Survival of the Friendliest

Survival of the Friendliest. Random House, New York; 2020
By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
Reviewed by Andrew Rowan
Brian Hare, a professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and his wife, Vanessa Woods, an award-winning journalist and a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience also at Duke University, have just produced a new book, Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding our Origins and Rediscovering our Common Humanity. The title is a variation on the widespread belief that evolution is driven by a process encapsulated by the phrase, Survival of the Fittest. Charles Darwin used this phrase and wrote that as a proxy for the term natural selection, “survival of the fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.” But Darwin was also very impressed by the levels of cooperation he observed in nature and wrote that the most cooperative communities “would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring.”
Hare and Woods argue that it is not competition and aggression that have led to dominance of the globe by modern humans but rather it is our capacity for kindness and friendship that have led us to outcompete Homo erectus (who was already making and using tools 1.8 million years ago – 1.5 million years before Homo sapiens appeared) and at least four other branches of Homo sapiens. Modern humans established their dominance only in the last 50,000 years. Then, around 25,000 years ago, our ancestors started to leave evidence of unique forms of cognition (e.g. rock paintings and archeological finds of early jewelry) and expanded social networks.
Hare and Woods discuss the changes leading to modern humans as a process of self-domestication leading to greater co-operation, an ability to live successfully in larger groups with a consequent increase in technological invention. They support these conclusions with a range of data involving physical structure (the evolving shape of modern human skulls) and biological and physiological evidence (e.g. the role of the hormone oxytocin in eliciting both nurturing/friendly behavior but also aggression and dehumanization) and hints from the behavior of chimpanzees (aggressive and suspicious of strangers) and bonobos (close cousins of the chimpanzees but much lower levels of aggression and greater friendliness).
A common approach to explaining modern human’s domination of the world involves pointing at the much larger and denser brains, and greater intelligence, found in Homo sapiens. But the authors note that the brain of Home sapiens was already large at least 200,000 years ago but that our branch of Homo sapiens only became dominant (outcompeting Neanderthals and other branches) around 50,000 years ago. They argue that it was the rapid expansion of social networks (supported by the friendliness trait and a consequently greater acceptance of strangers) that led to self-domestication and an explosion of technological innovation.
The book ranges across many disciplines and concludes with chapters involving the development of the “theory of mind,” the important role of oxytocin in promoting both friendliness but also aggression and prejudice, the story of Ota Benga (a pygmy housed in the Bronx zoo in 1906) and the role of simianization in human prejudice, and the development of constitutional democracies and the emergence of the alt-right across the world. They conclude by noting that “our lives should be measured not by how many enemies we have conquered, but by how many friends we have made.”
In the end, the authors of Survival of the Friendliest commented to me that they needed all they had learned about friendliness to survive the process of writing this book. I completely understand what they have gone through. My wife and I decided to launch WellBeing International together and we also needed all our “friendliest” characteristics to get safely through the earliest stages of our new adventure together.”

Sustainable Fisheries?

