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Episode 8 – Dr. Sasha Protopopova

In this episode, I speak with Dr. Sasha Protopopova. She is an Assistant Professor and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Chair holder in Animal Welfare at The University of British Columbia (UBC). If that sounds familiar, that’s because my last guest, Dr. von Keyserlingk is at the same University, in the same department. They are doing a lot of great work there! Dr. Protopopova is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and has a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Florida. Her research interests are in improving animal shelter practices, improving companion animal welfare through the development of behavioral interventions in shelters as well as pet homes, and assessing and improving the well-being of dogs working in assistance roles. In this episode, we discuss increasing the adoptability of shelter dogs, the human side of animal sheltering and rescue, and ethical issues related to domestic animals.

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Episode 8 Protopopova short.mp3: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Episode 8 Protopopova short.mp3: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Speaker1:
Hello and welcome. I'm Dr. Kristina Spaulding, and this is the Research Bites podcast brought to you by Science Matters Academy of Animal Behavior. We foster conversations about science and its application to animal training and behavior in an effort to improve well-being for animals and the people they live with. This version of the podcast is the first half of a longer version, which is available to research by its members. If you would like more information on that membership, it will be available at the end of the podcast. For now, please enjoy geeking out about the science of behavior. Welcome back to the Research Bites podcast. Before we get started on this episode, I want to tell you about two classes that I have coming up this fall. The first is The Science of Fear, which starts on Thursday, September 15 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also watch recorded lectures. You'll learn the science behind the development and effective treatment of canine fears, phobias, and fear based aggression. On October 24th, my certificate course Unlocking Resiliency begins. Unlocking Resiliency is a 16 week course that covers all the different aspects of information related to stress and resiliency and puts them into one cohesive, in-depth narrative.

Speaker1:
This one course will cover everything you need to know about the impacts of stress and how we can cultivate the development of resilience in our animals. For more information, visit w W.W. Science Matters LLC. Dot com. My guest today is Dr. Sasha Proto Popova. She is an assistant professor and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Industrial Research shareholder in animal welfare at the University of British Columbia. If that sounds familiar, that's because my last guest, Dr. von Keizer Link, is at the same university in the same department. They are doing a lot of great work there. Dr. Proto Popova is a certified applied animal behaviorist and has a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Florida. Her research interests are in improving animal shelter practices, improving companion animal welfare through the development of behavioral interventions and shelters, as well as pet homes and assessing and improving the well being of dogs working in assistance roles. In this episode, we discuss increasing the adaptability of shelter dogs, the human side of animal sheltering and rescue and ethical issues related to domestic animals. Let's get started. Welcome, Sasha. So thank you so much for joining me today.

Speaker2:
Excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Speaker1:
No problem. I'm really looking forward to our conversation because you're doing some really interesting work that I really haven't seen anyone else doing in the dog world in terms of certain sort of human animal relationship aspects of living with companion animals. So we will get into that shortly. But the first thing I want to start with is you just talk a little bit about your background and how you got into the field.

Speaker2:
Sure. Sure. So I think I was always animal obsessed. I think, as most of us were when we were children, I was actually much more of a horse. I had a horse obsession rather than a dog obsession. But that switched, I think, pretty quickly. And maybe in high school I got my first job as a dog walker and was unfortunately watching it a bit too much. Cesar Millan At the time, I'm sorry to say, but very quickly, I think earlier than perhaps some others in the field, they accidentally stumbled upon Karen Prior's blog. This is quite early on, so it was before it was just like a little blog website they had to dig through. And and so I became extremely fascinated and tried utilizing some of the clicker training techniques with the dogs. I was walking and was just amazed at the emotional change I saw in the dogs when I would ask them, for example, for a sit that was trained, the seasonal.

Speaker1:
Versus.

