Risk management: ticks, cats Lyme disease, and sketchy vets

“Pookie,” out on a tick-gathering mission. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

A discerning Toronto friend, a woman with exceptional research skills, recently discovered a tick on her pet cat, “Pookie*.” After taking Pookie to a vet, she posted the following PSA on Facebook.

Make sure to check your pets—both cats and dogs—for ticks! [Pookie] uses monthly, topical anti-flea medication, but it does not have any effect on other parasites. In Ontario, the tick population is, apparently, especially high this year and [Pookie]  had one on her neck. I’m hoping her blood tests come back clean and that she’s happy and healthy now that it’s been removed.

So she found a tick on her cat and took it to a vet who removed the tick and subjected Pookie (and my friend’s pocketbook) to a battery of blood tests. Total bill: $380.

This got me thinking about my childhood summers on Cape Cod, 150 years ago, when tick-finding was a weekly occurrence, veterinary intervention unheard of. We simply picked off the ticks—using something hot, like a cigarette, to be sure the tick released its mandibles, lest they break off and remain behind to infect the site of the bite.

Of course, this protocol predated the 1975 discovery of Lyme disease, an unpleasant infection that can linger for months if not treated promptly. But is it really necessary to rush off to the vet, Visa card in hand, at the first sighting of a tick on a cat? Google “Lyme disease and cats,” and the top two hits provide strikingly different advice.

The first, from PetMD, a website whose veterinarian-authors profit from treating household pets, acknowledges that Lyme disease is “uncommon in cats,” but adds that it is, “one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world.” A lurid litany of potential symptoms follows.

The second hit, from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, whose academic authors do not profit from treating household pets, is headed, “Lyme Disease: A Potential, But Unlikely, Problem for Cats.” It goes on to say:

Lyme disease is probably not a concern for cat owners. Although the bacteria that cause Lyme disease is capable of infecting cats, the disease has never been seen in a cat outside of a laboratory setting. However, because Lyme is potentially quite severe and is common among humans and dogs, it is wise to know how the disease is transmitted and what the signs of infection are in your pets.” [Emphasis mine.]

Whoa! $380 to test a cat for a disease that has never been found in household cats? I have to think if Pookie’s vet had revealed this detail, my friend might have taken a pass. Instead, the vet told her the test would look for three tick-borne diseases that can infect cats.

According to the website Know Your Cat, the other two arecytauxzoonosis, which it describes as “fortunately still rare,” and feline hemotrophic mycoplasmosis, a bacterial infection that can cause anemia, but is relatively rare and readily treated with antibiotics. This last infection can be transmitted by ticks, but also by mosquitoes and fleas. So unless you are willing to put your pet through $380 worth of blood tests after every flea, mosquito, and tick bite, a $15 antibiotic—or no treatment at all—might be the rational choice.

Unfortunately, too many vets are not in the rational choice business. They’re in the guilt-inducing, risk-exaggerating business.

It seems to me an ethical vet would have used the office visit to (1) educate my friend how to safely remove ticks herself, (2) describe any symptoms she should look out for, and (3) advise against tests whose only real purpose is to pad the bill.
Comments from vets welcome.

* The name of the cat has been changed to protect the gullible innocent.

This week: the 10th Annual Sable Island Update


If you are near Halifax this week, consider taking in the 10th annual (well, almost annual) Sable Island Update organized by the naturalist and longtime Sable resident Zoe Lucas. After a year’s hiatus, Lucas returns to Saint Mary’s University this Wednesday evening with what looks to be a great lineup of illustrated talks on the most beguiling real estate in Nova Scotia.

