It’s been a crazy start to the year for Paws for A Purpose. Hard to believe that so much has happened in so little time – but at the same time, the year is also flying by.
We are rapidly growing such a great team of supporters and volunteers and I think our progress is testament to just what can be achieved by a dedicated group of people aligned to a worthy cause.
So one of our first projects as you may have read about here is our ambitious plan to help make Parvovirus history.
‘Parvo’, as it’s more commonly known, is a terrible disease that hurts and kills puppies across Australia and across the world. And that’s an understatement.
Why Parvo is So Bad
Puppies are defenceless when they are born and for the first months of life, and if they are unfortunate to be struck by the virus, it takes hold of their fragile little puppy-bodies and basically tears them apart from the inside. Many puppies that succumb to Parvo die in under 24 hours, many others within a few days. Those that do survive suffer for some time with a painful hard-fought recovery while they desperately fight to live. And for those that don’t make it, their owners who have fallen in love with them, of course, are left with broken hearts. So too are the vets and vet nurses who try to save them.
Like many insidious threats, Parvo is actually more common than a lot of people are aware. This lack of recognition of the extent of the issue is one of the reasons for its continuing prevalence today. Much of the western world (including a lot of vets) believe that this disease is actually a rare occurrence, and this couldn’t be farer from the truth. In affluent areas of capital cities, the virus does generally stay away (hence our belief of its rarity). This is mostly thanks to the great vaccines that are used across the world today and keep the virus at bay. But in fact, around Australia alone, outside of these areas, thousands of puppies are still affected by the virus every year, and even in the major cities. And even more so in the less-well-off areas, and especially so in the remote, regional and rural districts. (Worldwide, it’s been suggested that over a million cases may occur.)
The Scientists are On The Case
Our goal is to see Parvo gone. Many people tell us that’s an impossible dream. I disagree. In the very least we can reduce Parvo to a disease that’s almost unheard-of (and not just due to under-reporting). But perhaps we can take it one step further and find a way to get rid of this disease completely. Either way we have a challenge ahead of us. And regardless, it will be a battle won by one fight at a time.
Our first step to seeing our vision fulfilled, is an ambitious scientific research project that has just begun. A dedicated group of scientists – of which I am one of them and the founder of the project – have embarked on a world-first strategy to measure exactly where Parvo occurs in Australia and just how great the reach of this virus is. This project is being run as a Masters by Research through the University of Sydney. Our thought is that if we can measure the extent of the disease, then we can change it. If we can record exactly where the outbreaks are occurring and where the endemic areas are, then we tackle these areas with intervention-programs and prevention-strategies.
So we’ve set about reaching out to every vet clinic in Australia to ask them to tell us (in a short survey) how much Parvo they see, and some other information on how they deal with the virus.
If every vet clinic in Australia can let us know how much Parvo their clinic treats (or if they don’t see the virus at all to let us know this so we can acknowledge that area as a non-Parvo area), then we are well on the way to getting our first foot on the ladder of tackling this problem.
So Why Has No-One Done This Before?
You might say that this sort of research seems like such an obvious thing to do, so why has no one done this before? (And as far as we are aware, this is the first time in the world that anyone has surveyed a whole country to try and eradicate or reduce this disease.)
I think there are several explanations to why no one has tried before and the truth is probably a mixture of many of these.
One possible answer is that the issue seems too big to many people that perhaps people who entertained the idea felt it wasn’t worth trying, or didn’t see how they could. (Advances in technology have helped to counter this aspect to the issue in recent years.)
Another possible answer is that in many cases, we are so busy trying to manage the problem (or other problems) at a local level (e.g. for the vets in the clinics of the Parvo-affected areas and for the animal shelters that see the unvaccinated strays afflicted with the disease) that we feel like we don’t have the capacity to do anything about the underlying issue.
A possible third answer is that for many people, especially younger people among us, Parvo is a disease that we have just got used to, so we treat the outbreaks and epidemics as a ‘normal occurrence’.