Speaker2:
Some trick that I saw, that I trained with the clicker and just the happiness that would come with one or not the other. So I was hooked, I think early on in high school already. Right. I knew that I wanted to go into research. Research was not new to me. My I'm actually a third generation researcher, so my parents are scientists and their grandparents are scientists and both sides of my parents. And so I was very interested right away as an undergrad to pursue volunteering and research labs. And I was very fortunate that I got some experience with rhesus macaques and animal cognition early on, but I kept wanting to train them and I and the lab kept telling me to stop it. And so I kind of use my need to train animals. And I was a trainer in PetSmart for a number of years or a number of years, and but I kept kind of being told that there is no place for animal training in animal cognition research or real research because we want to study the real behavior of animals and so on. And so I was a bit discouraged. I thought I was going to have to have those two things as very separate. But then all of a sudden I came across Clive Wynne. Foster Clive Wynne, who is then my graduate advisor later on, but I came across him in a really funny way.

Speaker2:
I was volunteering or I was an intern in a lab in Harvard hosting dog cognition. And again, that training of a very kind of a cognition research. And I overheard someone say that, Oh, there is this crazy. I insist in Florida. Clive was in Florida at the time, crazy scientist in Florida who says the dogs don't actually love us. And I was like, who is this crazy science? The dogs don't. So I came across Clive. And of course, he never said such thing. And in fact, his newest book is My Dogs Love US as Much As They Do. But but he was a perfect connection connecting animal learning or behavior analysis. As I later on and just said what it was called with animal welfare and animal behavior. And so it's really, really fortunate to connect my two loves of behavior and training and pursue my master's and research with him in Florida. And he was the one who really kind of highlighted what the field is and the field of behavior analysis. And also that sheltering is where it's at. I was really focused on animal training, dog training, but kind of guided me into the shelter. And I never left the shelter once I got a taste of it.

Speaker1:
Right. Yeah. And he's actually he's been pretty influential, at least in the US in terms of training PhDs to go into this field because some of the people on this podcast have been trained by him. So yeah, and people ask me a lot about programs and animal behaviors, so I always try and ask, where did you get your undergraduate done and where are you studying animal behavior as an undergraduate, or were you looking at something else?

Speaker2:
That's a really good question. I think it depends what we mean by when we say animal behavior. So animal behavior is kind of a broad term and we can probably talk about different multiple different scientific fields within that. So so in terms of my own personal degree, I was I had two bachelor's degrees, one in neuroscience and one in veterinary science. And that was my way of making an animal behavior degree for myself. So so behavior analysis was not part of my undergraduate career. That was. So if we're talking about animal behavior from the perspective of behavior analysis that field, there's not so many opportunities in North America or in the world to study that at the undergraduate level for sure. A few more of the graduate level, but unfortunately, we're we need to grow this field more in the animal realm.

Speaker1:
Yes, I agree. I know.

Speaker2:
I think when people maybe are talking about animal behavior or if you see university courses or degree types that have animal behavior in them, people are probably talking about ethology so or behavioral ecology so that that would be the same. That would be the same thing. So and that is slightly it's a very important field and one that we must know, but it's not going to help with animal training, for example.

Speaker1:
Right. Or it doesn't directly address those.

Speaker2:
No, no. But it is important background to understand animals.

Speaker1:
Yeah. And I had a similar experience because I, I went into my undergraduate career wanting to learn about animal behavior. And I went to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which actually has a very large sort of menu of majors in biology. And I started off in zoology, and that wasn't quite fitting what I was looking for. And so then I switched to wildlife ecology, which really didn't cover behavior, but it was the closest thing that I could find to animal behavior because that at least covered how animals sort of interacted with their environments. And that was about as close as I could get. And then my PhD is in bio psychology in a human department or human psych department. So it is it is hard.

Speaker2:
Yeah. Now it's even more complicated. But the introduction of animal cognition, because now that's a whole other field. And also I'm learning historically in animal science, the departments of animal science have their own animal welfare kind of subdiscipline. And within that subdiscipline of animal welfare, from this animal science, like agricultural animal welfare, there is also a behavior aspect as well that has a very different tradition and a very different scientific kind of background and philosophy of it. So so I'm now kind of also getting exposed to that and being very surprised that so so I think animal behavior is such an umbrella term for you really have to know kind of what discipline and what field you're coming at it and ideally from all all disciplines would be perfect.

