Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hero worship and the endowment effect

There was something on the radio recently which brought up a study which explored the characteristic in people which make them place a higher value on something they have over something they don't have. This was illustrated in an experiment in which a group of people were asked to place a value on coffee mugs they owned while the other group, the non-owners, were asked to place a value on the same mugs. The people who were owned the coffee mugs consistently placed a much higher value on them, around $7.00, than while those who didn't own them, around $3.00.

The focus of the radio show wasn't on this endowment effect but rather it was a discussion about why Americans are so resistant to reforming their health system even though the majority of them knows it sucks. The hypothesis is that, as explained by the endowment effect, many Americans place a higher value on what flimsy health benefits they may already have over the promise of a much better system.

Now combine hero worship and the endowment effect together and you've got a potent mix of almost impenetrable, can-do-no-wrong armour. Michael Vick is a great example of this. Here's a guy who used to get off on torturing and killing dogs and never did any jail time for these sadistic acts (he pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges and these charges were dropped. Time served was for racketeering). Now he's up for a prestigious Ed Block Courage Award. It's utterly ironic that the Ed Block Foundation is all about bringing awareness and assisting in the prevention of child abuse and now some group of idiots wants to give this award to an animal abuser and they don't see the connection between the two.

Here's a reminder of what Vick used to do, from Bad Rap:

Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick's dogs were small - 40lbs or so - so tossing them in would've been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don't know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.

But for the supporters of Michael Vick and the feeble attempt to distance him from the reality of his personality with this Courage Award, which should be renamed the Discourage Award if he actually gets it, his disgusting abuse of dogs is of little concern. They've grown accustomed to worshiping Vick and don't want his hero image besmirched.

It's not my intention to pick on Americans here. The endowment effect is a human characteristic and we've got a prime example of it right here in Toronto with those who still support the ways of the unreformed and unrepentant Toronto Humane Society. The most public of such supporters is probably Peter Worthington, Toronto Sun editorialist, who continues to bolster the sinking reputation of the THS and its previous management, not by refuting any of the charges laid against them, but by the sly tactic of deflecting blame onto other agencies.

He writes, "Basically, the OSPCA resents and hates the THS because it feels it hasn't been killing enough animals." Bullshit. The implication here is bordering on the criminal and Worthington should be ashamed of himself for this near libel. He heralds the THS' reportedly low euthanasia rate as the result of some sort of noble effort without addressing at all - doesn't even mention - the multitude of claims from vets, animal care workers and volunteers concerning long term animal neglect which allegedly occurred at the THS.

Instead of providing misleading information about OSPCA euthanasia rates, I'd be impressed if he would address even just one allegation. The following is one such issue. It's just one of several provided by Johanna McNaughton, ex-THS vet, as part of a now public, sworn legal statement submitted to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on December 21, 2009:

9. Additionally, between September 2008 and January 2009, THS would often run out of routine vaccines which were used on a daily basis. I understood from xxxx, a laboratory technician responsible for ordering the vaccines, that this was because the vaccine supplier refused to provide the vaccine until direct payment was made due to previous problems with outstanding accounts. The result of this was that animals died unnecessarily when the prompt administration of vaccine that cost only a few dollars could have saved their life.

10. It is also my opinion that many of the staff hired to fulfill veterinary technician roles at the the THS, have no formal training and are unqualified for these positions. They are administering medications without proper training/knowledge of drugs, dosing, route of administration, etc. Many animals have died as a direct result of inaccurate drug administration and incorrect procedural techniques.

14. In my experience proper requests to euthanize animals are often refused at THS, or are unduly delayed, causing unnecessary suffering to the animal. The practical effect of this policy was that many animals which would have been euthanized were not, and suffered painful deaths as a result. Other animals were forced to suffer for prolonged periods of several days to weeks before we were finally given permission to euthanize them.

15. I am aware of many specific examples which illustrate this serious problem. One cat, "Esmerelda", was brought to THS on February 10, 2009, and presented with tumours in both ears which were bleeding and painful. Biopsies were submitted and, on February 25, 2009, THS received results demonstrating that she suffered from infiltrative squamous cell carcinoma with a high rate of metastasis. This is a grave prognosis.

16. Dr. AAA, a veterinarian at THS, requested euthanasia as Esmerelda was suffering and had no prospect of recovery. This was refused by Dr. XXX.

