Friday, November 30, 2012

Ethics for Magical People: Feral and Stray Animals (2 of 2)

ACA suggest for the control of feral cats in a particular area to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) them. Besides preventing further breeding, neutering also deters cat fights, territory marking, and yowling. Returning the cats prevents the vacuum effect from happening. In addition, ACA suggest that each colony have a “minder” to provide veterinarian care and to remove any new cats for further evaluation. The minder keeps the cats from getting sick and spreading their illnesses to humans.

One thing that the HSUS cautions against is to ban the feeding of feral cats by people. Feeding bans have been used by communities to either drive the cats out or starve them to death. However, the hungry cats will move even closer to human homes to raid their garbage cans. Often malnourished, these cats, infested with parasites, pass them onto unsuspecting people. Also, dead cats provide havens for disease transmittal.

I saw the success of ACA’s work with the feral colony living near the dumpster behind my doctor’s office. Their minder neutered the cats, fed, and housed them on site. She would check for new cats, which usually turned out to be strays. After five years, the colony died out naturally, and remains cat-free.

For feral dogs, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) urges that the dogs be sterilized and vaccinated. This will keep them healthy, less aggressive, and not prone to attacking people. The IFAW advises against a “shoot-and-kill” policy which does little to decrease the number of dogs. The object is to prevent the breeding of more animals, and the entry of new dogs. One solution to animal overpopulation is to spay and neuter feral animals, and keep them in their home territories.

Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” and Randy Grimm of Stray Rescue of St. Louis (MO) agree that feral dogs should be rehabilitated. As pack animals, feral dogs can be encouraged to join the human pack. One of my neighbors works with abandoned dogs and trains them. Two of the feral dogs that she rehabilitated became therapy dogs for autistic children. My other neighbor has a pit bull, which was rehabilitated, as a pet. (This particular dog was used as a breeder for a dog fighting ring, and later abandoned as a bait dog.) In these three cases, once the dog became habituated to humans, the animal made an excellent pet.

Giant snakes and lizards can only be kept by herpetological societies since they are so dangerous. Kaplan believes that stricter licensing combined with higher pricing will deter people from buying reptiles that they will not care for. Since many of these reptiles are wild captures, they cannot be returned to the wild because of exposure to captive-bred animals. In response, many herpetological societies do extensive educational programs with these animals at schools to raise awareness and money for the care of abandoned reptiles.

“Shoot to kill,” removal, and euthanasia does not work to solve animal overpopulation. Measures that address both the vacuum effect and overbreeding at the source do better. Grimm stressed that it is a problem without an owner, which keeps it from being resolved. Millan noted only when packs of feral dogs start to roam in more upscale neighborhoods, will the problem be addressed.

To curb the numbers of unwanted animals, people must to be willing to pay taxes for better animal control. Andrei Poyarkov, a Russian specialist on feral dogs, also emphasizes that efficient garbage collection is needed, as well, to deter feeding places for feral animals. Through the media, people can be persuaded to get their pets from shelters, and to spay and neuter them. Through a network of increased animal control, education, spaying and neutering, and TNR will the numbers subside.  Until people address the problem, the nightmare that now happening in Russia will occur elsewhere.

Organizations Consulted.
Alley Cat Allies, 2012,

American Humane Association, 2012,

Baltimore (MD) Humane Society, 2012,

The Humane Society of the United States, 2012,

International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2012,

National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, 2009,

Stray Rescue of St. Louis (MO), 2012,, .

