Cultural differences evident in attitudes to welfare issues - Veterinary Practice
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Cultural differences evident in attitudes to welfare issues

DICK LANE reports on some of the papers presented at this year’s AIHAIO conference in Stockholm

PEOPLE for Animals for Life was the
theme for the International
Association of Human-Animal
Interaction Organisations (AIHAIO)
Conference in Stockholm in July.

Based at the modern conference
facility in the city, there was little
reference to aggressive Scandinavian
invaders who once conquered much of
northern Europe.

Travelling from York,
a city much affected by
Viking raids and later
settlement, the north of
England again suffered
after the Norman
Conquest with the
“Harrowing of the
North”. Vikings who
first settled in France
were responsible for
the Norman invasion
of England in 1066
that led to most drastic
changes to the British
Isles – even greater
than with the Roman
occupation 1,000 years

At the main social event of the
four-day AIHAIO meeting, a battleship
towered over the dining area. The
warring King of Sweden in 1628
insisted on his very recently-built
warship sailing to Poland but it sank
within one mile of its starting point
after firing a farewell salvo of guns in

The Vasa ship museum was used as
the setting for the gala dinner. The
enormous hull of this well-preserved
wooden warship, raised from the sea for
preservation, was a fine setting as the
conference diners consumed their meal
of seafood followed by “spring

The Swedish meal the next evening
of Biff Rydberg was more to my liking
with an almost raw egg yolk beside a
very tender beef steak and chopped
Swede as the vegetable.

The conference programme, with
often four simultaneous sessions,
covered a wide range of topics.
Aggressive behaviour by humans did
not feature except in the use of AAA (Animal Assisted
Activity) in a report by
Arnold Arluke on anti-
violence programmes
for adolescents in the

In the opening
address, Dennis
Turner discussed
varying attitudes
towards animals and
animal welfare, making
comparisons: the
elimination of rabies
and the Queen of
Jordan’s interest in
canine welfare had led to a changing attitude to
dogs in many Muslim communities, he said.
During the next parallel session, Swedish researcher Linda Handli
reported on the association of cortisol
and oxytocin levels on the relationship
between dog owners and their dogs. Her
study, funded by the Swedish Research
Council, was based on 10 middle-aged
ladies with their Labradors who were
observed over one hour after each
spending three minutes stroking their

Over the hour, 10 serial blood
samples were taken to measure oxytocin
and cortisol levels; the dogs also had
blood samples taken in the period.

Oxytocin was found
to have a close relationship with the
formation of bonding
and attachment as well
as its stress-reducing
effect. Dogs that were
kissed every day by their
owners had higher
oxytocin levels as did
their owners.

A questioner
suggested that in the
age group of ladies
studied there may well
have been “empty
nesters” and the results
could not be extended to all other dog owners. More research
was called for but oxytocin was
repeatedly linked with dog attachment
and social support in subsequent papers


At the next day’s plenary session,
physiologist Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg
spoke further on the role of oxytocin
based on her work in Stockholm. In her
human patients, oxytocin was important
in the stimulation of social interactions
by reducing anxiety and increasing trust
in others.

Oxytocin, when used as a nasal
spray, had the effect on her patients of
better recognition, especially of social
cues, increased trust and a well-being
effect. Oxytocin reduces the activity in
the HPA axis leading to lowered cortisol
levels whilst dopamine and serotonin
are antagonistic to increased oxytocin

Oxytocin secretion is well known to
be associated with stimulation of the
urino-genital tract and of course in
breast feeding. Oxytocin secretion is
also activated by skin contact, especially
with the sensory nerves in body areas
associated with the recently born.

Conscious rats stroked on the front
of their bodies showed a rise in
oxytocin; when cortisol was measured in
sleeping rats, the cortisol levels went up
after a “pinch”, but stroking the rat with
a toothbrush reduced the cortisol levels.
Babies pushing on the mother’s breast
skin produced similar effects with
oxytocin released.