Sustainable Fisheries?
June 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
The total global catch of wild fish increased from 31 million metric tons in 1950 to a high of 130 million metric tons in 1996 before falling back to 109 million metric tons in 2010. However, from 1950 onwards, 366 of 1,519 fisheries collapsed (defined as a 90 percent reduction in stock) with overfishing being a major cause of many of the collapses. Climate variation, often in the guise of El Nino events, was also a very important factor driving large fluctuations in fish stocks. Despite major advances in the scientific understanding of the variation in global fish stocks and the development of sophisticated analytical tools to guide decisions about how to manage a sustainable fishery, the number of fishery collapses has been stable over time, indicating no overall improvement in fishery management.
While the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery may be one of the best-known examples of the non-sustainable management of a fishery, different fisheries have collapsed all over the world and most fisheries are considered to be fully exploited. The tuna fishery for the main species of tuna – giant Bluefin, Bigeye, Yellowfin, Skipjack, and Albacore – is certainly fully exploited today. According to a recent paper in Fisheries Research that compiled a comprehensive and harmonized global data set of global tuna catches by area from 1950 onwards, the total weight of tuna landed annually has increased tenfold to over 6 million metric tons a year. The image displays tuna catches for three different time periods: 1950-54, 1980-84 and 2012-16, and shows clearly how tuna fishing now encompasses most of the oceans of the globe (an estimated 55-90 percent of total ocean area). Almost half the tuna now being landed are skipjack tuna, with yellowfin making up a further one-quarter.
Image copied from Fisheries Research, Vol 221, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2019.105379
An earlier publication from 2011 estimated the trends in adult tuna biomass from 1930 up to 2010. The adult biomass of southern Bluefin declined by 95 percent from 1930 to 2010. The adult biomass of the “tropical” tunas (Skipjack, Yellowfin, and Bigeye) declined by approximately 60 percent since 1970. Given that the major species of tuna currently account for $42 billion annually, or over one-quarter of the global seafood trade, the long-term future of tuna is a very important factor in global trade and food security.
The North Atlantic cod fishery collapsed very suddenly around 1990 and has still not shown much sign of recovery despite the moratorium on the cod fishery declared by the Canadian government in 1992. Before the collapse, the fishery’s managers ignored scientific data and set catch quotas that were too high. The fishery increased its take of younger and younger fish (older females produce far more surviving young) and, eventually, the inevitable happened. Looking at the annual tuna landings, the declining age of the tuna being caught, and the declining in overall tuna biomass, one cannot help but think back to Yogi Berra’s famous quote – “It looks like déjà vu all over again.”

Companion Animals in a Time of COVID-19-Andrew Rowan June 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Companion Animals in a Time of COVID-19

LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT, ANDREW ROWAN, JUNE 2020

As we continue to struggle with the current Covid-19 pandemic, it appears that there has been an uptick across the world in the demand for companion animals. In the early phases of the pandemic, there was some concern that our companion animals might be a possible source of infection but, as the infographic from the International Companion Animal Management Coalition indicates, there is very little risk from our pets. There are also reasons, discussed by Professor Alan Kazdin of Yale University in an earlier WBI blog post, why people might be seeking to bring companion animals into their homes at this stressful time.
In the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of shelter animals being fostered while the number of animals entering shelters fell by almost 50 percent in the early phases of the country’s response to the pandemic. Some shelters in regions hard hit by the pandemic had no animals left for households looking to adopt or foster. At the same time, the demand for puppies being sold by pet stores has also increased and the pet supply industry has been regarded as recession-proof, as the chart below demonstrates. During the recessions of 2001 and 2008-09, spending on pets continued to grow without any noticeable dip. This is not just a North American phenomenon. Demand for pets has been strong in other parts of the world, and humane services have been encouraged. For example, India declared the feeding of street dogs (who lost an important source of food when restaurants and food stalls were shut down) an essential service leading to the development of emergency feeding programs across the country.
Now, thanks to weekly reports from PetPoint (a division of PetHealth, a North American pet health insurance and shelter software company), we can track how the pandemic has affected North American shelters in almost real time. PetPoint has been providing monthly reports of shelter intakes and outcomes among the shelters and rescues using their software (around 20 percent of total intake and outcomes) for ten years. Now, during the Covid-19 outbreak, they have been posting weekly reports. The charts below track the intake and fostering numbers for 2019 and 2020.
As with our understanding of the spread of Covid-19, it is likely that it will take time for us to develop a more detailed picture of the increased entry of companion animals into people’s homes during the pandemic. We can expect to see an uptick in cases of separation anxiety among companion animals when family members head back to school and work. In the meantime, let us applaud PetPoint’s initiative in providing reports of shelter intakes and outcomes on a weekly basis so that we can develop a more granular view of what is happening. North American shelters may have lower intake and increased fostering, but they will also likely have lower staffing levels and possibly reduced funding as donations (and fees) diminish.

