Animals in the Road

Today we hosted a Table Top Exercise (TTX) to discuss and train on the issue of “Animals in the Road”. (We being ADA’s Animal Services Division and the State Vet’s Office) If you’re wondering why this concerns us as much as it does, here’s a good example from near Sunset Point in 2011.

Several folks from many different agencies participated. AZ Dept of Transportation (ADOT), Pinal and Maricopa Counties’ Emergency Managers, AZ Dept of Public Safety (DPS) staff, along with several fire departments’ and county sheriff’s offices’ personnel attended the half-day session. Our thanks to all those who came and contributed to developing a better response capability.

There aren’t a lot of extensive data on how large the issue is. But here are a few conservative figures. Roughly 50 million cattle are transported annually in the US. The swine industry estimates that over 600,000 pigs are moving every day. The number of small horse and livestock trailers on the road everyday is nearly countless.

From a Canadian researcher, between 2000 and 2007 there were over 400 crashes in US and Canada.

  • Weather was a factor in only 1%
  • Driver fatigue and error were the main causes – 85%
  • ~60% occurred between midnight and 9am
  • 80% involved a single vehicle.

I hope you’re getting an understanding of why this is important to us.

The discussion today focused on a few main points – (1) the legal situations that come into play, (2) the practical aspects of dealing with mangled trailers and loose or injured livestock, and (3) the responsibilities and capabilities of the various groups and agencies which respond.

There were 2 scenarios.

The first involved a pick up truck and trailer hauling several horses. It was traveling southbound on the interstate when the driver lost control, struck a guardrail causing the truck and the trailer to overturn. This scenario had an unconscious driver along with loose and injured horses. The crash was blocking 2 lanes of traffic.

The second involved a semi-tractor hauling a load of cattle. The driver lost control resulting in a crash with the tractor trailer sliding on its side and the trailer coming to rest dangling over a ravine.

Both these scenarios were taken from real-life situations.

I’ll leave the details of those scenarios and the discussions and recommendations for a latter post. But within the next few days I hope to post much of the material presented and discussed on the blog for others’ benefit. If you’re interested in learning how to effectively help in situations like these, please contact our office.

And remember to enjoy the ride!

AZ Statutes and the State Vet

Given that we are supposed to be a nation of laws which are to be enacted by those we elect to represent us, I thought it might be educational to enumerate the laws that pertains to the office of State Veterinarian in AZ. Each one contains a link to the actual online version of the statute.

The rules that pertains (ie the sections of AZ Administrative Code) are too lengthy to include but realize the statutes are what authorize any rule to be promulgated.

Lastly I’ll point out 3-1205 and 3-1742. Those authorize the state veterinarian to enter and seize under certain conditions. That’s a lot of power which should be used cautiously, as there’s a very old and true saying about power.

Title 3: Agriculture

Chapter 1. AGRICULTURAL ADMINISTRATION

Article 1. Department of Agriculture

Chapter 12. LIVESTOCK INJURY AND DISEASES

Article 4. Brucellosis Control

Chapter 13. SLAUGHTER OF ANIMALS AND SALE OF MEAT

Chapter 15. Animal and Bird Feeds

Article 3. Garbage Fed to Swine

Title 17: Game and Fish

Chapter 2. GAME AND FISH DEPARTMENT AND GAME AND FISH COMMISSION

Chapter 3. TAKING AND HANDLING OF WILDLIFE

Title 36: Public Health and Safety

Chapter 6. PUBLIC HEALTH CONTROL

Article 9. Enhanced Surveillance Advisories and Public Health Emergencies

118th USAHA Meeting

I just returned from the 118th Annual Meeting of the United States Animal Health Association which was held in conjunction with the 57th Annual Conference of the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. Obviously these folks have been around a while. This means some of us are starting to move a little slower than we used to; it also means many have seen disasters and concerns from large to small, be met and successfully overcome. That’s probably a good thought to keep in mind some days.

This post will hopefully provide ya’ll some insight and highlights from the meeting. I hope it helps folks get a sense of what folks in my line of work are trying to do to mitigate the various threats to human and animal health. I also hope to impress upon folks the huge scope of the job. In the meeting program, I count 33 committees which have been formed to address subjects ranging from Animal Emergency Management to Bluetongue & Related Orbiviruses to Foreign & Emerging Diseases to who-knows-what.