Tactile skin contacts are important.
The suggestion was made that as
massage of the shoulders was now used
to reduce aggression in special needs
schools, oxytocin nasal sprays might also
have a beneficial effect.

With primates, the face-to-face body
hug is instrumental in the bonding of
relationships and similar responses from
oxytocin release are considered
important in developing affectionate

In another presentation, Manuela
Wedl from the University of Vienna
said that dogs’ attachment to their
owners was strongly affected by the
personality of the owner and the dog,
the owner’s gender and the quality of
the attachment.

Saliva was collected from owners
and dogs to measure testosterone and cortisol levels. In the owners’ personality
tests, recognising “neuroticism” was
closely related to the dog-regulated
distance: the more the owner considered
the dog as a “social support” and an
understanding partner, the more often
the dog came to the owner who was
kept distracted from the dog during the

The distance away from the owner
was increased when the dog personality
axis “vocal and aggressive” was
negatively related to this parameter. The
dog’s attachment to its owner was
strongly affected by personality and by
owner attachment

Dogs with autistic children

It was said that there is an increasing
recognition of “autistic spectrum
disorders” (ASD) in children, a
condition known to have an inherited
factor but also with a strong early
environment component in its
development. Defined as a neurological
disorder that interferes with the normal
development of the child, ASD could
well be linked with early failure of
bonding with adults and siblings.

Such children were described by
Enders-Siegers at Utrecht as

  1. lacking
    verbal and non-verbal communicative
  2. lacking imagination and not
    understanding humour very well, and
  3. may display hyperactivity, running
    away or “bolting” unexpectedly.

Unfortunately, Enders-Siegers in her
paper referred to “guide dogs for ASD
children” and this title caused confusion
amongst many in the audience relying
on translations from English.

The use of assistance dogs to help
with ASD children is now well
established in the UK by the charity
Dogs for the Disabled and there too it is the subject of research. The research
reported in the Netherlands was based
on the earlier successful projects in
Canada and Ireland where dogs
unsuited to work for blind persons as
guides were retrained as dogs to help
young children.

She used 11 Labradors aged one-
and-a-half years placed with families
that had an autistic child: the families
kept diaries for the 12- month period of

One dog had to be immediately
withdrawn as the child “could not stand
the smell” of the dog. In the other 10 dogs placed with children, three girls
and nine boys aged between 4 and 7,
nine of the dog placements were
considered a success.

One boy became very aggressive
and the dog was withdrawn on welfare
grounds but the other combinations all
showed positive results. The mobility of
the children increased, social behaviour
too improved with the children showing
more interest in their environment and
the parents reported development of
speech and in eye contacts.

It was reported that there was
increased relaxation in these Dutch
families: one mother said “we are a
normal family again” and siblings were
especially appreciative of the assistance
dog that came to live in their home. The
close contact with the dog at the same
eye level as the child, the child’s hands
frequently touching the dog’s hair and
the dog acting as a social facilitator with
other people, were all considered factors
in the improvements observed.

More research is called for. A
questioner from Japan said he had met
difficulties with such dog placements
whilst in the USA a court case where a
school had refused to allow an
assistance dog to enter with its child
handler was another problem presented.

Cultural differences and attitudes
can be a problem: in Holland one
mother did not like to be seen in public with her child and the assistance dog as this she felt labelled her unfairly.

Japanese research

A large attendance from Japan followed
the success of the last AIHAIO
conference held in Tokyo three years
ago. Research had been conducted
among 130 veterinary students 18 to 20
years old, by Izawa and co-workers in
Japan, on how a dog’s appearance and
its actions influenced people’s attitude to

There, the various breeds of dog
and characteristics were important but
after making contact with the student,
the dog’s hair type and the feel of the
hair was as important as was the dog’s
overall appearance. Negative effects
were found when “the dog only
watched the person”, or it did not come
near, or if it was nervous or “did not
seem to enjoy being touched”.