The Reaktion Animal Series

The Reaktion Animal Series
By Andrew Rowan
Early this century, independent scholar Jonathan Burt, author of the Reaktion book Animals in Film, persuaded the publisher to produce a series of books on specific animals that would combine a broad mix of human-animal interactions and feature each animal’s role in the arts and literature, in the sciences, in religion, and in myth and folklore.
One reason I have always been intrigued by the series was because two scholars, Marion (Ronnie) Copeland and Boria Sax, with whom I interacted as editor of Anthrozoös, were the authors of two of its first four books, Cockroach and Crow. Burt has also authored one of the volumes, Rat. The series now includes almost 100 volumes. The latest, Human, by Charlotte Sleigh and Amanda Rees, is due to appear in July of this year.
The series has been a huge success, with books on specific birds (Owl, Crow and Falcon) as well as the expected Cat and Dog being among the most popular. Crow, the favorite of Reaktion’s Publicity/Rights Director Maria Kilcoyne, was a particular success in China, where it was printed on black paper with silver type and illustrations.
The mixture of biology, literature and symbolism has proved to be very engaging. This mirrors an experience I had at Tufts where the most popular seminar that the Center for Animals held featured three talks dealing with eagle biology, eagles in art, and the anthropology and symbolism of eagles. Animals are indeed rich organizing entities as we consider the ways in which humans and animals interact and our different reactions to specific animals (e.g. cockroach or dolphin – both subjects in the Reaktion series).
In the specific case of Dolphin, the book is organized into six chapters dealing with zoology and physiology (remarkable), the different types of dolphin (a wide range), the dolphin in history and mythology (very broad reach), dolphin intelligence and behavior (fascinating), threats to dolphins (numerous) and dolphins in popular culture (think Flipper and Keiko). The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of dolphins and images of dolphins in art and literature. The series’ attention to images is entirely appropriate given Burt’s interest in animals in art and film.
The series – or at least a selection of volumes – is a must-have for anybody interested in human-animal interactions.

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline
May 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
Over the past few years, news stories describing the decline in global wildlife have generally referenced the Living Planet Index (LPI), which is based on methodology developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London. The LPI indicates that wildlife populations have declined by 60% from 1970 through 2014. The LPI does not estimate the extent of the wildlife decline that occurred before 1970.
In 1995, Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist in Vancouver, Canada, published a landmark paper, “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries,” in which he notes that fisheries scientists sometimes failed to identify the correct “baseline” population (or how abundant a fish species was before human exploitation), which affected their estimates about a particular fishery’s sustainable harvest. As a result, long-term declines in wildlife populations become difficult to identify, since each generation redefines a new baseline for what is “natural.”
This concept has been widely discussed by marine and fisheries scientists but, as Sumaila and Pauly note in a chapter entitled “The ‘March of Folly’ in Global Fisheries” in a 2011 book on Shifting Baselines, global fishery policies have largely ignored the lessons of shifted baselines. The cod fishery off the eastern seaboard of Canada and New England is a classic example of a policy “folly.” The accompanying chart shows the proportion of cod landed in Labrador and Newfoundland from 1850 through 2010, and the inset shows the recruitment of young cod into the adult population.
From 1850 through to the 1960s, 150-250,000 tonnes of cod were landed every year by the primarily small-scale inshore fishery. The dramatic increase in the 1960s was due to foreign deep-sea trawlers. Canada imposed a 200-mile exclusion zone, but the foreign trawlers were then succeeded by Canadian ships. Recruitment of young fish plummeted and, by the beginning of the 21st century, the cod fishery was no more. It has still not recovered even though Canada has just increased the allowable catch by 30% – to 12,350 tonnes!.
While the “shifting baselines” syndrome is less evident when discussing land animals, each generation still tends to base its understanding of what is “natural” on its experiences when young. The following anecdote is a tiny snapshot of declining populations of yellow-nosed albatross nesting on Nightingale Island in the south Atlantic.
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale is one of four islands that constitute the Tristan archipelago. Tristan, where 250 people live, is the only island in the archipelago that is inhabited and is considered one of the most remote human communities in the world. The nearest city is Cape Town, South Africa, over 1,500 miles and a 6-day boat trip away. Despite its remoteness, two series of photographs taken 66 years apart depicting the nests of the Yellow-nosed Albatross on Nightingale document a decline in albatross populations. The first photograph was taken in early November 1949 by Bertus Rowan on a trip to Nightingale. It shows hundreds of “mollies” (albatross) nesting on the island in what the locals referred to as Molly Pond 2.
The second photograph (taken almost precisely 66 years later, in November 2015 and showing the same nesting area from the same perspective) has very few albatross nests scattered across the “pond.”
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale has never been inhabited by humans and has, so far, not suffered an invasion of rats, mice or other creatures that often travel with humans. Therefore, the decline in nesting albatross must be related to some other factor. Albatross in the southern oceans are particularly affected by long-line fishing, in which a single line of thousands of baited hooks stretching up to 100 kilometers in length is dragged behind fishing vessels to catch tuna and other open-ocean fish. According to Bird Life International, around 100,000 albatross a year are caught on these hooks and drown.
Human activities have contributed to declines in wildlife populations for centuries – not just the past 40 or 50 years. While recent reports of declining wildlife numbers are important to acknowledge these changes, we must constantly guard ourselves against viewing the state of the world 25 or 50 years ago as its “natural” condition. In fact, the history is far longer.

