Book Review: Zoobiquity, The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health

One sentence synopsis:

A thorough and easy-to-read book on comparative medicine from a psychiatrist and cardiologist, including topics on heart attacks, cancer, orgasms, erectile dysfunction, sexual orientation, drug addiction, weight management, self-harm, anorexia, adolescence and zoonotic-turned-human diseases.

The good:

This book discusses what all of us animal-lovers and veterinary professionals have wondered in our lifetime - is the animal world and human world all that different?  This book has plenty of first-hand health stories.  I highly recommend Zoobiquity.

In a world where information seems easy to come by, the medical and veterinary fields apparently don't talk - until recently.   Due to the work of Dr. Natterson-Horowitz and a few others, since 2011 there is now an annual conference where comparative medicine is discussed openly to the benefit of animals and humans.  

The bad:

Literally, nothing.  Even if you don't like to read science books, you would still probably enjoy the book because it very easy to read with lots of stories.  Don't you want to know how long a titanosaur's male member is?

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

What I learned:

Where do I start? 

  • Heart attacks as a result of emotional stress are a real thing - species can indeed die of a broken heart or of fear.  
  • Animals freezing is comparable to humans fainting.  
  • Dinosaurs had cancer.
  • Larger species seem to get cancer less than smaller species, called Peto's paradox.  
  • Orangutans self-stimulate using tools they make.  
  • Frog necrophilia is real.  
  • Wallabies are often freeloading opium addicts.  
  • Emotions have a biological basis, and can be retained or rejected by natural selection.   
  • Lean humans have more Bacteroidetes than Firmicutes in their intestines.
  • Cats who obsessively lick themselves alone (aka "closet licker" or psychogenic alopecia) are compared to human cutters.  Release followed by relief.
  • Self-Injury, getting tattoos and grooming may all have something in common.
  • Pathogens, that can induce miscarriages or prevent conception, are likely to enjoy benefits of increased mating attempts.  Yes, that means STDs.
  • Adolescent animals and teens alike all make large risk-taking behaviors and altercate for a top spot in social hierarchy.

Why should you care?

If you are looking for a fascinating read that opens your eyes to the possibilities when comparing human and animal health, then this is your book.  You will understand better how diseases spread, what sex means, if disorders exist cross-species, and more.  

...human feelings could have evolutionary roots.
— Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD
Underappreciating our own animal natures may be the greater limitation.
— Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD
Studying a variety of animals could help pinpoint which combination of genes and triggers leads to cancer.
— Barbara Natterson-Horowitz MD
Dr. Barabara Natterson-Horowitz correctly identified the 1999 arrival of the West Nile Virus in the United States, when the CDC shunned her for suggesting that their public diagnosis of St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) was wrong. It started with cases in cows and birds, then humans. It’s possible she saved hundreds of American (animal and human) lives.
$10.74
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz.  Photo from Zoobiquity.com.  Photo Credit to Joanna Brooks.

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz.  Photo from Zoobiquity.com.  Photo Credit to Joanna Brooks.

Book Review: Beneath The Surface by John Hargrove

One-Sentence Synopsis: 

John Hargrove was an orca trainer for 14 years, where he transitioned from die-hard SeaWorld employee to an advocate questioning every aspect of orcas in captivity, and this is his true-life story.

                                                                                    Source: seaworldpledge.org

                                                                                    Source: seaworldpledge.org

The Good:

John truly spoke only from his experience.  He gave the facts based on his observations and his knowledge while an orca trainer, including coverage of the SeaWorld artificial insemination program, calfs forcibly removed from mothers, withholding food, small pools, and improper foresight into orca's social structure.  His love for the orcas shines through the entire book, where he details the relationships he built with them.  It's inspiring to hear how intelligent and social these whales are.  There's a dark side of captive orcas, though, which I thank John for sharing with the world.  Everyone needs to hear it.

The Bad: 

There were a few typographical errors, but other than that, I really have nothing to say negative about this book.

I also came to another realization as I trained the stars of SeaWorld. The whales were motivated to perform in shows for two reasons: it gave them more opportunities to be rewarded with food and it provided them with a temporary escape from their horrifically sterile lives in captivity. They were bored.
— John Hargrove
My experience in France with orcas unaccustomed to humans in the water only reinforces my belief that while the relationship between trainer and whale can be beautiful, the overall situation - that of captivity - makes the orcas dysfunctional and dangerous.
— John Hargrove
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SeaWorld spins its stories this way to minimize the damage to corporation and to manage the commercial image of the orca. While acknowledging that the killer whale can be dangerous, SeaWorld keeps the risk within the realm of public acceptability. It would not be advisable - from a business point of view - to admit that a combination of behavioral strictures and cramped quarters have deformed the natural character of the orcas and made them riskier for trainers to deal with.
— John Hargrove
How do you explain that to the public? ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ky (male orca) was terrified by a female whale because in SeaWorld we keep our whales so enclosed that they cannot swim away to protect themselves from other whales who might hurt them with their teeth.’
— John Hargrove