  • Parks Canada Senior Archaeologist Charles Burke will present the results of the first-ever archaeological survey of human artifacts on the island, including its notorious shipwrecks and sporadic attempts at human settlement dating back to the 16th century. Burke will also discuss the difficulty of preserving archaeological resources in a place where weather, waves, and the relentless migration of sand dunes obliterate them.
  • Brenna McLeod Frasier, research associate with the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History and the Canadian Whale Institute, will discuss the large herds of walrus that populated the shorelines of Nova Scotia until the late 1700s, when hunters seeking tusks, hide, and blubber extirpated them. Her analysis of DNA, and the morphology of ancient walrus bones collected on Sable and elsewhere in the region, has established the Maritimes walrus as a group distinctive from today’s Atlantic walrus. She will review the history of our walrus, and possible explanations for its unique characteristics.
  • Saint Mary’s University biologist and forensic scientist Timothy Frasier will describe the social lives of Sable horses, focusing on the dispersal patterns of males and females as they move away from their home range upon reaching sexual maturity.
  • A highlight of the Sable Island Updates is Lucas’s annual review of noteworthy occurrences on the island—weather events, beached materials, island activities and operations, and new records of plants and animals found on the island. Since there was no update last year, this year’s review will cover 2014 and 2015.

Missing from this year’s schedule is any sort of accountability session from Parks Canada, whose stewardship of the island got off to a bad start when Environment Minister Jim Prentice provoked outrage with inane remarks about the benefits of building private tourist facilities on Sable.

Parks Canada now has two years experience managing Sable, including the delicate task of deciding how many—and who—can visit. These annual updates would be the perfect place to present its developing policies to the island’s most fervent supporters, along with hard numbers on visits to the island—including private luxury tours. With the election of a federal government less hostile to science and more committed to open communications, perhaps Parks Canada will do better next year.

This year’s Sable Island Update runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 25, at the Theatre Auditorium of the McNally Building, Saint Mary’s University, 923 Robie St., Halifax. There is no admission charge. It’s wise to come early, as the room usually fills to capacity. For more information, see the complete program.

Wednesday’s meeting is supported by Friends of the Green Horse Society and the Ecology Action Centre, and is co-hosted by Saint Mary’s University, the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and the Nova Scotian Institute of Science.

Regret the error

Department of Modification and Rectification, Maclean’s Magazine edition:

Leslie Correction 400

For the record, Leslie has 10 fingers; Statler and Waldorf have a combined total of 16.

Halifax imposes a tax on wheelchair ramps. Or is it a fine?

Woozles Ramp

Halifax Mayor Ron Wallace Edmund Morris Mike Savage was on CBC Radio Wednesday, taking calls about small business property taxes when Liz Crocker, owner of Woozles Childrens Bookstore, the yellow building pictured above, rang up with a complaint.

Like Savage, Crocker is a life-long Liberal, and she’s strategic enough to be polite when lobbying a politician. But you could tell she was annoyed at various burdens the city places on small business.

“When I got my tax bill this year, I was surprised to see an ‘encroachment fee’ for the wheelchair ramp I installed.”

Believe it or not, this is standard operating procedure in HRM. The same building and bylaw inspectors who seem congenitally incapable of enforcing building code accessibility standards nevertheless pounce with alacrity whenever a small business owner takes the initiative to outfit their property with equipment that welcomes people in wheelchairs.

Mobility rights activist Gus Reed has the whole story, amusingly told, on the James McGregor Stewart Society blog. He points out how HRM’s official hostility to accessibility rights limits the employment opportunities available to people who use wheelchairs, thus driving up welfare costs—and the taxes that support them.

Back in the CBC studio, the mayor bobbed, the mayor weaved. He boasted of a “a partnership” between the city and the Parker Street Skills Development Centre to provide businesses with portable ramps. (In fact, that project is entirely paid for by a generous donation from Reed, who has been unable to get any accounting of how many ramps have been deployed, or where.)

His worship spoke feelingly the hardship wheelchair ramps impose on wheelchair-users trying to pass by on the sidewalk. (I am not making this up, as Dave Barry might say.)

Savage’s approach to disability rights is an amalgam of happy talk, failure to enforce existing rules, excuses for not passing tougher ones, and punitive action against businesses that try to do the right thing. He could solve Liz Crocker’s problem in three minutes by going down the hall to the CEO’s Richard Butts’s office (on a day when Butts happened to be visiting from his home in Toronto) and ordering the inspection department to start enforcing the building code and stop fining wheel chair ramps.