Speaker1:
Right, exactly. Yes. And and I hope I mean, we'll have to see how things play out, but I hope that that's going to start to change a little bit in terms of more opportunities for people who really do want to pursue this. I mean, I think if people get trained and take faculty positions, that we may start to see that this is going to change a little bit. So so that brings us to what you're studying. And obviously you're looking at several different things. But I wanted to start with your shelter research and your shelter research has really focused on seems to primary areas and one is sort of the impacts of the various interventions. That we can conduct at the shelter on behavior and adoption and shelter dogs. And then the second part is that more human side of sheltering and how inequity plays a role in that. So what I wanted to do is start with looking at the dogs and what you've studied in terms of the different interventions and how that impacts them. And then we can move on to the human side of things after that.

Speaker2:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that I came into the shelter environment as in a very kind of clear mindset of an animal trainer where the problem was such that there are some animals in the shelter. They they are likely stressed and what can I do to improve their welfare but also get them out? And and I think that was kind of an early naive perspective that I had. I realized that very quickly in the very first study in the Masters, where, again, I just quickly assumed that, okay, if I train a dog to look in the eyes and the doctor all, I'll be great. And absolutely no effect on adoption rates. I did train those dogs, so we saw an increase in eye gaze behavior into stranger's eyes, but zero increase in adoptions. It was a very interesting master's, but I think it was the first time where I realized that how naive I was and how I'm coming in into this very complex, I guess, discipline or field of sheltering without having a very good understanding of that. We say here in this department, here at the university, how do they say not one thing is ever one thing that you can't just uniquely look at this one thing, change something small and think you've done something good, then you really have to take a step back and really understand the whole shelter and the whole kind of community and society as a whole.

Speaker2:
And so and so really that has been guiding my research and both of those streams that you've mentioned where I'm not so interested, even though we've done a little bit of that now with cats, especially in cat housing, I don't I'm not so interested in improving little small details of the shelter. I'm not so interested in kind of coming in and asking the question of, well, having this particular toy do anything or will adding a meter to the enclosure do something? I'm not so interested in this kind of incremental change to the shelter, but what I do want to do is to understand what kind of impacts can we have on a much broader level to benefit all animals and all humans. And so and so that's been kind of where my why those two things are there. And thinking of that kind of greater kind of taking a step back and looking at the whole picture is I realized very quickly how unhappy dogs are in shelters. And this is not necessarily my own research, but from previous research that does show that when dogs are coming into the shelter, you see a spike in, for example, cortisol levels. But I think anyone who's been to the shelter can very quickly realize what a terrible environment is for any animal.

Speaker2:
And this is really true for honestly, every shelter facility type. It's even if we are obviously trying our best, even in really, really beautiful facilities, high staffing facilities, you're still in a situation where the animal spends primarily most of the time alone. Interactions are not consistent. You have strangers coming in and out. You have noise levels, you have strange smells, smell, ammonia, bleach. I mean, it's just not a nice environment, however you want to put it. They have been also separated from their attachment figures is just and this is only about dogs. Of course, if you speak about cats, that's even a bigger disaster for those animals. And so I think one thing that not just me, of course, but all of the researchers who are in sheltering are kind of coming to this understanding that shelters are terrible for animals there. Even when we try our best, they're just not great places for animals in the current capacity. This is, of course, why I think in modern times we're moving more to a foster based attempt rather than kind of having this institutionalized facilities to house animals. But given that that's the case, given that these animals are suffering when they're in the shelter environment, I realized that adding a toy or adding a bed, of course these are necessary things, but that's not going to dramatically improve the overall welfare.

