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Innovative Research for the Animals in Our Lives

Through the Humane Scholars Program, selected veterinary students develop and disseminate solutions-driven science that has a direct impact on the health and welfare of companion animals. Students participate in 8-12-week scientific research projects and are matched with leading academic and scientific faculty mentors who will oversee their research, providing a unique opportunity to contribute to scientific research benefiting animals.

The 2013 Humane Scholars

The 2012 Humane Scholars

The 2011 Humane Scholars

Cornell University: Surveillance for Anthrax in Water Buffalo Sympatric with the Javan Rhinoceros in Indonesia

Humane Scholar:
Chelsea Anderson

Faculty Mentor:
Robin W. Radcliffe, DVM, DACZM; Julia Felippe, DVM, PhD; Kurnia Oktavia Khairani, DVM

The Javan rhinoceros is the most critically endangered of the five rhinoceros species, with 27 to 44 individuals remaining in the world, with the sole remaining population residing in Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia. The surviving animals are at-risk for anthrax - a highly lethal disease - with anthrax organisms existing in some soils. The disease can affect cattle, water buffalo and humans. With the support of American Humane Association, this study was designed to assess anthrax in the buffer villages surrounding Ujung Kulon National Park.

Twenty-three soil specimens were collected from water buffalo terminals in each village, and when possible specifically from areas with a history of sudden water buffalo death. In order to safely translocate Javan rhinoceroses in the future, it is imperative to know the diseases that are common in the water buffalo populations that will ultimately share common habitat and to understand safer soils for translocation. The student worked closely with Indonesian veterinarians, local governments and villagers.


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University of Pennsylvania: Assessment of Swine Personalities in Gestation Pens

Humane Scholar:
Alyssa Blaustein

Faculty Mentor:
Thomas Parsons, VMD, PhD

Cultural pressures on the swine industry are causing a switch from individual sow stalls to group housing during gestation. The current genetic line of sows has been selected over the past several decades for success in stalls. To ensure optimal animal welfare for sows as they transition to group housing systems, with the support of American Humane Association, the study examined 47 sows at approximately week two of gestation. Behavioral data was compared to reproductive parameters (litter weight, number of live born piglets, and number of piglet deaths of various causes) from the sows’ most recent farrowing. Sows who were easier to transport were also more receptive to human proximity and contact. The student measured exploratory behaviors of the sows by introducing a blue rubber exercise ball. The results of this study will help guide future work as animal welfare is optimized in new group housing models.


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Western University: Prevalence of and Predisposing Factors to Distal Phalanx Fractures in Foals

Humane Scholar:
Michelle L. Crupi

Faculty Mentor:
Babak Faramarzi, DVM, MSc, CVA, PhD

The occurrence of distal phalanx (P3) fractures in foals is much more prevalent than previously thought. Such fractures are thought to lead to subsequent complications as a horse ages. Hoof shape and forelimb conformation may be predisposing factors to these injuries. This study assessed the occurrence and prevalence of lower forelimb fractures in 19 foals in Southern California. None of the owners reported a history of lameness for any of the animals. Even though lameness was not reported, preliminary data revealed that throughout a one year period, lower forelimb fractures were observed in approximately 63.15% of x-rayed foals. Analysis of data is ongoing and further review of the x-rays will reveal even more exciting results, such as the amount of time it took on average for these fractures to heal.


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Mississippi State University: Development of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) Database

Humane Scholar:
Jenna Dale

Faculty Mentor:
Dr. Cody Coyne

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a highly fatal disease in cats that has no known cure. Diagnostic tests can predict if a cat has been exposed to coronavirus, but not if the cat has been exposed to the specific viral strain causing the deadly disease. With the support of American Humane Association, the student designed a survey-based database to track nationwide incidences of FIP, hoping to better understand the risk factors for acquiring the infection and why some cats are susceptible and others are resistant. A 15-question survey was emailed to 500 veterinary clinics and organizations across the U.S. and data are now being analyzed to determine percentage of domestic cats with disease who were previously vaccinated for FIP, outdoor vs. indoor cats acquiring disease, age at time of disease onset, regional difference, seasonal trends, etc. A comprehensive database that might provide clues for future research is greatly needed.


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University of California Davis: Effects of Music at a Vet Hospital on Behavior of Pets and Owner Satisfaction

Humane Scholar:
Whitney Joy Engler

Faculty Mentor:
Melissa Bain, DVM, DACVB

Since veterinary care is important for animal health, and also reported to be important for pet retention, compliance for regular care is important. To that end, pet owners may be more compliant with future veterinary visits if prior visits were positively perceived. With the support of American Humane Association, this study evaluated the effect of classical music in reducing anxiety on owners, and on the health care team and on the pets (dogs and cats). Results of the study showed no differences based on the type of classical music. Clients were more satisfied with music versus without music and clinicians stated they also enjoyed the music. Pets exposed to music, compared to controls, showed a trend toward lower client-reported anxiety ratings and lower clinician-reported aggression levels. It was important to select proper music, with some clients commenting that “Mozart’s Funeral March” spurred negative thoughts regarding an experience. Interestingly, owners perceived more anxiety in their pets than did clinicians.


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Washington State University: Back Arch Posture in Dairy Cows - An Indicator of Early Signs of Lameness?