Global Dog Populations – Andrew Rowan May 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Global Dog Populations

LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT, ANDREW ROWAN, MAY 2020

In human health management, we generally must know the size of the problem before we can manage it successfully. This is also true of the management of animals such as dogs and cats. This letter will address what we know about the number of dogs on the planet.
Dog on beach
Ray Coppinger, a world authority on dog behavior, started my investigations into global dog numbers at least 25 years ago when he asked me a simple question: How many dogs are there? At the time, we estimated that there were at least 400 million dogs, but this number has turned out to be far too low. In 2013, Matthew Gompper at the University of Missouri estimated there were around one billion domestic dogs, and his publication started my investigation of the issue in earnest.
I now agree with Gompper that there may be close to one billion domestic dogs globally, but this does not tell us where or how those dogs live. I have become disenchanted with metrics that measure dogs per square kilometer or some other unit of area. Dogs are not spread out evenly across the landscape – far from it – and are mostly clustered around humans. Therefore, a measure that compares the number of dogs to the number of humans is, in my opinion, a far more relevant and valuable way to estimate dog numbers. For several years now I have been using the measure of dogs per 1,000 humans, and I can report that dog populations in different regions and countries vary from around 1-2 per 1,000 people (on the Arabian peninsula) to as high as 800 per 1,000 humans (in rural communities in Chile).
This is a huge range, and we have very little insight into why dog numbers fluctuate so widely. It seems pretty obvious why there should be so few dogs in the Arabian Peninsula (Muslim attitudes to dogs tend to be negative), but why would Sweden have 80 dogs per 1,000 people compared to 140 in the UK and 240 in the USA? Or why would there be so few dogs in the New England states (around 110-140 per 1,000 people) and so many in some Rocky Mountain states (400 per 1,000 people in Montana)? These discrepancies are especially intriguing because these values have been stable for the past 30 to 40 years.
Fairly recently, a few colleagues and I began looking at the effect of human density on relative dog numbers. It has become evident that there is a strong inverse relationship between log human density and the relative number of dogs. A strong inverse density relationship has been found (R2 for the various trend lines ranges from 0.4 to 0.7). Such an inverse relationship has been documented for dog populations in US states, on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian state of Haryana, in Mumbai, in and around Rawalpindi in Pakistan and in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, even though the relative number of dogs varies from 10 to 400 dogs per 1,000 people and the human density varies from a few people per square kilometer to over 40,000 per square kilometer.
The inverse correlation of relative dog numbers with log human density offers an opportunity to develop reasonably reliable predictive models for dog populations in different countries.
We also need to determine whether the dogs are pets, strays or feral animals. WellBeing International is now classifying dogs as either Private dogs (mostly pets), whose movements are subject to some control, or Street dogs, whose movements are not controlled.
A child petting a dog
There will be overlap between Private dogs that are allowed to roam for some part of the day and the Street dog population, but using this two-phase classification is a simple way to describe dog populations around the world.
Several authors (e.g. Coppinger) have argued that Street dogs vastly outnumber Private dogs, but WBI has found that this is not the case. Private dogs now outnumber street dogs (perhaps by a 3:2 margin) and there has been a steady global drift – though not necessarily purposely – towards moving dogs off the streets and into homes. For example, in the USA in the 1960s it was estimated that around 25% of all dogs were Street dogs, but today Street dogs are very rare and are mostly found in inner-city or rural communities. The level of control of dogs in the USA has increased substantially since the 1960s, measured as the proportion of Private dogs entering shelters annually (from around 30% in the early 1970s to 5% today).
Other important metrics to consider when looking at global dog populations are overall per capita income and the rural/urban divide. In most High-Income Countries (HIC), Private dogs constitute the vast majority of the population (90-95% or more). In contrast, in Low-Income Countries (LIC) and Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) nearly all rural dogs are Street dogs. In LIC and LMIC, a percentage of dogs in urban cities (maybe 30-60%) will be Street dogs. Thus, one can begin to draw a reasonably accurate picture of the global dog population by simply concentrating on country income levels and the proportion of the population classified as rural. Table 1 below provides estimated dog numbers for different regions of the world. The regional estimates have been derived from multiple surveys of both Private and Street dog populations. Note that Street dogs are in the majority where the rural proportion of the population is above 50%.
Global Dog Population table
The regional dog estimates indicate that there are approximately 800 million dogs existing today, of which around 300 million are Street dogs. In other words, the majority of the dogs are Private dogs living as pets or guard dogs, and Street dogs compose only around 35-40% of the total – not 85% as some have claimed. Another common misconception is that Street dogs are all unowned strays. Some are certainly strays, but many are claimed to be “owned” by one household or another. Admittedly, these “owned” Street dogs are not treated in the same way as “owned” Private dogs, but they do receive some care.
Dog populations across the world are slowly shifting from the streets to the exercise of greater control by individual households. At the same time, the number of small animal veterinary clinics is exploding. For example, Malaysia’s first small animal clinic opened in 1980 but today there are around 500. In Jaipur, India, there were only a couple of small animal clinics at the turn of the century but today there are more than ten in the city. The number of small animal veterinary clinics is likely an indirect measure of the level of control of dog populations exercised by individual households.  See also Global Dog Campaign.

