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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

2012 Humane Scholars

2011 Humane Scholars

Louisiana State University: Feral Cats – Understanding Large Colonies, Their Feeders and Impact on the Community

Humane Scholar:

Leslie Montanez-Pagan

Sponsor: ASPCA

Estimates for the number of feral cats in the U.S. vary greatly, with some researchers suggesting that the number of cats living outdoors approximates the number of cats living indoors with owners. Thus, many citizens have come to the aid of these animals by providing food and medical care. With support from American Humane Association, this Humane Scholar surveyed Baton Rouge residents who care for feral cat colonies, as well as community members from the surrounding area. Most caretakers/feeders were females between the age of 55 and 65 years of age, and had begun caring for feral cats after the age of 50. The cat feeders represented thirty colonies. The median distance traveled to a colony was six miles, with 20 percent of feeders caring for more than one feral cat colony. Seventeen immediate neighbors and/or businesses were also surveyed with 82 percent reporting no problems from a nearby colony. However, almost 30 percent indicated that they were bothered by what the feeders were doing even though only 11 percent had reported a negative experience with a colony feeder. This study is important as we learn how to best care for homeless cats, and also engage and educate community partners in the process.

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Western University of Health Sciences: Feasibility Study to Determine Viability of a Foster Program for Senior Citizens to Share Shelter Dogs

Humane Scholar:

Sue Mowatt, DVM Candidate

Sponsor: Banfield Charitable Trust

This Humane Scholar, with support from American Humane Association, conducted a feasibility study to determine if senior citizens might be interested in sharing the fostering of a shelter dog. The goals would be to benefit both the senior citizens (provide companionship, enhance social interactions via the dog, enhance social interactions with other foster caregivers) and the dog (receive a loving home outside of a shelter environment). Thirty-six senior citizens were interviewed at senior centers in three cities to determine the level of participation in such a program. Retiree surveys showed that 41 percent of the seniors were interested, or potentially interested, in such a program depending on details of the program. The Humane Scholar reviewed considerable literature so that she might describe suitable foster dogs for this population of caregivers, as well as describe the legal, financial and operational issues for such a program. Prior studies by American Humane Association have demonstrated reluctance by seniors to acquire a new pet, and hence future models of care—such as the one evaluated in this scholar’s work—should be considered as we strive to improve the lives for both seniors who love animals, and those animals needing such love.

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University of Pennsylvania: Cognitive Bias in Gestating Sows – A New Window on Sow Welfare?

Humane Scholar:

Megan E. Murray

DVM Candidate

Sponsor: ASPCA

Assessing an animal’s welfare can be difficult, as no one single measurement is universally accepted and optimal welfare can vary for a species, breed and individual animal. For sows and other animals, it is sometimes easier to determine negative states than positive affective states. Determining the more positive affective state is important when designing housing systems for pigs. With support from American Humane Association, this study trained 42 sows to determine their response to positive, negative and ambiguous cues (e.g., food in a bowl is positive, waving a red flag is negative). Only 18 of the 42 animals demonstrated sufficient achievement from training by the fourth day of the study to be included in a cognitive bias experiment. The cognitive bias experiment determined the latency time to reach the food bowl with and without cues. The results of the study suggested that socially dominant sows experienced a more positive affective state in loose housing than did animals with a lower social rank. These findings highlight the challenges in designing and implementing loose sow housing systems to meet the diverse needs of gestating sows with different social rankings.

University of Minnesota: Canine Brain Tumor Volumetrics – Comparison of Visual Metric and Planimetry Methods

Humane Scholar:

Chris Thomson

Sponsor: Sarah Sweatt

In humans, there are approximately 200,000 brain tumors diagnosed in North America each year, and brain tumors occur even more frequently in dogs than in humans. Brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children and high-grade glioma tumors are one of the most prevalent brain tumors in dogs. The goal of this study, supported by American Humane Association, was to create an accurate and reproducible protocol for measuring tumor volume based off of MRI data. The Humane Scholar recognized that the computer software needed to be easy to use, widely available to veterinarians, and be low cost. The study consisted of 22 brain MRI studies of client-owned dogs, with a diagnosis of high-grade glioma. A total of 528 volume calculations were made by two evaluators, using two methods for obtaining volumetrics. In eight of the nine comparisons, the planimetry tracing method had a greater reliability than the visual metric method. By continuing to find more reliable methods to measure brain tumors, oncologists will have better tools for determining prognosis and monitoring treatment.

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Royal Veterinary College: Circulating Levels of Platelets and Erythrocyte-derived Microparticles in Healthy Cats and Cats with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and Arterial Thromboembolism

Humane Scholar:

Emily Ulfelder

Sponsor: Frank & Susan Mars

Feline arterial thromboembolism (blood clots) is one of the most serious and difficult-to-manage complications in feline heart disease. Cats with this complication often present to the veterinarian with paresis and/or paralysis of the hind limbs. Because prognosis can be poor, owners often are faced with the difficult decision to attempt treatment that might not work or to euthanize their cat. The experience can be very stressful to the owners as affected cats experience considerable anxiety and pain from the clots. With support from American Humane Association, this Humane Scholar investigated precursors to blood clots in cats, hoping to better understand the disease process. Such an understanding might lead to strategies to monitor and prevent feline arterial thromboembolism. The scholar assessed the number of platelet (PMPs) and erythrocyte-derived microparticles (EMPs) in healthy cats and in cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She found that changes in left atrial diameter, dynamic left ventricular outflow tract obstruction, and recent atrial thromboembolic events significantly affected the levels of PMPs and EMPs.

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About American Humane Association

American Humane Association is the country’s first national humane organization and the only charity dedicated to protecting children and animals. Since 1877 the organization has been at the forefront of virtually every major advance in protecting our most vulnerable, including children, pets and farm animals. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding the human-animal bond and its role in therapy, medicine and society. American Humane Association reaches millions of people every day through groundbreaking research, education, training and services that span a wide network of organizations, agencies and businesses.

The mission of American Humane Association is to ensure the welfare, wellness and well-being of children and animals, and to unleash the full potential of the bond between humans and animals to the mutual benefit of both.  Our goal is to measurably, demonstrably and significantly increase the number of children and animals who are protected from harm—and the number of humans and animals whose lives are enriched—through direct action, thought leadership, policy innovation, and expansion of proven, effective programs. 

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