What I learned: 

I'm not sure how to properly put into words how much John's story moved me.  Before I saw the Blackfish documentary and read Beneath the Surface, I had little knowledge of orca behavior, social structure and intelligence.  I also had little knowledge of the orca's conditions at SeaWorld.  I was aware that they put on a "circus-like" show, because I had visited SeaWorld as a child once or twice.  Now that I have been exposed to the behind-the-scenes truth, there is no going back, emotionally or physically.  

Why should you care?

Once you read this book, the glamourous veil will be lifted.  You will see the exploitation of both the orcas and the trainers. It may move you in ways you didn't know existed.

I don’t really see myself as the man with the megaphone, though I’m glad there are people who do that. I see myself as speaking on behalf of those who have no voice themselves, who cannot speak for themselves: the whales. The perfect word is ‘advocate.’ There is still a lot of work to be done to change laws and win hearts and minds.
— John Hargrove

Book Review: Cat Daddy by Jackson Galaxy

If you haven’t heard of the Cat Daddy by now, you must not have cable (like me) or live in outer space.  He’s this chill, rock n roll guy who has a show on Animal Planet, called “My Cat from Hell” where he helps pet guardians work through their cat issues.  It’s a pretty cool show, although I don’t like the name.  The title itself gives the impression that a cat’s poor behavior could be a result of their personality, when really it’s a result of the stimuli and environment around them. 

Capt. Jack Sparrow wishes he could read

Capt. Jack Sparrow wishes he could read

$9.96

One-Sentence Synopsis: 

The author, a now famous “cat mojo” expert, shares his life's journey in parallel of rescue cats, while becoming clean from drugs and working at an animal shelter.

The Good:

This book was unexpectedly a heart-warming and encouraging book about following your passion to do what's right.  I expected it to be full of mostly tips on how to live with cats, which it did have a few of those, too.  Jackson shares his life story and how he came to be a cat mojo expert.  The parallels he makes are deeply moving, which I shed a few tears on.  It was an easy read that I finished in a few days, and came out the other side with a heart full of gratitude.

The Bad: 

Nothing really.  A few more specific cat tips would have been nice.

What I learned: 

Everyone has their own struggles, during which animals show deep, unwavering love, even if they themselves are suffering.  A lot of people choose to mask pain in life.  Heck, even I have done this with alcohol a few times.  You know, that drink "just to take the edge off of a stressful day"?

Is it fear that we hold? Some are afraid to face the reality we live in, like Jackson did for decades.  We all need to take a cue from his book, and realize we cannot shy away from the pain.  That pang of guilt in your gut or tear in your eye you have when you see a malnourished, abused, and neglected animals is nothing compared to the physical pain that animal feels, yet they still express love during this pain.  The difference is, we have the power to change their outcome.  As Jackson said, the love we have for our own animal companion, bottle it and share it with all.

…consults I would do were for cats who had just been adopted from the shelter, to help keep them in the homes they’d just gone to.
— Jackson Galaxy in Cat Daddy, Page 100

Jackson's mantra that I repeat to myself often during my volunteer work:

Higher Power, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
— Jackson Galaxy in Cat Daddy, Page 128

This next quote, I find particularly helpful.  I have personally noticed this in my own home with my tabby, Bailey.

I always told adopters that you are at the top of the energy food chain in your home. Your stress becomes manifested in your animal companions, as surely as it is manifested in your significant other, in your children.
— Jackson Galaxy in Cat Daddy, Page 221

Why should you care about this book? If you are someone who doubts your direction or worth in life, or you just love cats, then read this book.

The moment of "Um....I can't remember what to say! Ah!"

The moment of "Um....I can't remember what to say! Ah!"

The best part about this review is that I was fortunate enough to catch Jackson at his book signing for Catification in Austin, TX just a few weeks after I finished this book.  Yes, I drove to Austin from Houston just to see the Cat Daddy…and it was awesome.  While he signed my book, I tried to thank him for using his platform to educate people and inspire them to care about animal’s quality of life.  I was so caught up in the excitement, though, that when I tried to speak, I sounded like a turkey gobble.  Talk about embarrassing!  I did get a hug though, so I guess embarrassing myself was worth it.  He left me with saying...

“the world is changing…”.

Amen to that, Jackson, Amen.