Nancyeclark's Blog


Bib

Bib

This is Bib…named for the Michelin man as his tummy was always so big as a baby. Bib was special…his eyes, his funny little nose, his one white stocking-and his funny personality. Bib developed breathing problems from a growth behind his soft palate and when he began to have real problems getting enough air, we had to make a decision to end his struggle. We lost our gorgeous boy the same day we lost our Youko…and I just want to say that he was the best boy…the sweetest boy and my heart aches with the loss. Bibby and Youko were a wonderful part of my life – I will miss them always.



AM I NUTS?

I think I may finally, at the age of 53, found my true path in life. I am seriously considering going back to school. Whether that happens or not (and the reasons would be financial), I believe I must work with animals, in animal welfare, somehow, someway. I have seen, heard, watched and learned enough now to know that it is just as important as working to end poverty, injustice and cruelty anywhere…and those things will still be on the agenda too…but animals are truly where my future lies.

I believe that a society must be measured on the way it treats its most vulnerable…the children…the elderly…and the ones who have no voice of their own…the animals who share our lives, our communities, our supper table and our planet.

I have spent the last two years fostering cats and helping my local shelter, writing letters about whales, seals, cats, dogs, horses, burros, cows, slaughter, round ups and gathers etc., etc., etc.; urging legislation, signing petitions, joining groups, emailing, calling MPP’s, MP’s and Senators, Presidents and Congressmen and women, annoying friends and family and just generally dipping my feet into the pond.

I started this blog that no one reads and I do not have too much time for these days, I have learned about supportive care, sub-cu fluids, bottle feeding, hygiene, multi cat household issues, illness, diseases and viral shedding, disinfection, parasites, injuries, death and euthanization. Now I think it is time to back up my internet and library research and pestering of shelter workers, local vets and vet assist and vet techs…and become one of them.

I would like to learn more about the care of the animals I tend to and love, and maybe it would help me get a job at a shelter where I could make more of a difference than what I am doing now. What I would like to know is if you all think I am nuts to consider something like this at my stage of life. Comments are welcome.



They clone horses don’t they?

“If scientific discovery has not been an unalloyed blessing, if it has conferred on mankind the power not only to create but also to annihilate, it has at the same time provided humanity with a supreme challenge and a supreme testing”  John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Science by itself has no moral dimension. But it does seek to establish truth. And upon this truth morality can be built”  Dr. William H. Masters

“Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man’s power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.”  Madame de Stael

I would like to begin this page by saying I am not a scientist in any way shape or form and if I get my facts wrong, am totally open to correction.

I just read a disturbing report about Sue Wallis, an American politician from Wyoming who is trying to set up a slaughterhouse for horses in her state, and an organization called the UOH, of which she is Executive Director. UOH, The United Organization of the Horse. Please do not be fooled by the rather innocuous, seemingly pro-horse title of this organization. It sounds like a group working for the good of horses…but what it actually is, is a  trade/lobbying group who takes contributions from horse slaughter interests, from the U.S Export Meat Federation, livestock and cattlemen organizations and from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which is the lobbying arm of cloning and genetic engineering companies like Monsanto and ViaGen (who are actively cloning horses). They say they are concerned about the large numbers of ‘unwanted horses’ in the U.S….if so why would they be talking about cloning horses for slaughter, while killing off the natural ones? Real or cloned, slaughtering horses for food is a moral and ethical issue that has not got the support of the majority of North Americans. And cloning is another issue that raises its own moral and ethical questions.

Cloning occurs naturally in plants and some insects and has been used in horticulture for centuries. But I have found myself wanting to learn more about cloning, the kind of cloning that raises those moral and ethical questions for a lot of people, something that was in the news a lot, but has not been covered too much lately. As I understand it, cloning is a word that encompasses several different processes for “duplicating biological material” . There are  apparently three main types;  recombinant DNA cloning, therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. When I read about cloning, when there is talk about cloning horses for slaughter, or for breeding, they are usually talking about reproductive cloning.

As I understand it, recombinant DNA cloning has been around for years and is often used to  make multiple copies of the same gene for scientists to study and use in gene therapy, genetic engineering, and sequencing genomes.    

Therapeutic cloning is when they grow human embryos for use in research and to harvest stem cells. They are not creating cloned human beings, but remove the stem cells from the embryos to study and to use in treating diseases like cancer. Stem cells are removed from the egg after it has divided for 5 days…killing the embryo, which raises ethical and moral concerns for many people and has a lot of opposition.  