Many people don’t know that Parvo is only approaching it’s 40th birthday. Prior to the late 1970s, this disease didn’t even exist. As viruses go, it’s actually really young – it came into existence about the same time as the AIDS virus in humans (the two are completely unrelated). But as one generation of people and the next gets accustomed to anything, we fall into the trap of not even thinking ‘what can we do to change this?’.
Complacency about a Puppy Killer
When I was contacting some of the stakeholders in this project (some of the veterinary boards in different states of Australia) to spread the word about what we were planning and to ask for help in disseminating our Parvovirus survey, I was told that a particular veterinary board didn’t send emails to their members unless it was about a severe disease outbreak, for example an exotic disease.
I thought about this for a second at the time and it occurred to me that what the registrar was actually telling me was Parvo wasn’t important enough (to society) to warrant the effort to make any changes? If we were seeing Parvo for the first time now, this issue would be across every media channel in Australia or even the world. And we’d have scientists trying everything they can do to stop it. But despite so many cases occurring, we (society) just think of this as ‘normal’ now, and so while we react to outbreaks, we let them pass, and then let them recur again sometime in the future.
We’ve just seen an outbreak in Sydney, of Parvo’s ‘mother virus’, Feline Panleucopenia (FPV) – the feline threat from which it is suspected that Canine Parvo emerged 38 years ago. This resulted in some brief media attention because currently FPV is less commonly seen, so this was able to hit the media spotlight. Hopefully this helped raise a bit of awareness for people to vaccinate their cats and kittens in Sydney, and this may help in raising enough herd immunity there to bring FPV back into an inter-epidemic interval again for the time being.
But I guarantee it, unless things change, we will see outbreaks of FPV again, too.
At the same time, Canine Parvo is a MUCH bigger issue, and apart from brief media appearances in local areas, when a vet reaches out about an increase in cases, we are not giving Parvo the airplay in the media it needs to precipitate meaningful change. We have not been dedicating our scientific thinking to how to tackle this problem, epidemiologically, until now.
And partly this has been because, as a community, we have not been highlighting the issue enough, which may be because we’ve not been aware of how bad things are, across our whole community, until now. And things are about to change.
Our philosophy is that Parvo is as much a social disease as it is a biological one. We think it still exists today because of social issues. And the answer to social problems is to find social solutions. The first step to fixing the issue is to know how much Parvo is actually affecting our pets and where this is occurring.
Our veterinary survey has been disseminated across the veterinary profession for just over 8 weeks now. Currently we have 15% of vet clinics who have answered our call. And we still need a lot more.
We’ve had great support from the University of Sydney (with whom the study is being run), the Australian Veterinary Association, the ASAVA (the small animal special interest group of the AVA), most of the veterinary boards across Australia, veterinary media including Vet Practice magazine and The Veterinarian magazine, Prime 7 news, vet bloggers, and many people who have helped spread the word on the project.
Very preliminary data analysis is showing us that the Parvo problem is at least as bad as we initially thought (it’s too early to share results but we hope to have some data to release soon).
But we are off to a good start as we battle forth on our quest to reduce or maybe even eventually help eradicate this terrible disease.
Thanks for your support to #HelpMakeParvoHistory
Dr Mark Kelman
Co-founder, Paws for A Purpose
It's New Years Day in 2017, and it seemed like a fitting day for this first blog for Paws for A Purpose, though our journey actually started almost 12 months to the day, with an idea. It’s crazy to think that it’s taken this long, to come this small step, but at the same time, a lot has happened in the last 12 months and we have big goals for this year ahead…
I’m not going to recap what Paws for A Purpose is about, you can find this here and here.
Today I want to share a bit of our journey so far and where we are heading in the year to come. If you are interested then I invite you to learn a bit about our beginnings and why we’ve started this crazy project…
The idea for Paws for A Purpose came from a gap that we saw, trying to help pets in need, and people-with-pets, in need.