Recycling update—not Gaza or Turkey, but Brazil

Thanks to two Contrarian readers called Richard for pointing out that, while that the words corda de varal may mean “let’s reach into the core” in Turkish, they mean “clothesline rope” in Portuguese.

From there it took but a few Google searches to locate the workshop that produced ingenious contraptions for recycling plastic soda bottles into twine and brooms featured here yesterday in Jaru, Brazil, a small city in the western Amazon state of Rondônia.

The maker is Alceu Rocha, better known to his Jaru neighbours as “Gyro Gearloose.” From the Hackaday website:

Not a word of English is spoken in the video, and our Portuguese stops at obrigado, but you don’t really need to understand what’s being said to know what’s going on. Built from what looks to be the running gear of several bicycles and motors from various cast-off appliances, our nameless genius’ machines slit the PET bottles into fine threads, winds the thread onto spools, and braids the threads into heavier cords. We love the whole home-brew vibe of the machines; especially clever is the hacked desk calculator wired to a microswitch to count revolutions, and the salvaged auto jack used to build a press for forming the broom heads. All in all it’s a pretty amazing little factory cranking out useful products from zero-cost raw material.

A Hackaday reader elaborates on the technical obstacles to recycling plastic bottles.:

A major problem with recycling beverage bottles is most of them, except those super thin water ones, are actually made of at least three layers. The inside is always virgin/new PET – to satisfy health and safety. Then there’s a middle layer that’s an oxygen barrier to help the contents stay fresh. The outside usually is partially recycled PET and may contain other plastics.

The bottles start as injection molded preforms with very thick walls and the neck and threads molded. The preforms get clamped into heated molds then air or CO2 or nitrogen is blown in to force the plastic out against the inside of the mold. In that process, the thick preform stretches and thins.

Ah, the internet: a clever video from Brazil, via Turkey, the Gaza Strip, and the nice outreach officer at ACAP Cape Breton, whose FB feed brought it to my attention.

Necessity is the mother of recycling

A bit of clever, grass-roots engineering borne of necessity:

The source of this video, which is getting lots of traction on Facebook, is unclear. Posted on YouTube by Moez Hassen, it was re-posted to Facebook by Radio Gaza, although it’s not clear the makeshift recycling facility is located in the Palestinian exclave.

Toward the end, it bears the stamp of Yok Böyle Birsey, a whimsical Turkish website which translates as “no such thing.” The package of twine shown at the end bears the label corda de varal, which is Turkish for something akin to, “Let’s reach into the core.” Portuguese for “clothesline rope.”

My hunch is all of these are re-postings. Perhaps Contrarian readers will have better luck tracking down its origins and confirming the location of the ingenious cordage plant. Meanwhile, enjoy!

[Update: That was my original hunch. My new one is that the recycling facility is in Brazil, and in that amazing way the internet has, word of it reached us via Turkey, the Gaza Strip, and the nice outreach officer at ACAP Cape Breton, whose FB feed brought it to my attention. Thanks to the two Richards who wrote to point out that corda de varal is a Portuguese phrase.]

(H/T: JEC.)



A wise friend wondered on Facebook whether it was prudent for President François Hollande to visit the Bataclan concert hall so soon after the shooting stopped. It’s good he went. The sooner people behave normally after an attack like this, the better.

The threat was almost certainly over once the shooting stopped. Usually, in the hours, days, and weeks afterwards, we pretend we are in much greater danger than we are. The strange modern compulsion to form an empathetic connection with ghastly news events swings into action. We wring our hands and declare, “Everything has changed.” We cede yet more power to every police force everywhere.

HRM police officials will now consider themselves vindicated in their decision to deploy snipers and military-clad officers toting battlefield weapons at Remembrance Day services. They are not vindicated. It was a repulsive way for a civic police force to behave.

Such reactions to violence do not make us stronger. They make us weaker. They are what terrorists hope for.