Time to Act Now – Why Compassion Counts

Time to Act Now – Why Compassion Counts
April 30, 2020
by Jill Robinson, Animals Asia, MBE
Founder and CEO, Animals Asia
A typical live animal market in China (Photo by Animals Asia Foundation)
As the number of people tragically succumbing to Covid-19 grows across the world, we are left reeling with the terrible consequences of our actions and of our ongoing disregard of animal cruelty and hygiene in the live animal markets of Asia and across the world. Joining a chorus of other high-level names, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has pointed the finger at live wild animal markets as the source of diseases such as Covid-19, which has crippled and paralyzed the world. We know that approximately 75% of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are zoonotic (animal based), accounting for billions of cases of illness and millions of deaths each year. Our treatment of animals must now surely be under the spotlight and held to full and final account.
From SARS to Covid-19, from Ebola to MERS to HIV, the global wildlife trade is implicated in every one of these infections. The whole world must take responsibility for the tragic consequences we are seeing today.
For over 34 years, Animals Asia team members and I have visited and documented the live animal markets of Asia. We have breathed in the dust and bacteria emerging from tall stacks of cages containing a wide range of miserable animals. This melting pot of disease sees the worst abuse of wild, domestic and endangered species – from farming, husbandry, transport, sanitation and welfare. As row upon row of sick and dying animals stare miserably out from behind chicken wire and bars, they shed the diseases exacerbated by the stress and cruel treatment to which they have been and are being subjected.
Fetuses aborted by stressed mothers are tossed to starving animals in the next cage. Dogs lie prone with parvo-virus as blood-drenched slime runs from their back ends, or with noses running green with the mucus of distemper, side-by-side with sneezing ferret badgers, shivering masked palm civets, flu-stricken cats, flea-ridden bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, donkeys, and bloodied three-legged victims of illegal trapping in the wild who hobble painfully away from humans brandishing wooden clubs and knives.
The greatest injustice to both humans and animals comes from those who argue against the closure of these foul and unhygienic markets, undermining the widening efforts of those who have been calling a halt to these facilities for years. Defenders argue that closing such outlets would lead to an increased risk of the wildlife trade being controlled by organized crime. But the trade is already controlled by organized crime. Far better to spend millions or even billions on defeating and ending this crime and ending the trade and wet markets now, rather than spending trillions of dollars dealing with the current and new pandemics caused by the current dysfunctional and largely corrupt components of the wildlife trade.
Cage after cage, packed with dogs trucked to market (Photo by Animals Asia Foundation)
An even more astonishing argument suggests that the world should improve regulation of wildlife markets to address animal welfare concerns. One only has to see undercover video of legal animal slaughterhouses worldwide to understand that even regulated practices surrounding live animals are woefully under-policed. Why do videos need to be undercover, and why do these places criminalize the taking of pictures if they do not have anything to hide? There is no point believing that those who supply and run the wildlife markets will conform to “improved regulations” when it is clear that attempts to implement such regulations following the 2003/2004 SARS outbreak failed miserably, leaving the world struggling with the current pandemic.
Calling on improved regulation of such markets fails to recognize that animal welfare and mitigating the risk of disease will always fall substantially short when economic gain is the main concern.
Yes, there are people who will be horribly affected if these terrible places are closed down. But responsible governments are already providing compensation and encouraging the growth of alternative livelihoods, acknowledging that viruses never distinguish between legal and illegal trade. Regulations mean nothing to the millions of stressed and compromised animals caged in rank, disgusting conditions, as they continue shedding disease.
Today, according to the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the China wildlife trade is valued at US$74 billion (that figure includes the fur industry which accounts for 74% of the total). These wild animal markets must close for good, acknowledging the truly dreadful social cost and enormous financial repercussions should another pandemic emerge, which dwarf the economic gains generated by the wildlife trade. We can no longer live in fear of being bullied by economic gain and a lust for the dollar that hijacks our health and undermines respect and compassion for life. We must support rather than sneer at those who promote compassion and animal welfare. It is our duty of care to our children and generations ahead to live harmoniously, responsibly, healthily and kindly with the creatures who share our earth.
Jill received an honorary doctorate in veterinary science from the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 2012, and an honorary law degree from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China in 2014.
This article is an edited version of the post that originally appeared on the Animals Asia’s website on April 15, 2020.