Works Used.
Alexandrova, Lyudmila, “Moscow’s Dog Owners Say No to Dog Hunters,” 29 October 2012, Itar-Tass News Agency,

Doig, Will, “The Secret Lives of Feral Dogs,”, 14, January, 2012,

Eremenko, Alexey, “Russian Doghunters Have No Nightmares,” RIA Novosti, 28 August 2012,

Jouvenal, Justin, “Fight over Ferals Boils Down to One Question: Do Alley Cats Live a Good Life?,” “The Washington Post,” 24, May, 2011,

Kaplan, Melissa, “Herp Care Collection,” 2012,

NYC Feral Cat Initiative,” Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, 2012,

Mott, Marilyn, “U.S. Facing Feral-Dog Crisis,” National Geographic News, 21 August, 2003,

Helping Pets and People in Crisis,” Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, 2012,

Wilkes, Joe, “Stray Dog Epidemic Hits U.S.”, Cesar’s Way, 22 February 2012,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ethics for Magical People: Feral and Stray Animals (1 of 2)

For several months now, newspapers in Moscow have decried “dog vigilantism.” Since Russia does not regulate pet ownership, many citizens simply let their dogs roam freely, adding to the stray dog population. From 1990, the population of feral dogs has grown until there are about a million homeless dogs. Roaming the streets in packs, these dogs have attacked tourists and children. The rise, in both the number and severity, of recent attacks has encouraged “dog hunters” to kill thousands of stray dogs, throughout the nation.

In reaction to the “dog hunters,” dog owners and their supporters took to the streets of Moscow. The dog owners demanded that the killers of their pets be found and punished. According to various Russian newspapers, “a wave of violence and anarchy” will continue unless current animal control laws are enforced. Until then, “a small-scale civil war” has broken out between the pet owners and dog hunters. In retaliation, the owners have meted out their own version of justice on the dog hunters.

Besides creating a climate of vigilantism, the killing of stray pets does not solve the problem of overpopulation of feral animals. In zoology, the “vacuum effect” governs what happens when a territory is deliberately depleted of selected animals. When the wolves were decimated in the eastern United States, the coyotes of the West moved into the former territories of the eastern wolves. In the case of feral cats, when a colony is removed either by trapping or killing, new feral cats will move in. They take advantage of the food and shelter that is now readily available.

Overpopulation of feral and stray pets is not restricted to only cats and dogs. In southern Florida, feral pythons, which are non-native, are decimating the native animals. (Pythons can breed eighty babies at a time.) Animal shelters and herpetological societies are so inundated with the cast-offs of large boas and monitor lizards that they cannot to take in any more. The ones that are abandoned with these groups are usually too ill to survive. Because they require extensive, experienced, and expensive care, many of these reptiles are unadoptable. The herpetological societies often grapple between keeping these reptiles at great personal expense or condemning them to death.

The source of the overpopulation of pet animals is careless and thoughtless humans. People, who are unable to care for their animals, will often release them into the wild. Other people will move, and abandon their pets. Pet stores often fail to inform people of the special care for animals such as iguanas, which requires secured habitats. Moreover, stores will sell many reptiles so cheaply to give the impression that they are disposable pets. Greater demand for cats and dogs has prompted breeders to breed more genetically-compromised animals for the pet trade. Often the cost needed to keep these animals healthy will prompt people to abandon them at shelters.

According to the American Humane Association, about eight million stray and unwanted cats and dogs are taken into animal shelters annually. Of that number, about four million pets are euthanized. Meanwhile the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that there are about seventy-eight million owned dogs and eighty-six million owned cats in the United States. Of that number, seventy-eighty percent of owned dogs are spayed or neutered, and eighty-eight percent of owned cats.  This means that about twenty percent of pets are breeding, and adding to the overpopulation problem.

Faced with these statistics, concrete solutions are needed. Wholesale euthanasia does not address the problem of demand for most pets. First and foremost, people need to be aware of the problem of too many animals. An education effort is needed to inform people of responsible pet ownership. Michelle Kaplan of “Iguanas for Dummies” counsels against succumbing to the “Pet of the Week” syndrome, which promotes the “Disposable Pet” syndrome. Existing animal control laws also need to be enforced. In Florida, special licenses are required for reptiles and exotic pets.

However, the solution to curbing animal overpopulation differs from species to species. One thing that animal control authorities agree on to curb the random dumping of garbage. Eliminating feeding areas such as unattended dumpsters will decrease the numbers of stray animals in an area.