Speaker2:
What's going to improve the welfare is getting them out of that shelter. And so that's why my focus has been on getting them out. What can we do to increase those adoption rates? And so so to me, increasing adoption rates is a very direct welfare link that it's not just to kind of have people be happy with their pets, but it's to so that they don't live in those facilities. Ultimately, all of the goals of the shelter is not to have any dogs or any animals in shelter. So we want to get ourselves out of business. Yeah. And so that's why I've been focusing on this adoption piece. And so by focusing on the adoption piece, my first question was that instead of me assuming kind of naively that I know what people want in dogs, that I need to actually take data on this, I need to ask the question empirically of what people are looking for in dogs with the hope, of course, because I'm still a junior, but I hope that we can do something B really to to make sure that the dogs are not showing themselves in a bad light. And also, of course, that we could we all know from personal experience and from previous research that people are picking based on the looks of the dog, all the little puppies, the little dogs, fluffy dogs, certain purebred dogs, they're all going to get get a.

Speaker2:
Salter very quickly. But what about the the others? What can we do for the others to get them out as well as quickly as possible? And so my first set of research was looking at the behavior of the dogs in the kennel and seeing if anything predicts length of stay. And we did find that some behaviors predicted length of stay. But perhaps not surprisingly, but sadly, behavior in the kennel seemed to play a very minor role in people's decisions. Very, very minor role. There were some things that dogs were doing that made their attractiveness worse. So dogs that stayed in the bark didn't come up front, leaned in the back or engage in back and forth motion that increased their length of stay. So people were not interested in those dogs. And this makes sense because ultimately you need to. Those are the behaviors that prevent the person from evaluating the looks of the dog. And how stupid is that so pessimistic? Because when you compare the effects of behavior compared to the effects of morphology of what the dog looks like, the morphology trumped behavior completely. People were really choosing based on the looks of the dog.

Speaker1:
That's such an interesting thing because I'm thinking about this from sort of this co evolutionary standpoint and I, I'm trying to think off the top of my head what would drive that, because it seems to me that behavior should be more important. But at least in this context, maybe it's a more rapid appraisal than looking at behavior, but it is a really interesting and surprising finding to me that I know that it's true. I've seen it, but I'm still surprised by it.

Speaker2:
It's very surprising, and I was very disheartened by it, not only because it means that we can't can we not do anything or what is our what do we do now for these dogs who are not long coded and purebred little toy dogs? But actually it made sense. So the more I thought about this and this is again, what I what I mean by taking a step back and considering the whole picture, rather than kind of looking at data individually by experiment. Experiment is that I realized that what we're looking what we're looking at here is I'm just looking at a snippet of how consumers make decisions about essentially a purchase decision. In our case, the purchase decision is adoption products, is our animals. Sounds terrible, but it's fundamentally there's a whole science of how people make these kinds of purchase decisions. And when we think about that as from a consumer perspective, it actually all makes sense. So people do have preconceived notions of what they want in the dog. So, for example, imagine if I were to ask you, what's your next dog going to be like? You probably are going to tell me the breed and you're probably going to tell me female, male. You're probably going to tell me, Oh, I really want a short coat it or a long coated dog. We probably are not going to talk about color. And that's actually color does not seem to matter too much in in cattle selection. But you probably are going to say if you want a big dog, a small dog, a long coated, short coated breed or not breed. And so those are the things that we're driving the decisions. And so that explains that initial selection. But that's actually not where you're going to finish, right? Your your your search. You're going to go to the shelter. You're going to take a look at all the dogs you have in your mind. I want a small, short coated dog. Or if it's the average person, short small.

Speaker1:
Dog.

Speaker2:
Long coated dog, a puppy. So essentially a puppy, Pomeranian is is the one that's going to fly out of the shelter. So you're looking for a puppy, Pomeranian, and you go to the shelter and you find your puppy Pomeranian. And so in this case, you're not just going to fill out the adoption paperwork, although some people might, but the majority will not. The majority will ask, Oh, can I take this dog out of this kennel into some kind of interaction area? And can I get to know this dog to make sure that they are okay with me? And this is what's happening that people are once they've selected a dog from this kennel selection, which is about essentially maybe like 1% of dogs would be selected. So very.