Promoting Well-Being: Human-Animal Interaction to Improve Mental and Physical Health and the Quality of Life

Promoting Well-Being: Human-Animal Interaction to Improve Mental and Physical Health and the Quality of Life
Republished April 15, 2020, originally published November 28, 2018
A recent article in the Guardian newspaper (UK) by Dr.Ranjana Srivastava comments on the importance of the human-animal connection for some of her patients. Dr.Srivastava conveys poignantly and concretely how pets influence our lives and can provide meaning and purpose. One of the cases illustrates the role of a pet to combat loneliness. That focus helps to illustrate a critical role that pets and contact with animals can play in health care. Loneliness goes well beyond the psychological pain that individuals experience. There are surprising physical health consequences that loneliness brings.
Individuals who are lonely are at increased risk for a compromised immune system, poor physical health, and an early death. The increased risk of dying early from being lonely is about as great as it is from smoking cigarettes. If pets or contact with animals were valuable in “just” overcoming loneliness that alone could have enormous health benefits for individuals, families, and society at large.
In the United States, millions of children, adolescents, and adults experience significant mental health problems. As with loneliness, many of these problems are also associated with physical health problems. Approximately 25% of the US population (82 million people) met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder within the past 12 months. This rises to approximately 50% of the population over the course of a lifetime.
Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary, South Africa
Lamentably, approximately 70% of individuals in need of services will not receive any form of treatment or health care for these problems. There are many forms of psychotherapy, many medications, and many professionals who can and do address mental health issues so what is problem?
In relation to psychological services, the way in which treatment usually is provided is a major reason that most people in need will not receive mental health services. Typically, psychological treatment is provided in a clinic or treatment setting by a highly trained mental health professional and in one-to-one individual sessions. Treatments provided in this way can be effective but cannot reach most people in need. We need additional ways of providing care that are not only effective but that also can be extended to more than the elite few who receive treatment for their mental health problems. The systematic use of human-animal interaction can provide a viable option and for some individuals may be an acceptable or even more acceptable form of care and support. There is a large set of interventions referred to as animal-assisted therapies that are directed to a range of mental and physical health problems. Although drawing on animals in systematic ways to improve health is not a panacea, we ought to explore all interventions, both formal and informal, that can make a difference in improving lives.
We begin with three key questions – namely, what can we provide to improve mental and physical health that is supported by scientific evidence, that is acceptable to the public, and that can be scaled up to reach many people in need. Many current psychological treatments have evidence that they make a difference. However, members of the public are often reticent to draw on them in light of barriers (e.g., stigma, cost) or because there is no readily accessible service nearby. No one treatment can address all obstacles, and that is yet another reason why we need multiple ways of providing care and reaching people in need. However, in drawing on the possible benefits of human-animal interaction, we need to provide scientific evidence to identify:
  • for what mental and physical problems can the human-animal interaction be effective;
  • for whom can the human-animal interaction be effective;
  • how do the treatments achieve change and how can we improve their effectiveness; and
  • how do companion animals (or even wild animals and the natural environment) improve life in general, whether or not there is a specific treatment goal or mental and physical problem that needs to be addressed.
Arguably, the importance of human-animal relationships and the quality of life to which those relationships contribute is an underemphasized focus in health care, perhaps now more than ever with many people living longer and managing chronic conditions that cannot be effectively treated. In the healthcare professions, we recognize that the absence of mental and physical symptoms and disease by itself does not give one’s life quality, purpose, or meaning. Relationships, however, add meaning to life and human-animal relationships are a central part of that. Dr. Srivastava’s comments make this point extremely well and with implications that we ought to be sensitive to this critical facet in patient care. I support her suggestions to consider the systematic use of human-animal relations more broadly so that we may add to the armamentarium of interventions that have been demonstrated to improve mental and physical health.

