Time for questions about dog rescue


The article below caught my eye while I was reading the Saskatoon Star Phoenix this morning at breakfast. I agree with John Gormley that importing dogs from California to meet the demand in Saskatchewan for particular breeds is not “rescue”. It’s a commercial trade. The rescue of retired racing greyhounds… that’s rescue. But maybe we shouldn’t have greyhound racing. Then we wouldn’t have to rescue the dogs in the first place.

To me the problem is not dogs in shelters being euthanized (sorry, killed). The problem is irresponsible owners who do not spay/neuter their animals. Want to be a responsible pet owner and demonstrate your love of dogs and cats: sterilize your dog. Period.

12 Dec 2014 The StarPhoenix JOHN GORMLEY

Generally unafraid of leading with my chin, even I tread carefully and with trepidation toward a certain issue capable of igniting great indignation and, for some, unquenchable rage. The topic: dog rescue. First, some ground rules: Dogs are wonderful and not to be abused. But they are animals, not humans.

There are many good, generous, smart and kind people involved in matching abandoned or neglected dogs with responsible owners who will care for them, and many in the rescue movement are a valued complement to animal shelters like the SPCA or Humane Society. And rescue groups are often helped by caring professional veterinarians and others who ensure that animals are spayed/neutered, immunized and computer chipped before being bought by responsible owners.

But the passion, enthusiasm and, frankly, obsessive over-the-top behaviour of some in the rescue community has been firing up the spidey senses lately. It’s everywhere. Just Googling the words “dog, rescue, Saskatchewan” generates 130,000 hits.

So the other night on Border Security, the engaging Canadian reality show, an importer of “rescue dogs bound for Saskatoon” was stopped at the U.S.-Canadian border because her trailer and SUV were too small for the dozens of pit bulls and other dogs she was importing into Saskatchewan from the States.

Foreign dogs in local dog rescues — what gives?

Many of the dozens — and there are dozens of “rescues” in Saskatchewan — take in only local dogs or many irresponsibly bred and abused dogs from Northern Saskatchewan (a despicable story on its own).

But others do import dogs. One boasts on its website — in addition to cutesy biographies like the pup “rescued from death in the nick of time” — that it ships dogs into Saskatchewan from “high-kill shelters throughout California.” At this point you may wonder why America’s most populous state needs to have dogs shipped to a Canadian province one-fortieth its size.

Another local rescuer confided that when she “rescued” a chihuahua from California “a lot of people asked for them,” so now she ships in “rescue dogs” from there to satisfy demand here. At this juncture, a vocabulary break might be helpful.

Unless you rush into a burning building to get that dog or pluck it from a raging river, you haven’t rescued it. You’ve been given that dog or you bought it. The Saskatchewan “rescuer” importing chihuahuas from California is not a rescuer. She’s a dog broker — a saleswoman satisfying consumer demand. Even the word “adopt” is emotionally deceptive. You adopt children. You buy or are given animals.

“Rescue,” observes one purebred dog owner friend, is the new social status symbol, conferring moral superiority upon the buyer — it feels better to have rescued than to have bought.

To be polite, some in the dog rescue crowd are rather invested in dogs. To be less polite, they are absolutely dog-obsessed and prefer the company of canines to humans. This is where importing “rescue” dogs becomes more about the dog rescuer than anyone else and it’s designed to play into the popular myth that we have a problem with “pet overpopulation.”

Leaving cats out of this — there are huge feral cat population problems — dog over-population is not an insurmountable issue inside many cities which have effectively promoted spayneuter programs. While socially dysfunctional and poor communities often have unwanted dogs — Saskatchewan’s north certainly does — many reputable small breeders have been squeezed by animal rights activist campaigns that target commercial dog breeding and create the perception that only sales from animal shelters and rescue groups are acceptable. This can lead, according to lawyer Nancy Halpern, also a veterinarian and New Jersey’s former director of animal health, to “retail rescue,” where the demand for dogs through rescue channels can result in animals being imported, sometimes from uncertain, unethical and commercial “puppy mills.”

There is one more nagging concern in all this talk of “pet rescue.”

What if just a tiny fraction of the time, effort, money and heart that went into dog rescue was put into “rescuing” young kids in the inner city? Imagine the possibilities. The sad part is that for some people — bananas for all things dog rescue — a dog will not phone at three in the morning when a family member beats them up or takes their stuff.

All a dog will do is love, unconditionally. And this makes the dog rescuers feel better. About themselves.

The SPCA and Humane Society, which do challenging work, openly admit that one day they would love to put themselves out of business.


FYRE: The Aftermath

The FYRE (First Year Research Experience) poster session took place on the afternoon of Dec 3 in the Ag Atrium. There were 98 posters set up and at least 200 students present at any one time during the event. We had an awards ceremony with awards for the Student’s Choice award for each of the 3 courses involved. There was also one overall award winner picked by 18 judges including Profs, grad students, instructional designers and even some senior undergrad students. I had a wonderful time and was so impressed by the work of all the students. I hadn’t seen what was happening in the other 3 classes and was amazed by the diversity and the excellence of their posters. Everything from Canola Zombies (my favourite title to the grand winner “Solar Energy: Turning Yellow to Green”

Now for the downside.