Reproductive cloning is the one I am really interested in. It is the type of cloning which first gave us a cloned tadpole in 1952 and it gave us Dolly, the Finn Dorset sheep, the first mammal to be cloned. The product of reproductive cloning is an animal that has the same nuclear DNA as another animal, but it is not identical, because some of its genes come from elsewhere in the egg and are not ‘reprogrammed’ the same way. Genes from the nucleus of a donor cell are transferred to an egg whose nucleus has been removed. The  egg is then treated to encourage cell division. Once it reaches the right stage, it is implanted into the womb of a surrogate to continue growing naturally until it is born. These clones will not be identical duplicates…only their chromosomal/nuclear DNA is the same. Some of the clones genetic materials come from the mitochondria in the egg. Mitochondria contain their own little bits of DNA and “acquired mutations in mitochondrial DNA are believed to play an important role in the aging process” and some scientists believe that “ errors or incompleteness in the reprogramming process cause the high rates of death, deformity, and disability often  seen among animal clones.”  Also unknown in this process is the effect of the surrogate that carries the baby and is so closely connected to it.

Another part of the problem with cloning is the low success rate; Dolly  was the only success out of 276 tries.  Prometea, the first cloned horse (born in 2003) came from 841 male and female embryos out of which only 8 male and 14 females developed to the blastocyst stage ( 5 days of cell division). Only 17 embryos were able to be implanted, and only 4 pregnancies came from those and Prometea was the only one out of all those to survive. Reproductive cloning, it is hoped, can dependably and constantly reproduce animals who are special or have special qualities. In the case of horses, ViaGen  (among others) is actively cloning Quarter horses and others to preserve bloodlines and to extend the breeding life of stallions and mares by creating newer duplicates. Reproductive cloning can probably be used to help endangered species, such as the gaur which was, in 2001, the first clone of an endangered wild animal to be born (it died from infection shortly after birth). In the same year,  Italian scientists reported cloning a mouflon, an endangered wild sheep.  I cannot find enough information on what would happen if clones breed. They can if bred with a non clone.

Reproductive cloning is still expensive and not terribly successful, although success rates are better now than they were when Dolly and Promotea were born. More than 1000 nuclear transfers could be required to produce between 1-3 viable clones. Cloned animals sometimes have weakened immune systems and suffer more infections and  tumours, and other problems such as LOS or large organ syndrome, which can cause unnaturally large babies or babies with organs too large for their bodies. Many clones just haven’t lived long enough for us to know how they age, because being healthy as babies does not adumbrate life-long health or even simple survival. Problems may come from ‘programming errors’ in the genetic material from a donor cell. When an embryo is created by natural means (the old fashioned way) from the union of sperm and egg, it gets copies of most genes from both its parents. Something called “imprinting” chemically marks the DNA from the mother and father so that only one copy of a gene is ‘turned on’. Defects in the genetic ‘imprint’ of DNA from a single donor cell may lead to some of the abnormalities of cloned animals, because we  program which ones turn on, not nature, and we may not get it right.

So, cloning is being done, but the success rates are still prohibitive. As is the cost. You can find ads for companies that will clone your horse for you in equine magazines and there are those who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clone their pets. (Why anyone would do that is beyond me, discovering love with a new friend is so much better, even if you grieve forever for your lost pet.) Farmers have cloned hundreds of cows and the offspring of these cloned animals have already entered the food supply.

The following came from an article in Newsweek Magazine….(the bits in parentheses are mine)….

“Should consumers be afraid? There is some evidence that cloned animals show a higher propensity for developmental problems, such as mental retardation. That would be tragic in a human, but the milk from a retarded cow is not necessarily any different from the milk from a smarter than average cow. Indeed, the European scientists found no compositional or nutritional differences in the milk or meat derived from clones, and “no evidence of any abnormal effects” in the progeny of cloned animals. (most studies only studied 5 or 6 animals…not exactly exhaustive)

New research about genetics may be indirectly fueling fears about cloning. Scientists have learned in recent years that what goes on in the cell’s molecular machinery is far more complicated than they used to think. Epigeneticists have begun to enumerate ways in which traits can be passed from one generation to the next that have nothing to do with DNA. This raises the theoretical possibility that cloning may have unintended effects even though a cloned animal is an exact DNA replica of the original. “Although successful clones may appear normal, the possibility remains that some may harbor subtle genetic defects that could impair their health or make them unsafe for consumption,” said the Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement. Most anticloning groups use similar reasoning in calling for more time and more studies before cloned meat and milk are allowed to be sold as food. “If you don’t get all the details, you don’t know your subject,” says Sonja Van Tichelen, director of the Eurogroup for Animals.