Again, cultural differences were
evident and I am sure UK veterinary
students would have reacted very
differently but they might not have
recognised the most favoured Siba
amongst the breeds used in the

In another Japanese study, by Sugita
et al, attitudes to euthanasia of dogs
were surveyed amongst 3,000 veterinary
hospitals; of the 932 who replied, the
veterinarians disapproved of euthanasia except when “no hope for animal to
recover” and “the owner demands
euthanasia” was the reason.

Decisions were based on Japanese
values that “being alive” was considered
more important than the quality of life
and the vets would prefer not to be the
ones who put the animal to death. This
finding was similar to the survey of dog
euthanasia in Italy reported in the
UFAW conference held in England in
June (see the September issue of
Veterinary Practice).

Assistance dogs in Sweden

The AIHAIO conference was
supported by the Swedish Kennel Club
which has issued special breed-specific
instructions regarding “exaggeration in
pedigree dogs”: 47 out of approximately
300 breeds have been listed with a view
to improving their health.

Close to 60,000 puppies are registered each year by the club and as
animal insurance is almost a
requirement in Sweden with 78%
penetration, records of illness and
behaviour problems are quite extensive
and available for research. Between 1995
and 2006, Agria insured approximately
200,000 dogs, 100,000 horses and up to
200,000 cats.

Data on longevity and chronic
disorders are more readily available than
in the UK where there is less
penetration of insurance in the pet
ownership market, said Agria’s Simon
Wheeler in his talk.

Breed health is of particular
relevance to The Swedish Service and
Hearing Dog Association which has
over 100 self-trained dogs at work;
owners can choose whatever breed they
wish and trainers visit the homes during
the training processx from early

Advice is given on choosing and
acquiring a breed with the least health
problems and the system of training the
disabled person’s own dog is unique in
Europe. Judged by the dogs present in
the conference centre, it seemed a
successful scheme; service dogs
including trained “alert dogs” for
epilepsy and for diabetes were present
and a start is about to be made on
providing dogs for ASD and ADHD

At present there is government
payment for all assistance dogs with a
€3,000-5000 cost to cover the education
of the dog, the help of the trainer
taking between one to one-and-a-half
years. If the dog is not up to standard
with its tests at the end of the first year,
then the disabled person has to buy a
replacement dog to train, which is not
easy for someone managing an
adolescent puppy from a wheelchair.

In a small organisation with only
100 dogs, there may be advantages in
this personal approach to providing an
assistance dog, but with a new project
for 50 to 60 dogs to be trained in the
next few years using local tax money,
new problems may arise.

There was a feeling that the welfare
of the dogs could suffer if the system
were more widely applied and close
monitoring of the dogs would be

Welfare issues

Several conferences attended this
summer showed how wide the issues of
welfare are now spread. Reports in
Sweden included horses used in human
equine-assisted therapy, guinea pigs used
for autistic children in schools and of
dairy cows. Reports come regularly from
the Green Chimneys Farm in the USA
that uses chickens, goats and rabbits to
improve adolescents’ social behaviour.

Farm animal welfare in large
production units concerns the public
but in Stockholm Christina Kolstrup
asked if the health of dairy cows was
associated with the health of their
caretakers – after surveying 61 dairy
herds. Researchers found that healthy
cows required caretaker devotion and

The workload involved with too
many dairy cows may result in poor
health on owner/managers and
employees, as herd size increase in
numbers. There were very few mental
health problems in the stockmen
whereas physical health disturbances
were more frequently reported.

Though the caretakers seemed to be
content with their psychosocial work
environment, the study indicated that
good animal health may be associated
with poor stockmen health. A possible
explanation was that healthy cows
require caretaker devotion and diligence
which can increase workload.

A cow housed all the year round
with little or no access to grazing can
have a satisfactory standard of welfare,
according to a recent report from the
Farm Animal welfare Council in the
UK, but due regard should be paid to
the workers’ welfare based on the
AIHAIO People and Animals for Life
conference proceedings.

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