Alley Cat Allies (ACA) points out that cats, as a species, have evolved alongside humans, often feeding at the fringes of settlements, and can live independent of humans. ACA define “feral cats” to be cats that either attack or flee from humans. Stray cats, on the other hand, welcome the humans and therefore can be adopted. ACA stresses that feral cats cannot be rehabilitated for human companionship, and need to be kept in their home colonies. ACA counsels against the wholesale removal of feral cats because of the vacuum effect.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ethics for Magical People: Healing with Herbs (2 of 2)

Another logical trap that an ethical herbalist avoids is “If it is natural, it is good.”  This is the “appeal to nature”, which follows: “if something is natural, then it is safe and effective.”  The corollary of this logical fallacy is “anything artificial is bad and hence unsafe.”  However, the concept of what is “natural” can be vague since poison ivy is natural but unsafe. A diligent herbalist would know that some herbs are safe because they have no side effects while others need to be used with care. The fact that the herbs are natural would not automatically make them safe for everyone.  For example, garlic will lower cholesterol but has anticoagulant properties, according to Dr. Barrett.  Therefore in my case, garlic would be problematic since there is a potential risk of my blood not being able to clot as needed.

In the case history of Mags, the herbalist and Jason, her friend, several ethical breaches occurred.  First, Mags assured Jason that since she was giving him herbs, they were safe.  She also declared that he should not take a pill, since it was artificial and therefore unsafe.  This, of course, was an error in Mags’ judgment, and displayed her ignorance of how medicines work.  Fortunately, for her, her patient did not die. 

Taking any medication, whether herbal or manufactured, has a risk for any patient, which the healer would need to know about. If Mags had taken a medical history of Jason, she would have found out that he was allegoric to chamomile.  Just asking Jason about any allergies would have alerted her to any problems he may have with any of the herbs in her potion.

The second ethical breach was the “appeal to custom,” which though Mags did not state out-loud, she implied it, with her statement “works one hundred percent every time.”  In the “Science-based Medicine Blog”, Dr. Steven Novella (neurologist) pointed out that the herb aristolochia has been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks for join pain, amongst other things.  However in the 1990s, it was proven to cause kidney failure.  This adverse effect became first known when several people in Belgium developed kidney problems after taking aristolochia.  Because of previous faulty records, no one had made the connection between this herb and potential harm to the kidneys.  Therefore Mags needs to understand that some herbs do have adverse side effects, despite having been used for years.

As a part of informed consent to the patient, Mags needed to tell Jason what was in the potion.  By learning what was in the mixture, Jason could decide whether to drink it or not.  Since Jason is allergic to plants in the sunflower family, if he knew that chamomile was in Mags’ potion, he could refuse to take it.  Through Mags’ careless assumption that natural is “safe”, she endangered Jason.

Jason, for his part, needed to inform Mags of his allergy.  He has to guard his own health, and that includes informing his doctors of his health issues.  He cannot blame Mags for her lack of knowledge of his sunflower allergy.  He committed a breach of ethics on his part by not telling her, and thereby bringing harm to himself.

Most importantly, the most serious harm being practiced by both Jason and Mags is treating his “cold”.  Instead of going to a doctor, Jason has been medicating himself for weeks.  Mags “aided and abetted” him by providing him with herbal remedies, without thinking about the consequences.  In Jason’s case, her herbs may have masked a serious illness or compounded his problems further. 

If Jason could not get better on his own, then Mags should have suggested that he see a doctor.  If he was reluctant to see one, Mags could have helped to convince him to go.  Part of her duty as a healer is to see that her clients get the care they need.  Mags was practicing medicine beyond the scope of her abilities.  Jason, for his part, needed to recognize that, as well, since he was doing the same thing himself.  They both failed in their respective duties in regards to curing Jason’s illness.

Works Used:
Atwood, Kimbal, “Science, Reason, Ethics and Modern Medicine” series, Science-Based Medicine Blog,, .

Barrett, Stephen, “The Herbal Minefield,” Quackwatch, 19 August 2012,, .

