As a neurologist, I’ve long held that empathy for and connection with animals is an important part of our social development. But can being with animals actually improve our well-being?
In the 1970’s researcher Erika Friedmann and her colleagues made a startling discovery. They followed 92 patients who were discharged from a Coronary Care Unit after having a heart attack or chest pain from heart disease. Their question was how does social support affect the patients’ survival at one year after discharge? The researchers found that while only 72 percent of patients without companion animals were still alive at the end of the year, 94 percent of those with animals survived.
Independent of all other factors that were studied, the presence of companion animals significantly improved survival after a cardiac event. Even social support from humans didn’t have the large effect that animals did. This was a major finding.
Zika virus, Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus, Nipah virus, Hendra virus, bird flu, swine flu — these viruses have all grabbed international attention in recent years. In the past few decades the world has witnessed an alarming surge in emerging infectious diseases (EIDs). Since 1980, new pathogens have emerged in the human population at a rate of about three each year.
When I read the news yesterday that an analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that red and processed meats increase the risk of cancer, my first thought was: The medical community has known this for some time.
There’s an infection called Hand-foot-and-mouth disease, which is common among young children and is caused by a virus. Lately, there seems to be another illness, Foot-in-mouth disease, that’s been going viral, at least socially. The main difference between these diseases is that the latter seems to affect mostly adults, and more specifically, adult male scientists.
The most recent victim of this Foot-in-mouth disease is Tim Hunt, a 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, for his comment about women in the lab.
I’ve written previously about the fact that because of the lobbying efforts of the animal experimentation industry, at least 95 percent of all animals in U.S. laboratories — mainly mice and rats — are not considered “animals” under federal law. These animals are excluded from the minimal protections of the law, and are not even counted in federal reports. Policymakers, scientists and the public really have no idea how many animals there actually are in laboratories. Thus, discussions about the extent of this massive scientific and ethical problem — and what needs to be done about it — have been limited by this lack of data.
However, an important new study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics fills this void by reporting data on the use of all animals — mice and rats included — at some of the most prestigious facilities in the country. The results are alarming, and have received widespread media coverage, ranging from Buzzfeed to Yahoo Health to NBC News.
Fact: The CIA’s torture program was directly inspired by animal experiments.
In the 1960s, dogs were subjected to random electric shocks from which they could not escape. Eventually the dogs gave up trying to avoid the painful shocks, not even escaping when a path to escape was finally presented to them.
From the New York Times:
The dogs wouldn’t jump. All they had to do to avoid electric shocks was leap over a small barrier, but there they sat in boxes in a lab… passive and whining.
As we now know, these “learned helplessness” experiments on dogs and other animals became the foundation for brutal CIA torture techniques, such as waterboarding.
What concerns me most as a medical doctor is the fact that two psychologists hired by the CIA, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, directed these human torture experiments. The psychologists were curious about whether the theories of animal “learned helplessness” might work on humans.
Here’s my list of five headline-grabbing stories in 2014 that show just how connected human health and animal protection are:
1. Chris Christie Sells Out Humans and Animals
After reports of his bridge scandal, the New Jersey Governor’s 2016 presidential ambitions took a nosedive. That’s why many see his recent veto of a bill that would have banned gestation crates as an attempt to win back influential voters. Pork industry groups — especially the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council — opposed the bill. Christie’s veto was made as a concession to Iowa’s primary voters. But Christie sold out both animals and humans for campaign favors.
Pamela Anderson has made a media splash by refusing to take part in the ice bucket challenge in support of the ALS Association because of its history of funding animal experiments that she describes as being cruel and fruitless.
Her stance has sparked widespread discussion. The question for us to consider is does Ms. Anderson have a point?
With the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded raging across West Africa and as two Americans who were infected in Liberia have entered the U.S. for treatment, the question has been raised: will Ebola happen in the U.S?
Actually, an Ebola outbreak has happened in the U.S. before — not just once, but at least three times.