Spillover

Spillover. Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. 2012. W. W. Norton & Company, New York (nominated a notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review)
by David Quammen
Reviewed by Andrew Rowan
This book by science writer and journalist David Quammen about pandemic threats to humans arising from animal pathogens (zoonotic) was first published in 2012, eight years before the current coronavirus pandemic that appears to come from bats, possibly with a contribution from pangolins. Spending quite a bit of time these days reading books, I decided that it was time to read Spillover. I also have harbored a hope to someday meet David Quammen since we were both privileged to be able to spend time studying at Oxford. So, I bought a Kindle version of Spillover and started to read – all 522 pages of text plus an additional 68 pages of acknowledgments, notes, references, and index.
It is a gripping and sobering read. It is gripping because Quammen takes you seamlessly through many different human adventures with different zoonotic bugs (those that come from animals to infect humans) introducing all sorts of interesting characters along the way. He also introduces one to extra-ordinary treks through different landscapes that he has made, glossing over the heat, the pests, the suspect foods and the negotiations with many different bureaucrats so that his journey through Darkest Africa seemed little more dangerous than a stroll through Central Park in New York. I admired his sangfroid in the face of all the threats of his exotic trips (“don’t look up because you might get a mouthful or eyeful of bat urine” was one warning by a guide), but I also envied his ability to explain complex science in plain English and entertainingly!
The book is sobering because of the subject. Throughout the 522 pages, one comes across numerous references to the Next Big One (NBO) – namely, a new, emergent zoonotic bug that has the ability to pass easily from human to human, that does so before most victims feel ill, and that has the capacity to kill a significant proportion of those it infects. Today, a pathogen that infects half the human race and kills one percent of those it infects would end up killing 38 million people – almost as many as the estimated death toll from the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Covid19 appears to have this sort of potential.
Nonetheless, I ended the book feeling hopeful. Quammen interviews many scientists who are studying such emergent pathogens and who are providing insight and ideas about how humans might prevent or mitigate the NBO. In the case of Covid19, there are now over 70 new vaccine initiatives and at least three are undergoing trials in humans. This is a remarkable record for a new infectious agent that was unknown just a few months ago. Now we can just hope that our governments, both national and local, can act with sufficient speed and insight and that they will pay appropriate attention to those who know whereof they speak.