Time was democrats knew a better way to respond to organized violence:

The premier’s role in the Andrew Younger mess


As I argued last week, the Andrew Younger mess points to the unintended consequences that arise when legislators and policy makers rush to solve real social problems by means of sweeping, arbitrary rules. Murky as the details of this case are, it serves as a useful thought experiment, since the gender stereotypes that gave rise to the iron-clad rules are reversed, making their application problematic, if not perverse.

Had events followed the course demanded by media scolds, the probable outcome would have seen a promising young woman’s career destroyed on an alleged point of “principle,” over a private matter neither party was inclined to pursue.

The deeper policy questions have been largely brushed aside in the media- and opposition-fueled uproar that followed Younger’s invocation of parliamentary privilege to avoid testifying in the ill-conceived prosecution of Tara Gault, and his apparent misrepresentation—intentional or otherwise—of the precise timeline around that decision.

This final, arcane detail is where the premier decided to hang his hat when media furor became too much to endure. Younger had to go, and the timeline confusion provided the pretext.

Late yesterday, Younger and his wife Katia sent the media a statement challenging the premier’s account of events. Perhaps because it was late arriving on a holiday when newsrooms operated with skeleton staffs, or perhaps because editors felt the Youngers had already made these points, no one used the statement. I include it here, for the record.

Contributed Editorial from Andrew & Katia Younger
November 12, 2015

Since we learned from Kirby McVicar, the Premier’s Chief of Staff, that Andrew was being removed from cabinet and caucus, we have been troubled that constituents and Nova Scotians have not been provided the full truth about this situation. We don’t feel it’s important for people to know each detail of our marriage. We have not felt comfortable being told by Premier’s Office to stay silent since December. We placed our trust in the Premier and his office. We allowed them to insert themselves in the conduct of our personal lives and how we managed public interest in it, despite our view all along it had nothing to do with Andrew’s ability to do his job.

It’s been suggested Andrew refused to testify outright and that we did not provide accurate information to the Premier’s Office. Neither of these is true.

In December the Premier did not make himself available to talk to either of us. Andrew was told to speak to Mr. McVicar and Katia’s contact to the premier with information and questions was not acknowledged. Even before charges were even laid or an arrest made, Mr. McVicar had detailed information about the assault and the investigation, including the long term health impacts Andrew has faced as a result. We were both there when Andrew offered by phone to step aside in December, only to be refused. Days later Andrew was told by Mr. McVicar to take a voluntary or forced leave of absence with explicit instructions to not talk publicly about the reasons.

We did not ask for charges to be laid. Andrew never once refused to testify. The subpoenas dated in March were delivered to us in July. We immediately inquired and were informed there would be no trial. The Thursday before trial, Andrew spoke to the new prosecutor. Even leaving that meeting it was expected the matter would conclude without trial. Katia was never once contacted prior to trial.

Hindsight is easy. We have much more information today than we did last week. On the Monday before trial, Andrew’s lawyer reviewed past court rulings, and advised the Crown it did not seem Andrew could appear in court. The Crown also reviewed this information and agreed. On Tuesday, they indicated they would seek an adjournment of the trial so the matter could be resolved.

Andrew called Mr. McVicar and gave him this information. Andrew raised with him that this issue would result in media interest. Mr. McVicar expressed no concerns. The next day the judge refused to grant the adjournment.

Andrew was not trying to avoid talking about personal issues or testifying.

Following the dismissal of charges, Mr. McVicar texted Andrew saying “Good news today.” This was followed by the Premier publicly indicating his trust in Andrew, reaffirming our faith in the Premier and his office, and the trust we had placed in him since December. It was a complete shock then, to receive the phone call hours later from Mr. McVicar to say Andrew was being removed from Cabinet and Caucus.

Our family did not begin the political journey for anything more than to help our community. Together we will continue on.

Andrew & Katia Younger

McNeil insisted Younger deal with McVicar on the Gault matter, not with himself. This was an apparent effort to give the premier cover—what communications advisers call “plausible deniability”—although only the credulous will fall for the denial.