17. Over the next week, Esmerelda developed upper respiratory infection ("URI") and anorexia. At this point the tumour was impinging on her facial nerves causing half her face to be paralyzed. Her condition continued to deteriorate and several veterinarians and veterinary technicians requested that she be euthanized. Ultimately, I asked Dr. BBB, another veterinarian at THS, if he could euthanize her, despite the fact that approval had been withheld. Dr. BBB performed the euthanasia on March 4th, 2009.

But of course Worthington won't address this because there's no way to discuss it without making the THS look bad. Nor has he addressed any of the issues brought up in this 100 page plus report here and here.

Why deal with all that nasty stuff when it's so much easier to just wave around a celebrity hero to distract people from thinking too much. But it's funny how when Worthington brings up the incident in which hero Tre rescued a dog from near death in an overheated car and in the process handcuffed and then abandoned the accused man to an unpredictable crowd, he writes, "Passersby tried to beat the man". Again, more bullshit. The passersby didn't try to beat the man, passersby did beat the man. One passerby smashed three of the guy's teeth out by bashing his head into the car. That's not trying. That's doing and that's also a fact.

Whether or not you believe the guy who owned the poor dog received his due for stupidly and neglectfully leaving his pet overheating in his car is besides the point. What's telling is how Worthington's editorial attempts to gloss over the dirty bits. It makes me wonder what else he glosses over in his attempts to divert the public discourse from what has been going on at the THS. Actually, never mind. I know what he glosses over.

The rest of Worthington's editorial is no better. He simply does not want to give up on his hero worship of the THS. He keeps busting out the well worn bafflegab of accusing the OSPCA of underhanded politics in its dealings with the THS (of course he never accuses the THS of such a thing). Worthington tries to spin all the charges, criminal and otherwise, levied against THS staff and board members into something which is merely the result of politics but what do animals left suffering and dying in their cages have anything to do with politics?

What about this, though?

Addario [THS lawyer] and others see the OSPCA using publicity to take over the THS -- something that has been building for years.

Yeah, right. If the OSPCA wanted to take over the THS, they wouldn't have to resort to using publicity. They wouldn't have to resort to anything. They could just do it. The THS is an affiliate of the OSPCA, not the other way around. The OSPCA could just unilaterally declare themselves Toronto's animal welfare agency and the THS wouldn't be able to do anything about it. Accusing the OSPCA of wanting to take over the THS is like accusing the police of wanting to take over grow-ops when they invade them.

In fact it's probably the last thing the OSPCA wants to do. That place is a freakin' mess and it's going to stay that way for who knows how long especially with the several different government agencies still investigating them, alleged financial problems, overpopulation of animals, a shitty facility, and dwindling public faith in THS' ability to provide adequate animal welfare.

The OSPCA is at the THS because they are mandated to look after animal welfare. That is their job. They have to do it. They are doing it.

But still, to the casual reader who takes Sun editorials as gospel and does little or no further research into the cruelty and obstruction of justice and impersonating a peace officer charges, these charges of bad politics at play might all appear rather plausible.

And why not? Unless you've actually witnessed it yourself, it's incredibly hard to believe that any agency with the words "humane society" could take such poor care of their animals.

The words "humane society" have got a lot of endowment effect associated with them. I'm pretty sure that if a butcher shop called itself blah blah Humane Society blah, there would be people out there who would defend its animal care practices and donate money to it.

There's really only one good way to determine just how truthful are the stories about animal neglect at the Toronto Humane Society: Go and talk to the people who used to work and volunteer there and to the people who work and volunteer there now and ask them some smart questions. Walk around and look at the dogs and cats and ask the staff what they are doing to keep the animals from going cage crazy. Ask them what they are doing to help correct bad behaviours so that those animals don't stay in cages for the rest of their lives because no one wants to adopt them. Ask them how many minutes a day the dogs get to spend with people. Ask them why there are dogs there which have been there for months and years. They may tell you that some of the dogs which have been there for years have actually been adopted out and returned a few times so ask them why there are so many failed adoptions. Ask them why they'd prefer to have dogs stay warehoused in their facility instead of being fostered out to rescues. They say they don't charge for adoptions so ask them how often they ask for a minimum "donation" for adoptions, especially puppies. Ask them why the THS doesn't spay and neuter all their animals before adopting them out. They claim to take in all animals so ask them if they actually do take in all animals. Ask them why they won't work with other animal welfare agencies. Ask them how useful it is to brag about 24/7 service when the night shift is sometimes only staffed by two people who have to look after the thousand plus animals in the facility. Ask them about management's behaviour with the public, with staff. Ask them about management's attitude towards volunteers and then talk to the volunteers to hear their side of the story. Ask them if they think it's okay for non-medical staff to make medical decisions on behalf of animals. Ask them why they don't operate a low cost spay neuter clinic. Ask them what happened to that pet food bank they used to have. Ask them why they spend so much money on lawyers for suing people. Ask them why the THS has made so many enemies.