Speaker1:
A lot.

Speaker2:
Of visitors to adopt. Also bringing visitors to the shelter, super important because there's only very few dogs that are going to come out into the second level of selection in this meet and greet area. But this is where you get again, I've done research looking at how people are making decisions in the meet and greet areas. And here luckily it seems like they're making those decisions based on behavior and not at all morphology because they've already made their decision on morphology in the first step. And so this is where we took a look at these naturalistic situations where real adopters are interacting with their potential dogs that they're going to adopt in these meet and greet areas. And we did find that some behaviors did predict likelihood of adoption. So those behaviors were if a dog laid down in proximity to the adopter, that increased their chances of adoption. But if the dog rejected plea initiation, so what I mean by that is an adapter would take a toy and be like, look, dog, do you want to play? And would throw the ball and the dog would look at the ball, be like, No, never mind, I don't want to play. And so that was totally limiting. So that would reduce adoption. And fundamentally, I think the more I've kind of done research on this particular topic, I realized that I think people want to be loved, I want to be feel special, they want to feel that their animal chose them, they feel that. And so I think those behaviors highlight that, that choosing aspect of the dog, they feel that the dog has come and has chosen them and so that. That's why any kind of rejection, like ignoring initiation is really hurtful.

Speaker1:
Right. That's interesting. I wonder if you've just occurred to me as you were talking we're talking about how few dogs get selected and how it's based on sort of morphology. And what about the idea of instead of sending potential adopters back into the kennels, say, these are the dogs that I want to see. Do you know if anyone has any shelters, have sort of tried an alternative approach where the people say, this is what I'm looking for, and then the shelter staff go back and select the dogs.

Speaker2:
Yeah.

Speaker1:
And I'm wondering if that might help some of the dogs that are not getting chosen.

Speaker2:
A really interesting approach. And with COVID especially, I want to say a lot of shelters in the US have moved into this kind of process. So it's not only by appointment, only that a lot of shelters now you don't you can't actually go back and look at all the dogs now. And the shelters anecdotally are reporting success. They're reporting that things are looking really good. I can see the benefits directly in that you're pushing. You're kind of taking away that first step and you're moving immediately into the second step. And of course, I think if we kind of force people not to consider morphology, because ultimately if the animal is in front of them and they're lovely, maybe some people will overlook the lack of preferred morphological characteristics. I bet you would see a decrease in success because ultimately they are going to choose a bit on morphology anyway. If it's a bigger dog than you wanted, you'll have that as a negative in your in your decision about this animal. But in terms of research on this, I don't know of any research studies that directly look at this this kind of directly, directly the one thing that there is an animal welfare benefit to this as well, that there is research suggesting that when you limit visitors in the shelter, dogs spend more time in quiet conditions, spend more time laying down.

Speaker2:
I think that's that's fine. My only question would be that we do need data, because it may be the case that some animals are going to be adopted out this way. But what about the full shelter, the full population of the shelter? Are we going to see fewer or very stiff favorites go out, but not not staff favorites or I'm not sure. I don't know. I think we do need data on this. I would be nervous to prioritize kind of short term welfare of the dogs for longer sleep because ultimately they're in a bad condition. They need to go to the home, they need to get out of the shelter. And so I think adoption is more important than kind of these small scale changes for small but immediate but very small benefits to welfare.

Speaker1:
Right? Yeah, that's really interesting. And that makes that makes a lot of sense. So going back to the this interaction behavior, you know, some of what you're talking about can be trained. Yes, certainly is teaching the dog to lie down next to the adopters. Teaching teaching behavior may be a little bit more complicated, particularly in shelters that have very limited time. But have you looked at all at having people train these behaviors and then see if that is impactful?