The problem with epigenetic effects is that nobody knows what they might be, or even if, in the case of cloned livestock, they would have any effect worth noting. The safety authorities in the United States and Europe have apparently reasoned that a theoretical possibility is not reason enough to ban the practice.”

(Are these the same people who said cattle and pigs could eat dead cattle and pigs and that that would be safe? Remember Creutzfeld-Jacob disease and the Mad Cow Mess? Mad Cow is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy…a prion disease that may sometimes come from a genetically mutated prion. )

Why then are there those talking about cloning any animal for any reason? Even for preserving bloodlines? The companies involved in the technology do, of course, they stand to make money, but there are many concerns about cloning. Many racetracks and, I believe, the Jockey Club, have banned clones from racing, and cloned meat has not been proven safe to eat…nor has it been proven unsafe…there is simply not enough data.  There are also concerns about the welfare of the animals involved and the further commodification (if that is a word) of animals when so many people worldwide are trying to change the way animals are treated now.

 

“The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) provided an opinion on ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply in January 2008. This complements EFSA’s work because EFSA does not have a mandate to consider ethical, moral or other societal issues beyond its scientific remit.
The EGE opinion concludes that “considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, the EGE has doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified. Whether this applies also to offspring is open to further scientific research. At present, the EGE does not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring.” The EGE also identifies requirements for future action should food from animal clones be introduced into Europe in the future.” from the EFSA site (European Food Safety Authority)

I believe we should be concerned that if cloning humans is not morally and ethically acceptable, why is it okay to do this, to cause suffering, to destroy countless embryos, to species other than ourselves, who have no say in the matter at all. There are so many instances of mankind doing what we think is the right thing, biologically speaking, only to find out down the road, that we have royally screwed things up, for the species involved and for ourselves. Cloning for the sake of cloning may be the wrong decision. Perhaps using a technology just because we can is not the best way forward. A step or two back, and a lot more thought, might be a very good idea. Greed is not the best impetus or guide to what we as humans should allow in business or in life.

I am not completely anti-cloning. However, nothing I have heard or read over the years has convinced me yet that it is a good thing, a necessary thing. It seems to be a technology growing and developing because we can, not because of its inherent value. And I am very concerned that we do not know enough about what we are doing when we mess around with genes, and nature, and play God. I do believe in biological diversity and its importance in nature. I believe in wide and deep gene pools being the means of evolution, change and survival for our species and all the others we share this planet with. Wild horses are already at risk because of what the BLM is doing with their culling and roundups…they do not pay attention to family and bloodlines and the shrinking gene pool they leave behind. Cheetahs are suffering because there are not enough to breed with a gene selection broad enough to produce the healthiest, most viable babies. Tigers, one of the most critically endangered species on the planet are also at risk in terms of their health and their genes.

Biological diversity is a wondrous and beautiful thing. Who would ever want things to be or to look the same? The union of sperm and egg is miraculous and what it produces, unique. Yes we can selectively breed for special qualities, but when we let babies be produced the old fashioned way, we get a surprise, an individual, a unique creature, human or animal, and I truly believe it is the way we should remain committed to…not to the production of rows of chromosomally identical clones. Just because we can…should we? I leave you with some thoughts that I find helpful when pondering the future and the welfare of animals, ourselves and our planet…

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world-that is the myth of the atomic age-as in being able to remake ourselves”  Mahatma Gandhi

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”  Alice Walker

and finally, from Thomas Jefferson, “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”



Keiko

DSCF0401 She was probably doomed from the start, but she did not seem to care and tried so hard to have a life and grow and become a cat…but we lost her and it broke my heart. Into tiny little pieces…that will, I am sure, eventually fit back together, but there will be a lot of scar tissue.