Here’s a sampler of some of the presentations:

  • Foot and Mouth Vaccine Surge Capacity for Use in the U.S.A.
  • The Impact of Movements and Animal Density on Continental Scale Cattle Disease Outbreaks in the United States
  • Emerging Diseases of Global Concern with a Focus on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
  • Merging Pathogen Surveillance and Research: Stealth Persistence of an Ema Superfamily Variant of Theirleria equi
  • The Significance of Surra as an Infection in Horses
  • Trends in Food Safety: Public Perception versus Reality

Obviously some of the discussion occur up there in some very rarefied air. Just about every species known comes up in some place or fashion. However much of what is discussed is at the boots-on-the-ground level. Much information is spread informally as we talk with our peers about things tried in other locales along with what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve.

A good example of this would be information on how the folks in the state vet’s office in Washington dealt with the SAR (search and rescue) dogs that were deployed following the massive Oso, WA mudslide in March, 2014.

Not only do the people involved in SAR need a lot of support, so do the animals involved such as the dogs who help locate trapped individuals or recover bodies. Those dogs get all sorts of cuts, abrasions, bruises and become covered with contaminated materials of all types. Vets, vet techs and others accompany these response units to support these “first responders”. A small case in point: too many baths aren’t good for their coats or their skin. Sometimes detergents like Dawn are just the thing (like dealing with oil spills). But sometimes an old fashioned oatmeal bath does the trick. Sharing knowledge of what works in the real world is vital.

Just as vital is having folks engaged in the business of producing and protecting the food and fiber production systems in the country. Give it some thought. And give us a call. We can probably find a place for you to help and something you might find interesting as well.

Enjoy the ride!

Talking About Ebola Virus

Note that word “talking” in the title of this post. Not “screaming” nor “panicking“. I’m going to try to convey a few points that we know and some of what is scientifically sound. Before too long I hope to post some specifics about the virus and animals. But for the moment, let’s get started with background.

The library of papers I’ve put together to get up to speed on this subject is getting fairly thick. I’ve collected about 2 dozen. So if you are looking for some reading material, please let me know. I’m also fortunate enough to have become acquainted with someone during this year who has some firsthand experiences in this realm. I’ve already been in touch with him. I intend to pick his brain clean.

First – here is the CDC’s FAQ page on Ebola and pets.

Key Point: At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread it to people or other animals. There is limited evidence that dogs become infected but no evidence they develop disease.

Let me take just a few minutes to elaborate on that last statement.

Our immune systems are constantly evaluating invaders and often making antibodies and other response-capable cells to those invaders. So finding antibodies to anything in particular is NOT proof of disease. It is only proof that the animal’s immune system saw something and responded – which generally is a good thing.

Think of it this way.

If you’re driving in Phoenix traffic at 7am and you see a car ahead of you swerving between lanes you likely respond by slowing down and considering your options. Maybe the guy will crash into something and start a huge mess. But maybe he swerved to avoid a dog running into his lane. The dog then ran back off the road and that driver went on without further incident.

You however did respond. It’s much the same with the “infection” scenario above and your (and as best we know all other mammalian) immune system(s). Understand about the dog and not developing disease now?

Next – here is the CDC’s Emerging Disease Page spotlighting Ebola – general info and links to further reading. Much of that linked reading gets very in-depth. But if you want to know for yourself what research exists, there you are.

Sorry to be so short. But I’m currently roaming the range. Remember to try to enjoy the ride!

Food Safety Conference

Lately I’ve been engaged in more of the public health aspects of this job. Some folks may not be aware of the many roles which the state vet plays in ensuring food and fiber are delivered from the livestock which are roaming Arizona ranges. Years ago the people of Arizona vested a huge amount of power in this position to secure and protect that food supply as well as to protect the livelihood of many.

An aspect of that power then is the obligation for me and the other folks in this office to frequently reinforce in the public space an awareness of the integrated nature of livestock ownership within food production and the constraints (or maybe more aptly put, the non-constrained elements like wind, water, fire) that livestock and agricultural production in general are subject to. (That sounds a little wordy to me too.)

Let’s look at it this way.

Most folks long ago lost touch with the whims of the natural world, other than perhaps during their daily commute or via televised media. But all food production happens “out there” in the wild and woolly natural world. Birds fly over the crops. (Have you checked your car for bombing runs lately?) Javelina, mice, coyotes, maybe even bears wander through the fields. (And we all know what bears do in the woods!) Various and sundry bugs lay their eggs on cattle which then eat their way through those animals if treatments aren’t applied.

This may not be polite conversation. But it is my picture of some of the challenges of protecting the food supply in the real world becoming clearer? These risks, to both the animals and the crops as well as the humans they will provide food for, must be mitigated. Please note I did not say “removed”. This mitigation requires all parties to participate, including especially consumers, because any carelessness along the way can undo all the invested good by all other parties involved.

