberly, 757-446-2794,

PETA's Killing Machine Loses in Landslide 95-2 Vote in Virginia
The Huffington Post  By Douglas Anthony Cooper  Posted: 02/23/2015 1:56 pm EST 

Ingrid Newkirk, the head of PETA, and the face that launched "a thousand needles."
The bill to rein in PETA's killing at their headquarters in Virginia passed the House of Delegates in a landslide 95-2 vote. Shelters will now be required by definition to make efforts to adopt out animals, instead of summarily killing them.

The bill does this by redefining the word "shelter." (Or, more accurately, requiring shelters to adhere to its genuine definition.) As passed by the Virginia Senate, SB1381 reads:

"Private animal shelter" means a facility operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes for animals that is used to house or contain animals and that is owned or operated by an incorporated, nonprofit, and nongovernmental entity, including a humane society, animal welfare organization, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or any other similar organization.

PETA being PETA, they managed to sneak in a last-minute floor amendment, striking the words "and facilitating other lifesaving outcomes" from the bill. So they won't have to bend over backwards to actually cure desperately sick animals. (I imagine we'll hear arguments that their lobbying money was well-spent? That's for donors to decide.)

Meanwhile, I've spoken to a number of advocates on the ground in Virginia, and they remain ecstatic: the Death Amendment doesn't actually gut the legislation in any meaningful way. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, "said the amendment does not change the essence of the bill."

This is a truly thrilling accomplishment. It's been a long hard road: advocates for living animals have spent a lot of time; and PETA has spent a lot of money. And, after numerous votes in the Senate and the House, we've arrived at a position of decency and sanity: a shelter in Virginia is now an actual shelter, as opposed to a cynical "shelter of last resort."

Springtime Sights

Pills, Pills, Pills

The Science Behind Anti-Depressants May Be Completely 'Backwards'

The Huffington Post  Posted: 02/28/2015 11:30 am EST

Anti-depressants are the most commonly-prescribed medication in the U.S., with one in 10 Americans currently taking pills like Zoloft and Lexapro to treat depression. But these pharmaceuticals are only effective less than 30 percent of the time, and often come with troublesome side effects.

In a controversial new paper published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, psychologist Paul Andrews of McMaster University in Ontario argues that this failure of medication may be based in a misunderstanding of the underlying chemistry related to depression. 

Andrews surveyed 50 years' worth of research supporting the serotonin theory of depression, which suggests that the disease is caused by low levels of the "happiness" neurotransmitter, serotonin. 

But Andrews argues that depression may actually be caused by elevated levels of serotonin. And this fundamental misunderstanding may be responsible for inappropriate treatment: The most common form of antidepressants are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which operate by targeting serotonin receptors in the brain in an effort to amplify serotonin production. 

Currently, scientists are unable to measure precisely how the brain releases and uses serotonin, because it can't be safely observed in a human brain. But Andrews points to research on animals which suggests that serotonin might work just the opposite from what we've assumed. 

In this scenario, elevated serotonin levels that are released and used by the brain during depressive episodes trigger processes that promote rumination -- the obsessive negative thinking that is the hallmark of depression. Then, because they facilitate the production of serotonin, SSRI treatments exacerbate rumination and actually worsen symptoms of depression, especially at first, Andrews explained. Over time, in come cases, the SSRIs can reverse ruminative processes and reduce symptoms -- but this is in spite of the medication, not because of it. 

HuffPost Science spoke to Andrews about why we've gotten anti-depressants "backwards" -- and what the future of depression treatment might hold. 
HuffPost: Where did the low-serotonin hypothesis originate? 
Andrews: The hypothesis didn't originate because anybody measured serotonin in depression or in any depressed-like state in an animal. It's really based on circumstantial evidence. Researchers back in the '40s and '50s happened to find that certain drugs that were trying to treat tuberculosis and schizophrenia had depression-relieving properties, and they wondered, why were they relieving depressive symptoms? They eventually figured out that the drugs increased serotonin in rodent models.... They reasoned that if these drugs relieved depressive symptoms in humans -- and, as best as we can tell, they increased serotonin -- then depression must be a state of low or reduced serotonin transmission. 