Humane Scholar:
Carlie Gordon

Faculty Mentor:
Dale Moore

More than 90 percent of the common causes of lameness in cows are treatable, especially if early diagnosis can be made. With the support of American Humane Association, this study evaluated practical methods for identifying lameness in cows – something needed by the industry as it strives to meet welfare auditing standards. To determine which cows were in the lame or non-lame group, cows were given locomotion scores by one trained visual observer as they exited the milking parlor and where later observed in lockup as the barn crew cleaned their pens. Pictures and videos of lame and non-lame cows were collected and analyzed for “deviation from flat back” where 180° corresponded to a perfectly flat back. One important finding was that the average proportion of time cows displayed an arched back was significantly higher for lame cows when back arch was observed at multiple times within one hour. An application of this finding could be used by veterinarians during regular herd visit checks to better detect lameness within herds. More research is needed to make this observational method effective.


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Western University: Animal Shelter Policy, Procedure, and Understanding of Ringworm in Cats

Humane Scholar:
C. Elaine Jordan

Faculty Mentor:
Jose Peralta, DVM, MSc, PhD

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians was surveyed in the past few years and reported ringworm to be one of the top health concerns for cats in their facilities. Due to its high contagiousness and zoonotic potential, a ringworm infection could greatly hinder a cat’s chance at adoption. With the support of American Humane Association, this study revealed that while shelter veterinarians are very concerned about ringworm, volunteers and staff are less concerned – perhaps resulting from lack of training and training materials. The results are immediately applicable to shelters and positioned to save the lives of many cats. Cats should be screened for ringworm on entrance to the shelter, volunteers and staff should be trained on how to prevent and treat ringworm, policies and procedures for infectious diseases need to be developed and followed, and manuals need to be accessible, read and used.


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Oklahoma State University: Surveying Parasites in a Population of Chimpanzees in Zambia

Humane Scholar:
Jennifer Ladd

Faculty Mentor:
Dr. Mason Reichard

Sanctuaries in Africa are often very important for the animals and for the people who care for them. With the support of American Humane Association, this study was conducted with a goal to address parasitic diseases that could affect both animals and people. Ten different species of parasites were identified within chimpanzees at Chimfunshi, from nematodes to protozoa. All species within the samples were potential zoonotic parasites, implying the possibility of transfer from the chimpanzees to the workers and their families. One particular parasite that was identified, Entamoeba histolytica, ranks second in the world as cause of morbidity from parasites, causing dysentery and colitis. Because the sanctuary lacks year-round running water, the student addressed basic parasitic control. Although anthelmintic medical therapy would be ideal, decreasing the interaction with fecal materials remains a challenge due to access to water and medical equipment (gloves and disinfecting agents). Hopefully, this study will allow for the development of practical methods to keep both the chimpanzees and their caretaker families healthy.


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Iowa State University: Addressing the Housing Needs of Animals with a History of Cruelty or Neglect 

Humane Scholar:
Lauren Larsen

Faculty Mentor:
Suzanne Millman, BSc, PhD

Animals that are seized for cruelty or neglect may face prolonged stays at shelters while investigations are ongoing. With the support of American Humane Association, this study assessed the behavior and welfare of animals housed in animal shelters or animal control facilities as a result of cruelty or neglect. Data were collected from a local shelter with a large annual intake (over 20,000 dogs and cats per year). The shelter’s classifications in the cruelty and neglect category include abandonment, severe emaciation, abuse or torture, or lack of food, water or shelter. Cats were housed from 1 to 105 days. Dogs were housed from 1 to 57 days. Over 40% of the animals sheltered for cruelty or neglect were subsequently euthanized. Further study to identify the needs of this unique subpopulation of animals is warranted to identify appropriate interventions and management guidelines to enhance their health and welfare at the facility, which could in turn improve adoptability and overall outcome.


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Purdue University: Comparison of SAFER® Aggression Assessment Results in Shelter Dogs

Humane Scholar:
Maggie Placer

Faculty Mentor:
Dr. Annette Litster

Many animals are relinquished to shelters for behavioral issues; thus, it is important that behavior is addressed so future matches between pets and adopters have the best chance for success. With the support of American Humane Association, the student attempted to determine the best time for assessing behavior in shelter dogs. Thirty-three dogs received an ASPCA SAFER® Aggression Assessment on shelter intake and again following a 3-day acclimation period. Fifty individual tests showed a change in the level of aggression at the 3-day evaluation. Thirty-one test results showed a lower score (lower demonstration of aggression), while 26 test results yielded the opposite result. Additionally, one month after adoption, owners of dogs that had been enrolled in the study were contacted and asked to complete a validated questionnaire, so that the dog’s behavior in a home setting could be compared with SAFER® test results obtained in the shelter. Analyses of these data are ongoing. Knowing when to assess can enable shelters to manage their resources more efficiently and effectively, and is essential to protect shelter staff and adoptive families.


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Colorado State University: The Effect of Bouvardin as a Single Agent on Tumor Cells

Humane Scholar:
Abbey Sadowski

Faculty Mentor:
Douglas H. Thamm, VMD

Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of two years. Drug therapies are constantly evolving to target various aspects of cancer cell proliferation. Bouvardin, a protein synthesis inhibitor, has recently been identified as an agent that when combined with radiation therapy or chemotherapy, can decrease the survival of cancer cells. With the support of American Humane Association, this project studied inhibited canine tumor cells (in-vitro study) in a dose-dependent manner. There was a varying response to the drug depending on the type of cancer cells. Notably, Bouvardin had the greatest effect on melanoma and hematopoietic-line cancer cells. These results highlight the future potential for Bouvardin to be used as a single chemotherapeutic drug or in combination with other known therapies. This study’s findings offer hope for many dogs suffering with certain types of cancer.


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