Let me focus this topic a little more intently. Last week I spoke at the 5th Annual Food Safety Conference hosted by The University of Arizona. Here’s a sampling of talks given:

and here are some samples from the grad students posters (which btw were of very good quality across the board)…

  • Canal Maintenance Effects on Irrigation Water Quality
  • Testing Bacterial Contamination of Bulk Soap in Food Service Settings
  • Pathogen Transmission to Crops from Animals

The intricacy and inherent nature of biological systems (aka plants, animals, people) bring a whole host of challenges to providing food. That system isn’t inside an artificial bubble (at least to any significant extent and those that are still have inherent risks.) Which means at its most basic, food sources are exposed to most all of the waste products of various biological systems. You could also look at that as organic fertilization.

But don’t run screaming into the streets or sink into despair just yet. All these same players (including humans) are also built to deal with the environment and its challenges. Most species have been around a few bazillion years. Some talk of a “fragile” Mother Nature. Life on this planet has taken some pretty serious whacks and it keeps coming back. I’d call that awfully resilient and very impressive.

Before I go wandering too far, let me bring this back to the Food Safety Conference for one other point. The aging work force in the food production business.

How many of you recognize a pencil as technology? I’ll bet no one nodded his/her head to that one. But it is. It is an invisible technology. That’s what has happened to agriculture in our society, with the possible exception of when an occasional fear-mongering event jolts folks into talking about food production. But rarely have I seen that lead to more people actually educating themselves on the facts of the processes involved. Which is a shame as that does generate an opportunity. And as I told my kids when they were growing up, “Life isn’t fair but it presents you with opportunities. You decide what to do with them.” But because agriculture and food production is invisible very few people consider pursuing careers in this very important field. That’s a situation we need to change.

Time for me to wrap this one up. Next up will be some info on the hot topic of Ebola. In the meantime, y’all enjoy the ride.

Animal Cruelty – One Last Consideration

Last week I thought I had pretty much wrapped up the animal cruelty discussion for a while. But on the way home tonight something came up that made me decide to address 1 last aspect of this world. It’s a point that we all should consider thoughtfully on occasion.

There is a growing body of literature that describes the links between cruelty and abuse of animals and the abuse visited by these same persons upon their human victims. Much of the literature provides evidence that in many cases animal cruelty is something of a training ground for perpetrators who then graduate to visiting violence upon the humans around them.

Now that’s sad and horrible but you’re probably thinking, “Durham, what does that have to do with the state vet and his staff?” Hold that thought for just another moment or 2.

In addition to the violence component, many (and I can’t quantify it beyond that relative term) of the people involved in cruelty, neglect or abuse cases that we investigate are involved in some type of drug-related activity. Some are manufacturing. Some are selling. Many are abusing drugs themselves.

I’ll go out on a limb here (not really if you think through things a bit) and suggest that in many of these cases these folks can no longer care for themselves (sometimes that includes their children too). So it’s not difficult to extrapolate logically to see they will become unable to care for their animals which will lead to calls to ADA or other law enforcement agencies.

Now consider another aspect of the scenario we talked about at the end of last week – a horse which has been neglected and its owner. I would say most of us become anxious with the arrival of uniformed officers at our homes. That may make some folks uncomfortable. But that is reality in many instances.

For the owner of the horse, that is the suspect in this neglect case, the unknown of the situation is itself often enough to cause heightened anxiety which can lead to rash behavior. The folks I’m discussing, those who are losing the ability to maintain themselves and their property also are likely not the most stable of citizens when put under additional stress, such as the arrival at their premises of persons wearing uniforms.

Investigating these matters can be highly charged situations. Caution is always warranted. I think most would agree that it is prudent these matters be dealt with by law enforcement officers (LEO) and not inspectors or lay people. Certainly there are times and situations which lend themselves to being safely appraised by non-law enforcement folks. But as a matter of policy we only have our sworn peace officers (Livestock Officers) investigate these matters on scene. Our inspectors may also investigate if accompanied by a LEO. We decided a few years back that the risk to personal safety was too great to allow otherwise.

The net result of that policy change was that our resources were spread even thinner. That’s another reason why we are actively engaged with the Arizona Horse Council in conducting Equine Neglect Training via AZ POST. We are hoping to broaden this educational effort by engaging in the police precincts and sheriff sub-stations through shift briefings and videos. FYI – the photo I’ve had locked as the header image for RTR (Roaming The Range) for the last few days was shot at the latest AZ POST Equine Neglect Class the first of October.

Integrity and Trust. These are what my attention was drawn to earlier and they are the final aspects which I wanted to address today.

The folks (sometimes veterinarians too!) who do walk into these situations where they are facing who-knows-what depend vitally on their fellow officers who are walking in there with them. Personal integrity and commitment must be unquestionable. Counting on someone to be at your shoulder or covering your back requires an inordinate amount of trust. The flip side of that trust is the integrity inherent in the accompanying partner or LEO.