Curtis, Gary, “Logical Fallacies: The Fallacy Files,”, .

La Puma, John, “Ethics of Alternative Medicine: The Unconventional Has Its Place,” “Managed Care”, November 1998,, .

Morningstar, Sally, “The Art of Wiccan Healing”, Hay House: Carlsbad (CA), 2005.

Novella, Steven, “Herbal Medicine and Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy,” Science-Based Medicine Blog, 11 April 2012,, .

Singh, Amrit Pal, “Ethics in Herbal Medicine,” Southern Illinois University, Ethnobotanical Leaflets 11: 206-211. 2007,, .

Specter, Michael, “Bad Medicine: Why Echinacea Won’t Fix Your Cold,” “The Independent”, 9 October 2010,, .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ethics for Magical People: Healing with Herbs (1 of 2)

Though not doctors, herbal healers do need to follow the same code of ethics in regards to their healing of people. The first rule of medicine, “First do no harm” applies to herbal healers as well.  However, since some inexperienced herbalists think that herbs do not harm people but that “patent” medicine does, they may unintentionally endanger their client.

Unlike allopathic medicine, herbs do not react the same way in every person’s body.  Moreover, since herbs, as a rule, are not regulated by any government authority, a batch of herbs could be contaminated without the herbalist’s knowledge.  Also depending on how each herb is grown, it could interact potentially ineffectively with other herbs in a potion.  Dr. Stephen Barrett (psychiatrist) of “Quackwatch,” writes that “Herbs in their natural state can vary greatly from batch to batch and often contain chemicals that cause side effects but provide no benefit.”  He continues, “Many herbs contain hundreds or even thousands of chemicals that have not been completely cataloged.”  Then he adds, “To make a rational decision about an herbal product, it would be necessary to know what it contains, whether it is safe, and whether it has been demonstrated to be as good, or better than pharmaceutical products available for the same purpose.” An experienced herbalist will find out the possible side effects of the various herbs he uses.  Also, he will inform his client of any potential problems with taking a particular herb.

Furthermore, unlike medical doctors, herbalists are not certified by a nationally recognized board.  The late Dean of Purdue University School of Pharmacy, Varro E. Tyler observed that many herbalists learned their craft through lore and tradition as well as being taught by other herbalists.  Dr. Tyler believed that the safety and efficacy of herbs were not always known except through hearsay.  Therefore, he urged herbalists to avail themselves of recent studies on herbs.  Also, he advised them to keep careful records on how a specific herb affected each of their clients.

However, inexperienced herbalists may unconsciously apply the logical fallacy of “appeal to antiquity” to their craft.  (If it worked in the past or believed to work in the past, it will work in the present.)  Since few records were made or scientific trials conducted in the distant past, beginning herbalists may think that the herbs that they use are always effective.  For example, the herb Echinacea is believed to eliminate colds.  However, recent scientific studies have demonstrated that this herb to be ineffective with colds.  According to Michael Specter, “The New Yorker” science writer, Echinacea caused a rash in children who received it for colds.

A careful and ethical herbalist will understand the caveats of using various herbs.  To ensure the safety of her clients, she will keep abreast of studies about herbs by scientists.  The herbalist will take detailed medical histories of her clients to determine if they have problems with any herbs. By keeping accurate records, the herbalist can constantly assess the effectiveness of her herbal potions.  Through these efforts, the herbalist can empower her patient to make an informed decision about his herbal treatment. 

As a patient, I have a duty to guard my health and well-being.  Therefore my responsibility is to inform the health practitioner of my medical history.  For example, I have mold allergies, and need to be careful of any medicines that are prescribed for me.  Since I had a brain bleed, I also need to know if any medicines will cause blood thinning or bleeding.  As a rule, when I am meeting with a health practitioner, I give them a card with my particular medical needs.  I do not use the herbalists that I personally know, because they do not know how their herbs and the powerful brain medications that I take will interact.  My responsibility to myself and to the healer is to inform her of anything that will cause any adverse problems for me.