Are you going to a conference in 2020?

The beginning of a new calendar year is usually the time to think about conferences. Calls for abstracts are about to open – or in some cases even to close. I haven’t made up my mind yet about which conferences to attend, except for two for which I have an invitation (Scand-LAS and World Congress on Alternatives and Animals in the Life Sciences) which I will honour and one I know I won’t attend (ISAE – I usually attend when it’s in Europe and this year it’s in India).

Here are the ones I’m considering:

Canine Science Forum – Lisbon, Portugal 7-10 July

It would be a first time for me and it would be well justified by my increasing engagement in research with dogs. I would be an attendee only, not a presenter, but I expect that somebody else from our research team will be presenting work. Besides, it’s in Lisbon, a 3-h train ride away, and a place where I always enjoy spending some time. Other than that, I can’t really say much since I’ve never attended before.

World Congress on Alternatives and Animals in the Life Sciences – Maastricht, Netherlands 23-27 August

This is an interesting (in more than one way) conference that I’ve attended twice before (it’s held every 3 years). In my experience, it is more of a conference on Replacement alternatives to animals than Refinement alternatives, and the focus on Replacement has been heavily biased towards animal testing (toxicology etc). Whereas I obviously think it’s great that animal tests are being replaced, I don’t really have any scholarly interest in toxicology tests. But this year I have a particular reason for wanting to be present in a Replacement context: we have a project just starting on organoids and other advanced 3D models for research. This would also be a great chance for our newly hired junior researcher and project manager to get a peek into the alternatives research community. I really should discuss with my team what to present. Maastricht is a lovely city too.

EAAP – Porto, Portugal 31 August – 4 September

Again, this is a conference I’ve never attended but one which I know farm animal researchers in Europe always have on their conference agenda. Farm animal science is my background, and this would be an excellent opportunity for a much needed update, within walking distance from home! What speaks against participation is that I’m not sure what I would be able to present, and since this is a costly conference (even when not having to pay for travel or accomodation) I need to be able to fit it into a research project budget.

Will we be meeting at any of these conferences?

Congress blogging Day 2: ISAE, PEI, Canada

 

(One of my co-workers tweeted that I’m blogging from the conference, and the visitor stats for this rather recently launched blog spiked. Good thing that I keep on waking up at 5 am, since I now apparently have a reputation to keep up. Thank you, Nuno!)

The report from the 2nd conference day will be completely lopsided, since I spent the entire morning in the same session, the one on companion animal welfare (and there were no sessions in the afternoon, as the much missed Wednesday afternoon excursions are back in the program this year). I just went through the program for days 3 and 4, and luckily, the coming days I will get to hear talks on farm animals too. The ISAE conference has two parallel sessions, and as far as possible, I try not to move between sessions more than in the breaks. But the consequence of that is the risk of getting a more narrow focus. Well, looking at my own research portfolio, being too narrow or too focused is hardly something I need to worry about…  The reality is that ISAE covers a lot of animals and a lot of topics, and it is challenging to keep up with it all!

The companion animal session took up all morning, and it was very well chaired by Lee Neil and with a coherent program, often with several talks from the same study., and in the following I will respect that rather than the precise order in which they were given.  The session opened with a longer talk by Karen Overall on Turning off dogs’ brains. Behind that title is the finding that in standard behaviour tests (done to select dogs for further professional training), how reactive a dog is to sounds will fundamentally affect how s/he performs in the test.

Judith Stella and Lynda Mugenda presented two papers from the same study working with dogs at commercial breeders (“puppy mills”) in the US. Lynda’s paper addressed how to refine on-site welfare assessment using the Field Instantaneous Dog Observation (FIDO) scoring, and Judith reported the use of welfare scoring to identify good candidates for reforming of retired breeder dogs.

Conor Goold addressed the predictive validity of the dog behaviour assessment used in the Battersea shelters in the UK, looking at how in-shelter assessment related to post-reforming owner reports of dog behaviour. Nicolas Dollion talked about the dimensions of personality in working dogs, based on 37 years worth of data from the Mira foundation in Quebec.

After Conor’s and Nicolas’  talks on studies involving thousands of dogs, our ambition to get a total of 98 dogs from 7 training schools into a study seemed rather meager, but working with companion dogs and volunteer owners is really a different challenge than that of working with single institutions with thousands of dogs. I was both pleased and a little nervous to be presenting dog behaviour work for the first time in my career, and glad that our study of the effects of aversive- and reward-based training methods on companion dog welfare was received with great interest. The last all of the first part of the session, a systematic literature review on service dogs for epileptic people by Amélie Catala, was also a talk I could relate to with our experience of aiming to do a systematic literature review and finding only a handful of papers. This also seems an appropriate way to end the first half of the morning session, by demonstrating that we really need much more of the kind of well designed observational studies that had just been reported!

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Of course, it’s also important that these good studies are put to good use. The graph above illustrates the effect of the Danish dangerous dog act, as reported by Björn Forkman. A sad example of how political decisions are not necessarily aligned with scientific data, a great example of ISAE humor. Hannah Flint also talked about dog aggression, in this case stranger-directed aggression in companion dogs, and discussed the challenges of drawing conclusions from relations between factors such as training and aggression in a cross-sectional study where cause and effect are not clearly separable.

The three last talks were on cats. From Australia, Grahame Coleman reported on how owners’ attitudes affect how they manage outdoor access for their cats and discussed this in terms of Theory of Planned Behaviour.

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From old-town Onomichi in Japan, where there is a large population of unowned cats which are fed by local residents and visiting tourists, Hajime Tanida talked about water provision and Aira Sea about providing toilets to reduce the general soiling of the area where the cats dwell.

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School holiday animal welfare scientists

Every summer, 16 high school students participating in Universidade Júnior at the University of Porto have the opportunity to learn about animal behaviour and welfare – and practice some of their new knowledge in measuring behaviour and welfare. In the Laboratory Animal Science group at i3S – Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, we receive two groups of 8 students who spend a week each with us. Of course, we teach them a lot of theory – we’re scientists after all! – but we try to do it in as playful a way as possible. And there’s plenty of animals.

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There are direct behaviour observations of zebrafish habitat preference, and observations from video recordings of the behaviour of mice and rats during the light and dark period.

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There is a visit to a dairy farm, where the students perform a simplified WelfareQuality assessment and also potentially get some close-up contact with cows.

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And there is a demonstration of dog training as well as a chance to clicker train one’s colleagues.

For our research group, these are two intense but also very rewarding weeks. It is fantastic to be able to share our knowledge and passion for research into animal behaviour and welfare with 16- and 17-year olds who are as interested in animals as we are. We have been doing this since 2014, and of course we hope that some day we will meet a new colleague who once did Universidade Júnior with us!

Thanks to Sara Capas, Andreia Costa, Ana Maria Valentim and Gabriela Morello for the photos.