Keiko was one of four kittens born to Julia, a foster mum from the OSPCA. Tiny and beautiful they were. There was Mighty Mouse, the runt, a little grey and white fighter; Thor, a big black boy who seemed to have odd feet and skeletal issues and then the two sisters, Youko and Keiko, both white with lilac points. When we got them home they seemed fine and Mum seemed fine too, but it quickly became apparent that Julia, although gorgeous and sweet and loving, had no clue about being a mum…there are some cats that should never be mums…too young, too whatever. She would nurse her babies briefly and then walk away, leaving the kittens to get cold and lonely…and if we left her alone in the room with them, she would carry them around and deposit them in strange corners and leave them alone on the floor. As soon as we realized this, within hours, we began by putting a heating pad under their bin and adding hot water bottles to keep them warm, keeping the door to their carrier closed so Julia could not scatter them, and every hour or so, put her in with them to nurse and clean them. She was great with them for a while each time and then yell and claw to get out. The kittens also developed diarrhea almost immediately and it became clear we had four very sick kittens…but they were kept warm and clean and dry and nursed well when given their mum or a bottle, and seemed even with their issues to be doing okay…no dehydration…and with food peacefully asleep. I spent hours and hours with them, watching, stroking mum so she would nurse, cleaning them and their towels, changing hot water bottles, moving mum in and out, experimenting to see if she would stay without being locked in with them, trying to see if she would leave them together in one spot, praying and worrying, supplementing with formula…then one day…checking in on the nursing babies, all seemed fine, when I realized Mighty Mouse could not be seen amongst the pile…I found him under his mother, smothered by Mum lying on him…he was flat and still and flaccid and not breathing and I panicked and rubbed and stroked him and breathed on him and called the shelter and finally he coughed and his chest started moving again…all of which may have been a bad decision in hindsight because although he seemed to recover he succumbed to the struggle of life a few days later and we had him put to sleep. He simply got too tired, and I probably should have let him die and be peaceful when it happened…but instinct made me try without thinking. Thor, the big, black, hungry boy became much sicker a few days later in the space of a couple of hours, and at 5 am on a Sunday, we heard him begin to cry in distress and had to make the heartbreaking decision to have him put to sleep too. So we were left with Keiko and Youko…the two white sisters…still sick but as far as we could tell…happy with each other and not suffering. Julia was still a lousy mum so we kept them warm…and as clean as we could, continued supplementing their diet and they slowly began to grow and get better. They changed from white to cream…Youko with lilac ears and tail, Keiko with dark points on face, ears, paws and tail…simply beautiful kittens…with sweet tempers and good appetites. The diarrhea stopped, but as the days went by…you could see that the diarrhea, the virus, whatever had made them sick,  had caused Keiko to have growth and development issues…Youko soon out paced her in size and strength. Keiko’s problems became more apparent, possibly from mal-absorption of nutrients through the diarrhea, possibly congenital, she grew a little and regained her hair from the urine scald she suffered even with constant cleaning, but she stayed  small and her legs did not work as well as they should..her front legs bowed a bit and occasionally knuckled over…her back legs did not seem to have as much flexibility and feeling as they should…but she kept trying…playing with her sister, eating well, beginning to try out toys…purring  and cuddling… and then came the breathing issues. She began having trouble  breathing after eating and although her teeth were coming in (in that tiny mouth) and she began eating a bit of solid food…she began to be unhappy and we took her to the vet to see if there were any hope of recovery, growth and development. The consensus of the vets was that she was going to have too much suffering to let her continue…perhaps if she had not had trouble with her breathing she might have had a chance…but with the new breathing issues it was unfair to let her struggle for each breath…and the shelter totally agreed and put her to sleep…which did not go well and will haunt me ‘til the day i die…Keiko…with all her problems, did not go quietly and I will never get over the fact that for a short while I was responsible for intense fear and suffering in a kitten so small and innocent. I know from experience that euthanasia does not always go smoothly…but this one, although necessary, will haunt me, will haunt my dreams forever. No one’s fault, just one of those things, but still…..

I will always remember Keiko’s ability to motor across the floor with a speed that amazed me…she would come running as soon as she heard me at the door to her room. I will remember her tiny dark paws that held the bottle so tightly, her eyes so bright, her wee cream face and dark nose looking up at me, her tiny body pressed close to my heart as I fed her, her patience as I cleaned her, her first use of the litter box, her first enjoyment of kitten food, her favourite toy (a tiny white coil), her absolutely fierce will to be normal and play with her sister…I will remember every minute I had with a kitten so challenged and so happy (until she could not breathe) and so beautiful…with awe and respect and admiration and gladness and sadness…Keiko will be with me forever…although she only lived with me for a few weeks.

And I will question myself and my decisions, and learn from the experience, compassion and knowledge of the wonderful people at the OSPCA, of the wonderful vets, and grow in knowledge about how to deal with sickness and death in creatures so small and innocent and beautiful…I would like one day to be more sure of decisions made and roads taken. Having had a run of success with foster kittens…Julia’s litter has taught me so much about the other side of fostering…the heartbreaking side. I can only hope the decisions I made hourly, did not cause any suffering that could have been avoided…I watched so closely for any signs of discomfort, any signs that they were unhappy, and I wanted so much to give them a chance at life…that I profoundly hope that the life they had was not an unhappy one. If anything I did caused them pain or sadness I will never forgive myself…Mighty Mouse, Thor and particularly Keiko, will have me looking inward and pondering and questioning and asking always…Am I doing the right thing??…Am I doing the right thing for them or for me???…How do you ever know for sure that giving anyone or anything a chance of life, a chance of recovery is the right thing to do????