Speaker2:
Yes, absolutely. So that was my PhD thesis was exactly this. And it's funny because I had the same feeling as you where okay, now I know those two target behaviors to train because again, I'm really coming at it from a training perspective. I was like, okay, down, I can teach it down. Like, That's fine. And actually later on, they're really innovative ways to teach the down because it's not just a down, it's a down next to strangers, next to a stranger. They adopt it. And so there's actually a really wonderful solution by the San Francisco Animal Care and Control behavioral director there, where she as part of the training, based on this research, later on, she would put a mat next to a bench in the meeting room. And so it was the down onto a mat and the bench had the stranger who had the adapter. Yes. And so that one didn't actually matter too much, but the dog was trained that I'll just go target the mat and that created this proximity in the down as the person felt chosen. So super cool. So I think some trainers are just absolutely innovative and really, really clever and how to construct these things. But yeah, so I felt like the down is okay.

Speaker1:
But.

Speaker2:
Not ignoring play initiation. I spent so long trying to figure out how am I going to do this? And I think of myself as a good trainer, but I for the life of me, I can't train dogs to play fetch. I don't know. I think.

Speaker1:
Because.

Speaker2:
I had terriers and it's just like they're not into it. And I don't know when I was like, How am I going to teach like 300 shelter dogs to play fetch and like in 2 minutes? I don't know how to do it because ultimately shelters don't have enough staff to, to, to spend time properly teaching anyone anything. And so I was really kind of suffering, trying to figure out how I'm going to I'm going to what am I going to do with this data. And once I was in the shower, as all epiphanies came during moments, strange places. So. I had this epiphany of maybe I'm being a bit silly thinking that I need to train anyone anything. What about if I train the human instead instead of the dog? And so or. Or another way? What if I simply ask the dog what they prefer, what kind of play they prefer, and make sure that the human engages in that play. And so that we're not yet we're not forcing any poor dogs any to do anything. So that's what we did. And so because when they feel the behavior analysis that has a lot of methodological details already figured out about how to ask non-verbal children on what they prefer, which those methods can be very easily altered, of course, slightly but utilized in nonhuman animals.

Speaker2:
And so we already had some methodologies available to ask animals, questions about what kind of toys they prefer. And so we did that in the shelter. We validated a quick assessment of what what's your preferred toy type? And then once we've understood or once we've asked each of our dogs in the experimental condition what their preferred toy type was or if they had no if they actually did not want to play at all, which was I think the majority of dogs actually did not want any toys. And this is totally understandable. These poor dogs are in really stressful conditions. The last thing you want to do is play with a stranger, right? And so in that case, in the experimental condition, then we would write down, okay, this dog's preferred toys, this or no toy, and we left the control dogs as they were. And then we sat around in the shelter with my undergraduate research assistants and waited for real adopters to come through. Waited for real adopters to say, Oh, I want to take a look at this dog in this case. Then we took a look. If that dog was in the experimental condition or the control condition, and if the dog was in the experimental condition, we would find out. Okay, that dog. That's right.

Speaker2:
The tennis ball is the preferred toy. And so then we would take the tennis ball, take the dog out and essentially tell the adopter. So now we manipulate the adopter. We tell the adopter first. Actually, can you can you please let the dog pee for 2 minutes? We try to we try to get them to ignore the dog for a little bit as much as we could just for the dogs. And then we would have a very we have no toys in the yard except this one preferred toy. And we would model the play so we would have some treats. So we would say, oh, the dog loves to play tennis here, let me show you how to do it. So we would throw the tennis ball, the dog would grab it because we knew that that was going to happen because we already knew that dog was going to play with the tennis ball and then we substituted the ball for a treat and then we gave everything to the adoption. So now you try and then we coach them on play. We could also in this point, if the dog kind of, for example, didn't play something weird, we could kind of quickly fix the play to make sure that they play correctly. But soon enough, typically the people at this moment, they they want to play, but at some point they also want to touch the dog.