This is why it's important to be an informed member of the THS. This is why it's important to go down to the THS and check out the animals, the staff and the facility that donor dollars are supporting. To be uninformed means allowing faults to go unchecked. It is the responsibility of the membership to stay updated on the reality of the situation at the THS and not just blindly go along with the powers that be thinking everything is okay as long as the powers that be tell them everything is okay.

The time for hero worship is over. The time to be unduly swayed by two little words, "humane" and "society", is over. It's time to dig up the truth, find out what's wrong. If the Toronto Humane Society is not reformed, it will become insignificant.


Anonymous said...

I, too, had the 'pleasure' of reading that piece of crap. Some of PW's other assertions:
"the OSPCA has always envied the THS' wealth" (the THS' wealth comes from donors who were duped & mislead into believing the animals were being properly cared for with their money. I dont think they envy that).

"the OSPCA is more tightly controlled than the THS, since its members do not have a vote in choosing boards of directors" (neither did THS members...Trow controlled everyting with his proxy votes).

"president Tim Trow and veterinarian Dr. Steve Sheridan have long records of compassion for animals. Maybe too much so." (seriously, what is this guy smoking?...if you consider leaving cats to die in traps, feeding them 6 year old food and not treating animals with serious ailments, "compassion", then yeah, I guess they do).

To reiterate, piece of crap.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

HSUS, HSC and SPCA's are always using things like that. It's crap.

Mike Vick is not worth spit. What he got away with, etc is utterly rediculous.

Perhaps no one has explained the links between animal abuse, child abuse and the disgusting lack of morals all of the above retain??

Makes me sick.

Thanks for posting this. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

Dogs Deserve Freedom

Anonymous said...

Trust me we haven't heard the last of Michael Vick. I'm sure he'll mess up again in the future and end up back in jail or in court. Karma just has to bite that guy in the ass sooner or later. What goes around comes around! what he did was beyond comprehension, It's like a horror movie where the bad guy lives on.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Vick's PR team is really working overtime, aren't they? I wonder how much he had to pay them to 'receive' this award? The site says his teammates nominated him...hmm, wonder what's in it for them? Do they truly believe Vick is "an example of inspiration, spirit, and bravery?"

Sorry to go on a rant here but I am so sick of these coddled, babied athletes and their fans...O.J., Tiger Woods, varying degrees, they're all basically the same. Phonies. They present a smiling face to the public and a "goody two shoes" image but behind closed doors they turn into an entirely different person. Then they hire other people to run around, cleaning up their messes...and there are idiots who still adore them. Why? Because they're good at playing a game? That's all it is people, a game! Hey, I'm pretty good at Tetris...can I get a million dollar contract and millions of adoring fans?

Here's the thing: I don't care how many more millions Vick makes, how many phony 'awards' he gets, how much his team of flunkies keeps pushing him down the public's throats...the only image that sticks in my mind is the one you presented in that excerpt from Bad Rap: slamming dogs heads into the concrete, attaching jumper cables to them, throwing them into the water and laughing about it. That's it.

Do they seriously think they can magically erase that horrific image from my (and other peoples') minds by giving him some stupid award? Please.

Social Mange said...

A friend faxed the Ed Block Courage Foundation to politely blast them for considering Vick, that it dishonours the purpose of the award and Mr. Block's memory.

If you care to follow suit..

Ed Block Courage Award Foundation
Attention: Sam Lamantia Jr., CEO and Chair
Fax: 410.821.6240

Really good post, btw.

Anonymous said...

Would the author of this Blog please post the complete submission of the OSPCA/Macnaugton to the Superior Court. Maybe Worthington would care to read it, and I think others would benefit reading a vet who worked at the THS give the nitty-gritty on how terriblbe the animal care and management of the THS is.

Fred said...

Anon, maybe if I get time to type it all out but there's a better one coming along so maybe that's the one that'll get posted.