Wednesday, 22 July 2009

What does rescuing a dog from a sewage pond have to do with our health?

The Calgary Herald recently published a 'feel-good' story about a man who lost but ultimately became reunited with his two dogs -- both of whom have three legs -- against the backdrop of our world-famous Stampede.

One of the dogs ended up in a holding tank for sewage:

"In what a Calgary Fire Department official later called an 'unprecedented' operation, its aquatic rescue specialists, working with the hazardous materials team, executed a successful rescue of Harley from the smelly mess--a rescue that surely saved Harley's life."

As Bonnie Buntain and I have highlighted, such efforts may be important for human health, as well.

Part of the story here is how this particular incident, amplified through mass media, has served to convey a sense that Calgary is a good place to live. Such feelings correspond with health outcomes, independent of what individuals do (diet, exercise, etc.), extensive research has found.

In that light, veterinary practice with companion animals as well as animal-related municipal services may be more important than we yet realize for the health of human populations.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Taking pets aboard flights

Until recently, Air Canada would not allow pets on board its flights, but recently changed this policy. Canada's other major airline, WestJet, already allows some pets on board. Public health journalist Andre Picard criticized these policies in his Globe & Mail column, spurring spirited debate among readers -- 161 at the time of writing. Passionate replies have been posted from both sides of the issue.

This debate highlights the importance -- and the difficulty -- of stemming conflicts related to the presence of pets. In addition to positive (e.g., animal-human bonds) and negative (e.g., allergies) effects of pets on the health of particular individuals, there is a body of research suggesting that such conflicts may have an impact on public health more generally. Ann Toohey, who will begin a MSc in Population and Public Health in September, is currently taking the lead in reviewing this literature.