I had a student so upset about the FYRE part of this course that they sent an email to the rest of the class (me included) saying that they were bringing this issue to the attention of the Dean. If other students had any comments, she wanted them and she would bring them forward. This has now ended up with my department head and I am waiting for the results of that meeting as this is posted.
My take on this is that students want lectures and midterms with the odd written assignment thrown in. The comfortable and familiar. I have tried some new teaching methods in the past and I always get complaints and poor student evaluations as a result. However, as Sheryl Mills (an instructional designer in the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Excellence) told me, the end result is the only thing that counts. Did the students learn more?
The student will probably never talk to me directly about this, which, is a shame. I would value their input and consider how to address them in the next offering of the course. In the absence of that, here are the top 10 reasons why why I think FYRE was successful.
1) Students’ ability to write a persuasive scientific argument backed by published science went from almost non-existent to what I expect from 4th year thesis students. They also learned how to format an assignment in Word; a skill they will need in many future courses.
2) Students learned how to search the scientific literature effectively and organize scientific literature using a reference manager.
3) Students learned how to use Excel to manipulate data and create graphs and tables. (Excel skills were zero in most students at the beginning of the course)
4) Students learned how to form a hypothesis based on an idea they developed from reading the scientific literature. They struggled with this one, but with coaching (thank you to my research coaches Jessica Wang and Khalil Sahtout) they came up with some very good hypotheses.
5) They created questions for a survey that directly addressed their hypotheses. There were some problems here as well. Some students asked vague or overlapping questions that did not allow them to make good conclusions about their hypotheses. However, this was also a valuable learning experience and all groups ended up with something they could use in their posters.
6) They learned how to use powerpoint to create a poster to present their work. This taught them how to communicate their work clearly and make it visually appealing as well.
7) They participated in the poster session at the end and hopefully got a sense of what scientists do. I think having the students vote on the best class poster was a great (Fran Walley and Krista Wilde came up with this one) idea because the students interacted with each other at the poster session and found out what their classmates had come up with.
8) Because all assignments were marked (with extensive comments and corrections) given back to the students and then remarked if they chose to revise them, they actually improved their skills in all of these areas.
9) They learned how to work in groups. I know students hate this but so what. That’s what they will have to do for their entire working lives and they need to develop the skill. Groups were put together randomly so it wasn’t 5 friends in one group. I saw many friendships develop between group members which is a bonus for first term students.
10) Finally, the way all of this was structured, academic honesty was much less of an issue than in other courses I have taught.
From a student’s point of view, FYRE is a lot of work and, in first year, doesn’t seem very relevant. Student’s will start to appreciate these skills once they get into more senior courses where critical thinking and writing are required. I will be interested to see what their work in 4th year will be like.
Also, not all students hated it. I had about 15 students tell me face to face, that this was the best course they took this term and it changed their minds about what career path they might take. About 80% of students in my class want to be veterinarians on the first day of class. That’s because a lot of them don’t know all the other fantastic careers there are that involve working with animals. One student came to my office and told me that this experience opened her eyes to opportunities in animal research. I hope many other students had this experience.
I have learned that I can’t teach (there are students who would agree with that). I can only organize opportunities to learn. I think FYRE was the best opportunity I have ever provided.

The Winner of ANBI 110 Class Choice Best Poster 2014


Discussion group about the First Year Research Experience


I attended an information and sharing session this afternoon on the Undergraduate research Initiative at the University of Saskatchewan. This project started a few years back but has moved into the implementation phase. AgBio was invited to be a test college for implementing a first year research experience into our classes. Of course, we went for it enthusiastically.

When I say we, the instructors of all 3 AgBio first term courses also embraced the idea and have implemented it in their classes. Fran Walley and Krista Wilde have been teaching research skills all along in their class, AGRC 111: Sustainable plant and soil management for several years now. They incorporated the FYRE project into their course very easily. Colin Laroque is teaching EVSC 110 (Renewable resources and the environment) for the first time this year. He bravely agreed incorporate the FYRE project into his class.

Of course, I am part of FYRE as the primary instructor of ANBI 110: Introduction to domestic animal biology. It’s only the second year I have taught it so I don’t have much to compare this year to. However, I have been amazed at how well the FYRE activities have worked out thus far. The students seem engaged and have improved their writing and numeracy skills greatly. We still have our big poster event on Dec 3. That should tell us how successful we have been. I know we have started something new and valuable. At the very least, a foundation we can build on.

The most exciting thing was a discussion at the end of the meeting about SOTL—the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. I have heard the term but have not really paid any attention. It sounds like something we need to bring to the assessment of the FYRE program. Yet another thing to learn…how exciting.

Any students reading this, I would love any comments you have on your experience thus far.

It’s in the syllabus!–Not if you don’t put it there.