In this case it’s not simply a slogan that “Character Counts”; it may become the determining factor which allows all parties to walk out of such a scenario when it has evolved into a very tense or violent situation.

Think on that one please while you’re enjoying the ride.

Welfare and Neglect Statutes Round 3

Today in something of a wrap-up of this week’s posts on cruelty, I thought I would take 1 particular aspect of 2910 and work through a typical scenario for y’all.

I’m going to preface this with a few facts as well as with my opinion on some aspects of this matter. The number of folks in this country who either grew up on farms and ranches or later on in life spent a significant number of years there learning animal husbandry through experiencing it, is miniscule. Census numbers have been well under 3% since I was an undergraduate (way too long ago.) Watching Discovery, Disney, or some PBS special, and I’ll also include those who’ve “taken a class…” in this sweeping statement – this does not provide a person with much of an understanding of the dynamics of how livestock behave, thrive or survive. Nor would such person be enabled to discern accurately, especially with an understanding of the legal framework in AZ, whether a given situation may be cruel, abusive or neglectful. Neither outrage nor self-righteousness is a substitute for knowledge, experience and keen judgment. And a related point, neither do watching shows provide an adequate education or basis for caring for animals, especially domesticated livestock. Lastly, the cheapest part of owning such creatures is usually buying it.

Ok. Enough of that.

Let’s get into a scenario with a horse. Please assume it wasn’t obese to begin with (since that one should lose weight. Obese isn’t healthy for horses either.) Do you remember your definitions??? You can’t play if you don’t know what the rules are. Also please keep the Pareto Principle in mind; it’s a great guide in the real world.

“Cruel neglect” means to fail to provide an animal with necessary food, water or shelter. [13-2910(H)(3)] And if a person “[i]ntentionally or knowingly subjects any animal under the person’s custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment that results in serious physical injury” [13-2910(A)(8)] that person is looking at a Class 6 Felony charge.

Question: How hard is it for you to lose weight?? In large measure that depends on whether you are allowed free-choice feeding. And in the case of most Americans, the answer to that situation is a resounding, “Of course it’s hard!” That food availability, coupled with our sedentary lifestyle makes losing weight a real challenge. Why would you think it would be any different with another mammalian biological system? It isn’t. So there’s one piece of the puzzle.

If the horse is losing weight, there is a failure to provide necessary food. Yes there are physical and medical conditions that can contribute. But the term for what is by far the most common reason is “agroceriosis”. That’s pseudo-scientific for no or not enough groceries getting into the horse.

This aspect though is a bit like a movie versus a single snapshot. One snapshot doesn’t tell you the story of how the horse came to be in its current condition. That piece of information is hugely significant in determining neglect. It is very difficult to make a judgment on the basis of 1 picture.

So there’s another piece of the puzzle – time – and the evaluation of the changes of the horse’s general condition over the course of time. Additionally you need some means to accurately measure. In this case it could be a weight scale, but not necessarily. There are other means of estimating weight such as weight tapes and years of experience (and you can still be badly fooled). BTW the horse standing on your foot is not a very good method.

So if we can accurately measure, and we record those measurements, and the measurements show the horse is losing weight, what next? How significant is the loss? Is it transitory? Horses competing extensively or mares milking heavily are going to lose weight in spite of best husbandry. There is simply more demand than can be met – in the short run. Again think movies not snapshots.

Here we have begun to deviate from the role we in the State Vet’s Office and Animal Services Division of ADA are obligated to fulfill. The reasons for the loss are the owner’s responsibility to define and correct – which is one reason why you will find veterinarians listing their services for hire. Otherwise, how is this not a situation that fits the parameters of “cruel neglect” or at least for investing the possibility of it?

To jump ahead somewhat from what seems to me a logical procession to a conclusion of neglected horse, I have witnessed some rather tortured logic in how situations such as I described above were found not to be neglect.

Question: since “Intentionally or knowingly” is required for the situation to be a violation, if the person is ignorant of how to feed and care for the horse, is it still a crime? To reiterate the point I made in my preface, ignorance of animal husbandry is rampant.

Please realize there are almost infinite numbers of permutations to the simple scenario above which when taken in total will push the judgment of the situation in one direction or another. But let me take you back to the Pareto Principle – the vast majority of horses which are in poor physical condition are because they haven’t had adequate feed in front of them (imo).

This is getting very long – and still I’ve left much uncovered. I’ve not even touched the water or shelter language! But that hopefully that provides some insight into the process.

Y’all enjoy the ride.