Keiko …’Kei’  means ‘celebrate’, ‘respect’, and ‘open’  and is combined with ‘ko’ which means child…has taught me to respect life, be open to possibilities and open to learning, and I will always celebrate her life…she touched my heart and soul so deeply and profoundly that I will never be the same person I was before I met her.  Keiko, so tiny, so beautiful, will live forever. And I hope, forgive me if ever I hurt her…even if only with good intentions.



Mighty Mouse & Thor

Mighty Mouse died. On a Tuesday. Euthanized because he struggled too long and exhausted his energy. One minute a tiny grey and white fighter, a suckling champ…the next second too exhausted to do anything except sleep. He was the runt, he was sick, along with his brothers and sisters, his mum was inattentive and she lay on him, flattened him and he stopped breathing. Instinctively I fought for him, called Lisa at the shelter in a panic about him, rubbed and stroked and breathed on him and got him breathing again….perhaps the wrong decision in hindsight…but I did not see the future reality…only the hope and immediate need. A few days later he tired of trying to grow and develop. Thor went the same way this morning…he was doing alright on Saturday afternoon and through the evening, … fighting for his nipple, getting extra formula, purring, curled up with his littermates on mums belly and a hot water bottle when she left…bright eyed and strong and black, although certainly not well.…sick but working on it and happy. Lord how kittens can turn around in a heartbeat. By 130 am on Sunday  I was less happy about him, something was not quite right..but not critical, and he was still nursing, so I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, checked on him at 4am and immediately realized it was all wrong and he had become very sick indeed. All of a sudden he was in pain and congested and would or could not suckle…in the space of a couple of minutes we made the the decision to have him put to sleep, to end his fight and suffering. 5am on a Sunday morning…thank god for the Emergency vet clinic and their wonderful staff. The shelter was not open to call, so we took Thor to Kingston, snuggled to my breast, tired and quiet,  and there we had him put to sleep, gently and kindly by the doctor with me stroking him as he died. Just like Mighty Mouse he had gone from fighter to giving up the struggle in minutes, so fast it was hard to believe.

Maybe when they first got sick I should have asked to have them all put to sleep…but as they seemed happy except for the diarrhea; trying hard, suckling and getting extra bottle feeds…I wanted to give Julia’s 4 kittens a fighting chance. But fostering cats and kittens, either on your own or for the OSPCA or local shelter is heartbreaking and totally unpredictable. It is also heart warming and joyful. Babies in particular suffer sea changes in health in the space of minutes and hours…like visiting a friend in hospital, talking to them, seeing them rallying from illness or injury, hopeful: and and then hours later you get a call that they have passed away. Like my mum in June, seemingly doing well and recovering in the CSU from cardiogenic shock and everyone is guardedly hopeful, she is conscious, eating, talking and then, Wham, her heart stops and all hell breaks loose.

There are two kittens left with Julia…two tiny creamy babies just 3 weeks old…and I know that even if we get a non-thriving kitten to 4 weeks…it can all blow up in your face at any time…but how can I look at these two, small and eating hard, learning to stumble further around their nesting spot each day, getting their sea legs,  and not let them have a chance. They seem happy and content…no pain that I can detect…they are warm and fed and dry and I find I cannot give up on them. Maybe that is wrong…maybe it would be kinder and less heartbreaking and more cost effective to just put them to sleep now…but I cannot do it…and perhaps this means I am not a good foster parent and may never be a good person to work at a shelter…but I am not yet good or fast at making this kind of decision…although I am sure I will learn to do so. It is always, I think, a struggle to do the right thing, to hold on for them, and not for you, to give them a chance, but not prolong any suffering…to learn to look at a baby and say it would be better for you not to have to fight to survive. I can only hope I am doing the right thing…by doing what seems right, what feels right…but how do you know..how do you sleep…how do you not have doubts and questions…regrets and fears??? Why is doing what you think is the right thing so damn hard????

Up until Julia and her 4 babies, now 2, we have had a wonderful run of success in fostering…6 mums and babies…all have found homes…but Julia, Mighty Mouse and Thor have me totally questioning my abilities and my judgment…this is perhaps the question all animal people, all pet people have to face…when do you give up..how much is too much??? Is the decision you are making the right one for you or for them????