Speaker2:
For some reason, touching petting is the is the next thing that people wanted to do. And so at that point, we were we would find the dog, put a leash on, bring them to a bench, and essentially keep that dog in very close proximity using treats and the leash and would continuously provide the adopter with treats to provide this dog with treats and sneakily lure the dog into a down position. So it looks like the dog is resting nearby. Right. And so kind of forcing that to the adopter to to for the adopter to feel quite special. And so by doing and in the control condition, we let the naturalistic things happen as they would. There are plenty of toys in the yard and anything they wanted to do, whatever they wanted to do. So everything was not controlled in this way. And in fact, we when we looked at the adoption success following these meet and greets, we were able to increase adoption, which was excellent. So it was the first time in research where we actually saw an effect on adoption rates. It's actually very difficult to increase adoptions in the shelter. And so we were very happy that it managed to get that adoption increase.

Speaker1:
Yeah, because there have been quite a few studies that have shown no results. Yeah, sadly. And if, if people are listening to this podcast, are really excited about listening to this and they want to know how you did the toy assessment is that information that is available online.

Speaker2:
That is available online, I can also provide video if that's something useful.

Speaker1:
Sure.

Speaker2:
Yeah. On the other hand, it's a very simple process. And actually, I bet you already know the preferred toy type of your individual dogs that you engage in.

Speaker1:
Oh yeah.

Speaker2:
But in the shelter environment, if you wanted to kind of provide a how to for a shelter setting, I have a video for that and I have some guidelines. But but it could be as simple as just can you figure out which toy is preferred by just throwing various toys and seeing which toy the dog goes after and just make sure that you do that a few times. So it's not just the novelty effect and that's it. There's just a couple of trials throwing each toy around.

Speaker1:
Not time intensive and resource intensive, which is another important aspect when when working with shelters. So that's wonderful.

Speaker2:
Oh, I forgot to say something that's really important here, because as I said, most dogs actually will not like any toys. So what do you do in that situation? Because that's probably the one that you're going to encounter as a trainer in the shelter. Environment. And so in that case, tossing a treat and telling the dog to find it is surprisingly a totally funny game for a doctors. They buy that that that's a toy play that they think that's play. So just say, oh, the dog loves to play. Find it. Let me show you.

Speaker1:
Fine. Right.

Speaker2:
Then you tell their doctor, no, you try test the test the treat and ask the doctor finds it. And so they, especially children, think that's really fun.

Speaker1:
Yeah, well, that's great because those are all, again, really easy, simple things. And I can put the information, I'll have it in the podcast notes so people that are listening to this can go and get access to that. So the other thing that you have looked at in shelter environments, as you've already alluded to, is this human side of things. And I think we can I'm sure we could fill the rest of the hour and probably will for the hour talking about this side of things, so what have you. Why don't you just talk a little bit about what you've been focusing on in terms of the human side and then this role of sort of inequity and vulnerability and how that impacts both surrender and adoption.

Speaker2:
Absolutely. And I can start probably with how kind of the the way I got there and the way I got there was actually continuing to look at this adoption of. So we're increasing adoptions and how do we increase adoptions? And in our research at Texas Tech University, when I was a professor there, we did these adoption events. We wanted to continue this research and see how do people choose dogs in adoption events settings rather than brick and mortar shelters. And so we put on these adoption events and we looked at behavior. That data is still being analyzed. I'm a bit slow in the data, but we're going to pull it up. But one thing that we did is that without much thought, we also asked, we had this survey of visitors who are coming to these adoption events and we asked for their zip code. I'm not sure why we asked for their zip code, but what we did without much thought to it. And so then after we had the data just for fun, I plotted the zip code onto a map of Lubbock, Texas. I realized that the only people who are coming are coming from affluent neighborhoods. And it's it's a big kind of thought process for us. It's like, what are we doing? And it makes sense because where are we advertising adoption events or advertising cafes, advertising and yoga studios? And so we're really, really targeting affluent families. This seems like a problem. This seems like not an equitable situation.