Companion Animals and Mental Health

Companion Animals and Mental Health
Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary, South Africa
As the world negotiates its interactions with and responses to an emergent coronavirus, it seems like an appropriate time for WBI to republish an article by Yale psychologist, Professor Alan Kazdin on the potential health benefits to humans of a relationship with a companion animal and to bring some positive news about human-animal interactions. During physical distancing, households are reaching out to foster dogs from shelters and have also apparently gone on a puppy-buying spree in the USA. These new pet households are apparently looking to enrich their now isolated conditions with companion animals. Therefore, WBI would like to draw attention to the positive aspects of human-animal connections. Professor Kazdin’s article, first published by WBI in 2018, responded to a story in the Guardian newspaper by Dr.Srivastava, a British oncologist, who noted how pets could boost the spirits of some of her patients but it is also very relevant to our current situation.
Promoting Well-Being: Human-Animal Interaction to Improve Mental and Physical Health and the Quality of Life
Republished April 15, 2020, originally published November 28, 2018
A recent article in the Guardian newspaper (UK) by Dr.Ranjana Srivastava comments on the importance of the human-animal connection for some of her patients. Dr.Srivastava conveys poignantly and concretely how pets influence our lives and can provide meaning and purpose. One of the cases illustrates the role of a pet to combat loneliness. That focus helps to illustrate a critical role that pets and contact with animals can play in health care. Loneliness goes well beyond the psychological pain that individuals experience. There are surprising physical health consequences that loneliness brings.
Individuals who are lonely are at increased risk for a compromised immune system, poor physical health, and an early death. The increased risk of dying early from being lonely is about as great as it is from smoking cigarettes. If pets or contact with animals were valuable in “just” overcoming loneliness that alone could have enormous health benefits for individuals, families, and society at large.
In the United States, millions of children, adolescents, and adults experience significant mental health problems. As with loneliness, many of these problems are also associated with physical health problems. Approximately 25% of the US population (82 million people) met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder within the past 12 months. This rises to approximately 50% of the population over the course of a lifetime.
Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary, South Africa
Lamentably, approximately 70% of individuals in need of services will not receive any form of treatment or health care for these problems. There are many forms of psychotherapy, many medications, and many professionals who can and do address mental health issues so what is problem?
In relation to psychological services, the way in which treatment usually is provided is a major reason that most people in need will not receive mental health services. Typically, psychological treatment is provided in a clinic or treatment setting by a highly trained mental health professional and in one-to-one individual sessions. Treatments provided in this way can be effective but cannot reach most people in need. We need additional ways of providing care that are not only effective but that also can be extended to more than the elite few who receive treatment for their mental health problems. The systematic use of human-animal interaction can provide a viable option and for some individuals may be an acceptable or even more acceptable form of care and support. There is a large set of interventions referred to as animal-assisted therapies that are directed to a range of mental and physical health problems. Although drawing on animals in systematic ways to improve health is not a panacea, we ought to explore all interventions, both formal and informal, that can make a difference in improving lives.
We begin with three key questions – namely, what can we provide to improve mental and physical health that is supported by scientific evidence, that is acceptable to the public, and that can be scaled up to reach many people in need. Many current psychological treatments have evidence that they make a difference. However, members of the public are often reticent to draw on them in light of barriers (e.g., stigma, cost) or because there is no readily accessible service nearby. No one treatment can address all obstacles, and that is yet another reason why we need multiple ways of providing care and reaching people in need. However, in drawing on the possible benefits of human-animal interaction, we need to provide scientific evidence to identify:
  • for what mental and physical problems can the human-animal interaction be effective;
  • for whom can the human-animal interaction be effective;
  • how do the treatments achieve change and how can we improve their effectiveness; and
  • how do companion animals (or even wild animals and the natural environment) improve life in general, whether or not there is a specific treatment goal or mental and physical problem that needs to be addressed.
Arguably, the importance of human-animal relationships and the quality of life to which those relationships contribute is an underemphasized focus in health care, perhaps now more than ever with many people living longer and managing chronic conditions that cannot be effectively treated. In the healthcare professions, we recognize that the absence of mental and physical symptoms and disease by itself does not give one’s life quality, purpose, or meaning. Relationships, however, add meaning to life and human-animal relationships are a central part of that. Dr. Srivastava’s comments make this point extremely well and with implications that we ought to be sensitive to this critical facet in patient care. I support her suggestions to consider the systematic use of human-animal relations more broadly so that we may add to the armamentarium of interventions that have been demonstrated to improve mental and physical health.