Suppose that there is a problem case–let’s call it the Zoey case–of extreme, uncontrolled biting behaviors that pose serious risks to others. Then we might imagine the following snippet from a clinician’s consultation with Zoey’s guardians:
Perhaps melodramatic? Not so, given that Zoey is a 5-year old, muzzled dog brought in to the office of Nicholas Dodman by her concerned owners for a psychiatric evaluation! The quote above contains words of advice that Dodman begins his consultation with.
If we were to ask Zoey: ‘Look, if you slip up in the future, and you bite someone like that again, the chances are you’re not going to come out of it alive. But we can make you feel better if we give you some medicine like, for example, Prozac. Would you like to have the medicine that might save your life?’
This comes from a recent New York Times Magazine article by James Vlahos, Pill-Popping Pets. Although it rambles in places, bringing in everything from the origins of cognitive ethology to Thomas Nagel’s “What’s it like to be a bat?”, it’s worth a read, especially if it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. Vlahos opens with the following:
Max retrieves Frisbees. He gobbles jelly beans. He chases deer. He is — and this should be remembered when discussions of cases like his blunder into the thickets of cognitive ethology, normative psychology and intraspecies solipsism — a good dog. A 3-year-old German shepherd, all rangy limbs and skittering paws, he patrols the hardwood floors and wall-to-wall carpets of a cul-de-sac home in Lafayette, Calif., living with Michelle Spring, a nurse, and her husband, Allan, a retired airline pilot. Max fields tennis balls with his dexterous forelegs and can stand on his hindquarters to open the front door. He loves car rides and will leap inside any available auto, even ones belonging to strangers. Housebroken, he did slip up once indoors, but everybody knows that the Turducken Incident simply wasn’t his fault. “He’s agile,” Allan says. “He’s healthy. He’s a good-looking animal.” Michelle adds, “We love him to death.” That is why they had no choice, she says. The dog simply had to go on psychoactive drugs.
The psychopharmacological management of our pets is now a growing industry, accompanied by the application of what looks like the full range of psychiatric categories, pulled over from their often dubious human domain to that of our closest furry friends: social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression.Pharma giant Eli Lilly opened a “companion animal” division last year, and their Reconcile, which is a repackaging of Prozac, is being used to treat canines with social anxiety disorder. With over 60 million dogs in the US alone, and a population of concerned owners (human companions?), EL no doubt has done the numbers on this one. Another victory for predatory capitalism in the trading zone where medicine solves problems rooted in lifestyle choices?
Where does one start on this festering sore of a situation? Maybe just with a question for responsible pet owners everywhere: is your dog on Prozac? (Follow up question: if your dog IS on Prozac, why not switch to the GENERIC version and save yourself a bundle?)
Hat tip to my favourite neuroethologist Malcolm MacIver for bringing the NYTM article to my attention.