Speaker2:
And and fundamentally, I think at the same time, many people are well, many people have already been talking about this for decades. This is a moment where I also woke up to the situation, and I was lucky when I moved to Canada, where the BC SPCA is also very interested in these kinds of topics. Dr. Emilia Gordon to the shelter veterinarian at the BC SPCA has already been thinking a lot about diversity, inclusion in sheltering, and we kind of continued along. And I also have a wonderful master's student, Leslie, who's entered this interior lab and into this research. And also I need to mention my former PhD student, Kelsey Brown. Dr. Kelsey Brown, who is also continuously working on this topic. So we have a big team kind of trying to figure out where we're making what we're doing wrong in the shelter environment. And so the first thing we did is to ask the question of who are we serving in an animal shelter facility? Is it the case that we're just working with affluent families, or at least we're adopting only to affluent families and what is kind of what's going on? And so Fluxus, my master's student, took data from the BC SPCA, the surrender data of owner surrenders of of dogs and cats or actually all animals and also looked at the postal codes of of those surrenders. And Canada has census data that we use called the Sims Canadian Index of multiple deprivation.

Speaker2:
This kind of data is is available just publicly. And it separates these postal codes or kind of areas of dissemination. They're called into various factors. So, for example, each each area has a score on ethno cultural composition. This is a proportion of population, for example, who self-identify as a visible minority, proportion of foreign born individuals and so on. Situational vulnerability, which is items like proportion of population that identifies as Aboriginal low income, single parent families, and then economic dependency and residential stability. So there are four factors ethno cultural composition, situational mobility, economic dependency and residential instability. And she connected those with that shelter and tick data. And what she found was certainly striking that it was the case that across all of these factors they are different. They affected the intake of animals. So animal intakes were different. For example, areas of situational vulnerability differed by animals who are coming in unhealthy and treatable, essentially ultimately being euthanized in the shelter. And so so the details are very Vancouver specific or British Columbia specific. So they. Details are less important than the fundamental point of. These are connected issues that animal shelter services. We are fundamentally part of social service. We are part of the community, part of society. We cannot uniquely look at the shelter environment as independent from the rest of society and try to create interventions within the shelter and being blind to societal issues that we have to open our minds.

Speaker1:
Yeah, and I think it's so interesting because there's and I do think that this is changing and certainly not everyone in the rescue world shares this view. But I do think there are there does tend to be a lot of judgement that comes down on people who are surrendering animals and that they are just being irresponsible or not caring about the animals. And I think what you're finding in these studies is really highlighting that there's so much going on that is often out of control of the people who have these animals. And that simply judging them for essentially being bad people is not going to effectively address the issue.

Speaker2:
Absolutely. So I think what we're finding is that these that we need to move away from this concept of personal responsibility. Of course, this doesn't mean that if someone is cruel to an animal or purposefully neglectful, this is not this doesn't change. But what I think you're totally right that it moves away from our very rigid understanding of kind of if you surrendered an animal, you're an irresponsible owner. This really ignores any systemic issues of society. And we cannot do that. We have with a lot of this kind of ties into the climate change discussion as our communities are going to become kind of struggle more and more economically, we're going to have fewer and fewer resources. We can have higher inflation, we're going to have problems. We're have problems with housing. We are going to see that shelters will need to serve as people. And so this is certainly the time to kind of stop this obsession with this individual responsibility and really see where can a shelter what can a shelter do to support the community? Because our our purpose of animal sheltering is to support humane human and animal communities. But we cannot separate those two things out. It's really one, welfare. It's not just animal welfare or human welfare. And animal welfare are interconnected. So we cannot just look at one without touching the other.

Speaker1:
Thank you for listening to the Research Bites podcast. The full version of this podcast is available to research by its members. As a member, you will also get access to a monthly webinar and discussions on current research and dog behaviour. You can get more information or join at WW W Science Matters LLC. You can also find the link in the podcast description. Thank you and we'll see you next time.

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Kristina Spaulding

Kristina Spaulding

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