As a veterinarian, I have a bit of experience with trying to solve some of the problems facing pets in society, and discovered that there is a significant lack of funding and a lack of strategic direction from any area, for a lot of the issues facing our pets in today’s world.
It’s perhaps one of the reasons that a lot of things haven’t changed despite a lot of advances in science and the incredible resources that could be available to fix the problems that pet-owners, and pets face.
Pets are family, and give unconditional love without judgement. They can be life-saving or life-changing and help inspire people to live their lives to the full, or to change their lives for the better. For just one example of this, check out the book, A Street Cat Named Bob, which has also recently been made into a movie. I’ve read the book and loved it, and I think the movie is to be released in Australia shortly (maybe it has been by the time you read this).
The problem is that despite our knowledge that pets are good for people, a lot of people in need still struggle to look after their pets. Many people face the prospect of having to put themselves in a worse situation - like sleeping on the street, or forgoing food or other necessities, just to try and keep their pets who may be their closest companions. And without their pets, people just give up. I’ve seen it first hand and it’s a terribly sad situation to witness.
And even in today’s Australia - a first-world-country by any standards - in disadvantaged areas across the nation, communicable pet diseases continue to infect and kill thousands of pets, and there is very little actively being done to fix these problems.
We want to make a difference. We want to make a change. So we are setting about to try and change the world for pets and people for the better.
We started Paws for A Purpose as a social enterprise organisation dedicated to helping pets and people in need. As an organisation, we raise money for projects that will help the lives of pets, and people with pets, who are in need of help. We are a registered charity and 100% of our money raised, after our costs, goes to our charitable purpose.
As I write this, we are just launching our first product into the market, which is a dog treat, called our Premium Beef Treat, which is 100% Australian Beef, with no preservatives or additives, and from sales of this product we are funding the first of our life-saving projects. In fact, if you are interested you can buy it online here.
One of our first projects is to help try and reduce Canine Parvovirus, or eventually maybe even lead to the eradication of this disease. “Parvo” as it is commonly known, is a devastating virus that kills puppies and breaks families hearts across our nation. How we are helping is by funding the vaccines needed for a scientific research-and-prevention project being conducted through University of Sydney. This is a project that I’ve initiated because it needed to be done by someone and it’s something I know a bit about.
Once the project gets underway, the need for funding for vaccines will be considerable. We are soon to identify all the areas across Australia that the disease reaches and once we know this better we’ll have a greater idea of the extent of our job. To try and vaccinate all the pups that are not being protected, and are spreading the disease will be a big task, but if we are successful then we can stop puppies being infected, and prevent the suffering that also occurs. More on this soon!
The other initial area we and helping is to help fund Pets In The Park, another charity that helps the homeless to care for their pets. This is also a charity that I know something about, I’ve volunteered for them as a vet for a few years now (they are a young charity nonetheless) and I became a co-director of this organisation a couple of years ago too - so I am very aware of the great work that they do. I encourage anyone interested to check them out as well.
It was through getting to know about these kinds of issues and need there is for the solutions to be resourced, that the vision for Paws for A Purpose as a social enterprise was sown.
And then mid-last year after much pre-work had been done, I was able to bring on board two other directors: a very-like-minded veterinary colleague, Dr Michael O’Donoghue and my awesome girlfriend, Tessa Biddles (who unsurprisingly also shares our same values around pets, human welfare, charities and giving), and Paws for A Purpose Ltd - the social enterprise - was officially born. And thanks to the help from a small but great team of other volunteers as well, we are starting to make some good forward progress...
So having had germinated the seed of Paws for A Purpose, now we embark on the next stage for our organisation: (1) the launch of our first product; (2) engaging people to join us in helping to fulfil our mission; and (3) our first big project - trying to help reduce Canine Parvovirus and save the lives of puppies across Australia.
And we will have more on this all soon…
And if you feel you can help us in any way, or if you know of someone who might be interested to sell our Premium Beef Treats, please reach out to us and let us know!
Thanks for being part of our journey.
Dr Mark Kelman
Co-founder, Paws for A Purpose