There have been problems with the low-serotonin hypothesis for a while. If you look to any serious neuroscientist, they'll all acknowledge that there are serious problems with it. It still is, nevertheless, the backbone of research on depression in neuroscience. 


What evidence is there to suggest that the low-serotonin hypothesis of depression may not be accurate?

There is no way to be absolutely certain for two reasons. First, we cannot directly measure how fast serotonin is released, or transmitted. You can't do that even in a rat. You can measure the concentration of serotonin in a particular brain region, but you can't measure the transmission of it. The transmission would be to measure the release of the serotonin into the synapse. 

The only thing we can measure is a marker of transmission, which reflects what happens to serotonin after it is released into the synapse and metabolized. Second, it is currently impossible to study this issue in humans without cutting holes in their skulls. But these studies can be done in animals. In these studies, there is abundant evidence that this marker of transmission is elevated.

We reviewed 15 different models of depression that are used in neuroscience research that had measured this particular marker that we're concerned with. Of those 15 studies, 13 were consistent with the high-serotonin hypothesis, and the other two were not inconsistent with it. If you extrapolate to humans... that would strongly suggest that the evidence is in favor of the high-serotonin hypothesis of depression. 

OK, so how do anti-depressants work then? 
Another problem with the low serotonin hypothesis is that these drugs increase serotonin pretty rapidly, within minutes to hours. You'd think that if the low serotonin hypothesis was true, the anti-depressant drugs would work rapidly too. But they don't -- it takes three to four weeks for their symptom-reducing effects to kick on. So there's always been this disconnect between the onset of the pharmacological effects of the anti-depressants and their therapeutic effects. 

So what's actually happening to depressive symptoms when you first start taking these drugs? Well, it's extremely common for people to start saying "I feel worse" rather than getting better. That's theoretically important because these drugs are working very quickly in terms of increasing serotonin. So what's happening to serotonin in the brain as those three or four weeks pass? It's falling.... As time goes on [after the initial peak], serotonin dips below the baseline and that's when you actually start feeling better. 

But things will eventually smooth out again and the brain will return to its steady state. That's what happens over prolonged anti-depressant use. Even when taking the drugs, people experience relapses. They might have that initial worsening of symptoms, then they'll feel better, and over prolonged period of use, they'll tell the doctor that the drugs aren't working anymore... And commonly the doctor will increase the dose or add on another drug. 

But the brain is always fighting these drugs and trying to bring itself back to its homeostatic equilibrium. 

Antidepressants are known to cause many side effects. What are some of the most common? 
Limited efficacy at reducing depressive symptoms, sexual difficulties, difficulty concentrating, and problems with the digestive system are the most common. But many other types of problems can occur, including increased risk of relapse, a decrease in bone mineral density, abnormal bleeding, stroke, suicidal behaviour. Some of these problems can cause death -- several studies have shown that anti-depressants, especially in older people, are associated with an increased risk of death.
You all them all up, and they all can be potentially serious things. 

What do you think is the future of depression treatment?

As people and physicians become more aware that antidepressants only work for a limited period of time, and are less safe than they have been supposed, the use of antidepressant medications will decline and the use of psychotherapies will increase.

I would suggest that the attempt to pharmacologically reduce depressive symptoms is not likely to produce lasting effects. You can get these temporary effects, but they're not likely to be lasting effects, and they can cause a whole lot of problems.

Psychotherapy is more likely to produce lasting effects, and can help people cope with the things that actually triggered their depressive episodes, and that's why these therapies are more productive in the long run. 

Who's a Pretty Dog?

Beautiful Photo Portraits of Dogs By Alicja Zmyslowska

Here are some of the most stunning photos of dogs I’ve ever seen. The “secret” behind these gorgeous shots is that they’re all snapped by the same, very talented photographer, making this collection truly remarkable.

Alicja Zmysłowska has married her love of dogs with her love of photography to create these wonderful portraits. The dogs blend so naturally into the natural settings that their personalities and emotions shine through, giving the images a beautiful, timeless quality. Taken throughout the Polish countryside, Alicja’s photos left me speechless!

These photos are reprinted with permission from Alicja Zmysłowska Photography.
For more photos by Alicja Zmyslowska go to her online portfolio HERE
Thanks to David Hakim for the heads up on this artist.