I’m inclined to accept that the premier’s office—read, “the premier”—dictated Younger’s response to the Gault prosecution throughout the events of the last year, and McNeil’s last minute decision to cut Younger loose reflected a political calculation that the heat had become too much to bear, rather than any point of principle about alleged misrepresentations.

If so, it’s yet another depressing illustration of the way parliamentary traditions are debased by the iron grip first ministers have come to exercise over cabinet, caucus, and the civil service. This problem lay at the heart of much that was wrong with the Harper administration; it was a root cause of the Dexter Government’s downfall; it may eventually prove to be McNeil’s undoing. Canadian parliaments need to fix this.

Younger will return to the legislature later today to sit as an independent member—a role he professes to prefer over that of government backbencher. In a phone conversation with Contrarian, he said he is looking forward to Question Period, where the rules allow independent members to ask up to one question per day. He said his tentative plan is to serve out the existing term, then consider his options. He will not run for the vacant Dartmouth seat on council, having already promised to support another candidate for that position—support, he wryly acknowledged, that may not be worth much today.

Two charts that drive home Atlantic Canada’s existential problem

Sydney resident Rory Andrews posted these charts to the community website GoCape Breton, but something very similar could be drawn for each of the four Atlantic provinces.


And to make the point even clearer:


Short of taking a reverso-page from China’s book and implementing a Ten-Child Policy, the only solution is immigration. Ad hoc, community-based efforts to encourage foreign students attending Nova Scotia universities to settle here should be rolled into a major provincial government effort with appropriate resources. And beyond welcoming university students, Stephen MacNeil should put himself at the head of the queue for accepting the Middle Eastern refugees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to admit.

The usual response to that last suggestion is that any refugees who settle in Nova Scotia will move away first chance they get to larger centres where they can find people of their own nationality and culture. To which I say, not if we welcome enough of them. If we settled 10,000 or 20,000 Syrians over the next few years, we’d probably have the largest Syrian community in Canada.

Most of all, we need to get over ourselves, and drive a stake through the heart of that narrow minded attitude toward come-from-aways that has kept us comfortable and insular for far too long. If someone wants to build a golf course on an abandoned coal dump in Inverness, don’t shun their children or drive them away with petty insults and vandalism. Worry a little less about about Gaelic and a lot more about Mandarin, Tagalog, Arabic, and Farsi.



Film Series reprise (sort of)


I no longer subscribe to the mass email service that let me contact the 1,800 people on the old Cape Breton Island Film Series mailing list, and sending an email message to 1,800 recipients is a good way to get yourself banned as a spammer. So I’ll count on Sydney area readers to pass this information along:

On Wednesday, Nelson MacDonald and the Atlantic Filmmakers’ Coop present an evening of short films produced in Atlantic Canada—including two made in Cape Breton. As the poster says, the screenings take place 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sydney’s Highland Arts Theatre.

The movies include:

  • 4 Quarters – Ashley McKenzie (13 min., Drama)
  • Higgy Wants In – Winston DeGiobbi (13 min., Experimental)
  • Urban Renewal Initiative – David Stewart (13 min., Experimental)
  • Masculins – Stephanie Young (13 min., Documentary)
  • Four New Messages – Tori Fleming (13 min., Animation)
  • I Am Syd Stone – Denis Theriault (13 min., Drama)
  • HiFi Normal – Amanda Dawn Christie (13 min., Experimental)

It’s a rare opportunity to see shorts produced at our end of Canada. Some are experimental, some more established. Ashley McKenzie’s 4 Quarters, starring Toronto-based Newfoundlander Sofia Banzhaf and Cape Bretoners Andrew Gillis and Melissa Kearney, has been playing festivals across North America and Europe. The others, I for one will be seeing for the first time.

Next time we see a McKenzie movie, it’ll be her first feature, Train Whistle Does Not Blow, shot this fall in locations around the industrial area.

Y’all come.

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