When I first began teaching, my syllabi were pretty much what I got as an undergraduate– a list lecture topics beside their dates plus a list of assignments and exams with the percentage each was worth. They slowly got better but it wasn’t until I took a course on course design at Gwenna Moss (thanks to Heather Ross, Ryan Banow) that I really saw the value of a good syllabus. You can find my ANBI 110 syllabus here:  http://ocw.usask.ca/AB/ANBI/110/. It’s not perfect but I try to make it better every year.

When I was Associate Dean (Academic) I distributed syllabus templates to college faculty and hoped that this would significantly improve the quality of our course syllabi. Generally it has. I still think there is room for improvement but its getting better. However, there are still some bare bones, crappy ones out there. Not every teacher who ever lived can say “it’s the syllabus”.

Remember, if you don’t give students all the information they need in a syllabus, don’t complain that students just don’t take responsibility for their education. You have a responsibility too.



Texting in class

A I have posted an article below by Maryellen Weimer on students texting in class. This is an issue I feel strongly about. I tell students at the beginning of the term that if they want to text (or surf the net), they should do it outside, not in class. My reason for this is not only are they wasting their own time, but they are distracting students around them and making it more difficult for them to pay attention. My success has been limited I think. Texting is such a part of everyday life for most students that they simply can’t ignore their phone when a text arrives. This is not only a problem in class, it is a problem on the road as well. I continually see people texting while driving despite the dangers involved. If we can’t stop texting and driving, how can we get rid of texting in class? One of the most disturbing things about the reference that this article cites is that 10% of students admitted to receiving a text during an exam. Apparently it’s easy. This is the reason I have gone to online exams that allow full access to the internet. It takes a lot of work to create questions that can’t be easily answered by Dr. Google, but it absolutely solves the problem of cheating (well I hope it does). I have no solution to the issue of texting in class or during exams. If we want to change behaviour, we need to change attitudes. It used to be very acceptable to drink and drive. Now it is not. We changed peoples minds about this issue. Now we just need to change the attitude of people about when it is appropriate to text and when it’s time to put your phone away.

Texting in Class: Extent, Attitudes, Other Interesting Information – See more at: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/texting-class-extent-attitudes-interesting-information/#sthash.q97g2xWr.dpuf People text almost everywhere nowadays, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that students are doing it in class. In this study of almost 300 marketing majors at two different universities, 98 percent reported that they texted during class. They reported receiving just about as many texts as they sent. Perhaps most troubling in these findings were students’ attitudes about texting. Here’s a sample:

  • Sixty-four percent said they were texting in class because “I just wanted to communicate,” and 48 percent said, “I was bored … helped to pass the time.”
  • Fifty-six percent indicated that they were currently taking a course where texting was banned; 49 percent reported that they continued to text even with the ban.
  • Sixty-one percent agreed that they should not text during class; 32 percent agreed that they could text without the teacher knowing; 32 percent indicated that they thought the teacher knew they were texting.
  • Forty-seven percent reported that they could text and follow a lecture at the same time.
  • Forty-seven percent also believed that texting during class does not influence grades on exams or quizzes.

The article contains a literature review with references to many current surveys documenting the use of cell phones and texting during class. The findings of these descriptive studies are succinctly summarized in the table included in the article. In a 2010 survey, 82 percent of a 200-student cohort said they texted in class; in a 2011 survey, 79 percent of an 805-student cohort reported texting in class.

The authors of this article also summon an especially impressive amount of evidence on multitasking. They succinctly and clearly explain the physiological reasons why it is difficult for human brains to do more than one thing at a time and conclude “The problem inherent with multitasking and learning, as expressed by the model [a metacognitive model explained and referenced in the article], is starkly rudimentary. Meaningful learning requires substantial cognitive processing, but the learner’s capacity for cognitive processing is severely limited.” (p. 27) Multitasking hinders mental fluidity, and given that the capacity to process sensory input is innate, multitasking a lot (texting regularly in all one’s classes) does not increase the ability or overcome the negative consequences. If you’d like to explain to your students why the beliefs many of them hold about their ability to multitask are specious, this article is a great resource.

A bit surprisingly, this study did not find a relationship between texting and GPA. In other words, there was no correlation between the amount students reported texting and their overall college GPA (which was not self-reported). However, a positive relationship has been reported in other research, and in this study, the students who received the most texts in the course from which the study cohort was drawn did more poorly in that course. The researchers describe the relationship between texting and grades as complicated. They offer several possible explanations for the lack of relation found in their study.

Reference: Clayson, D.E., and Haley, D.A. (2013). “An introduction to multitasking and texting: Prevalence and impact on grades and GPA in marketing.” Journal of Marketing Education, 35 (1), 26–40.

The science of poo

One of my favourite topics to teach is gut microbiology. There are so many fun and gross facts. Feces is 50% bacteria by weight. The average human has about 2 kg of bacteria associated with them and there are more bacterial cells in your gut than cells in your body. I will be using this cartoon next year.


via: http://buttpoems.tumblr.com/post/100192532859