see. learn. heal.

Is Domestication Inherently Unhealthy?

There was a discussion on a radio program the other day I found fascinating. It involved Darwinian evolution and focused on an experiment begun by Dmitri Belyaev and domesticating silver foxes. This has been written about many times, and is highlighted in Richard Dawkins' excellent book on Darwinian theory, The Greatest Show on Earth. The method of this experiment was simple--all foxes were classified in one of three ways: Class I would flee and/or bite a handler that tried to hand-feed and stroke the animal; Class II would accept the handler but show no positive response; and Class III would approach the handler, wag its tail and show other positive behaviors. Only Class III foxes were bred, and within 6 generations Belyaev had tame animals. The truly remarkable part of this experiment were the unexpected changes that took place (seen in the top image to the right): the silver coat changed to black and white piebald, teeth became smaller, bones less robust, faces became rounder, ears flopped over, tails curled up, and females went into heat every six months rather than on
ce a year like the typical vixen. In effect, the foxes had become more dog-like and development had stopped at a juvenile phase: Belyaev's foxes had become Peter Pans of the canine world.

What really grabbed my attention was the explanation for why these physical changes are tied to behavior. Domestication experiments in both foxes and Norway rats show that structural changes occur in the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex, the area responsible for glucocorticoid (think prednisone) release--in a larger sense the flight-or-fight response. Makes sense right? If an animal has a weaker flight response it should be easier to domesticate. Where it really gets interesting is when we look at where these cells come from. The adrenals originate from the neural crest in embryonic development. These cells also differentiate into other tissue like craniofacial bone and cartilage (faces and ears), teeth, bone, heart valves, and some neural tissue.

This correlates very closely with Chinese medical theory. Centuries before we had any understanding of embryonic development the Chinese came up with their system. Within this system, six pairs of organs are said to be responsible for all the physiological processes in the body--one of which is the Kidney. This should not be confused with the (small 'k') kidney; the actual organ. The Chinese concept of Kidney includes the bean-shaped organs but also encompasses many other functions not typically associate with the western definition of the kidney. This Chinese Kidney is responsible for many things--
Jing, or Essence being one, which can be thought of as constitutional or genetic health. In addition to urine production, the Kidney also controls aging, bone growth, teeth, hair, and reproductive function. Interesting, huh?

All of this is important to the health of our animals. If, as the research indicates, domestication leads to a weaker adrenal-pituitary axis, might this explain some of the medical problems that seem rampant in our pets? There are the obvious, like dental issues that might arise from smaller teeth, or ear infections in floppy ears. But what of Cushing's or Addison's disease, both directly related to the adrenal/pituitary axis? How about conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and skin allergies? Both are overreactions of the immune system and commonly treated in Western medicine with steroids like dexamethasone and prednisone. What if in normal/wild systems the adrenal cortex pumps out just enough steroid to keep things in check--a feedback loop grown weaker with domestication? This is very much along the line of the research and treatment protocol of
Dr Alfred J Plechner's Endocrine-Imbalance-Syndrome.

Of course, the horse is out of the barn and we aren't going back to tying a wolf up in the back yard or roping a mustang to ride. But it might give owners and breeders a little pause when choosing an animal: maybe a little attitude is preferable to an animal that rolls on its back every time you look at it sideways.

This radio program ended with a discussion on what might be going on with our own species. Our ancestors had larger teeth and thicker bone as well as coarser facial features. Through the centuries, have social groupings like cities and events like war culled the most aggressive humans from our gene pool? Are human adrenals becoming weaker as we become more "domesticated"? If so, then the choices we make in diet, lifestyle, and medical care might be as important for the health of ourselves as that of our pets.
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A Creation Story

This being the inaugural blog post and all, it seems fitting to start off with the story of how Hindsight came to be. The decision to start my own practice was not easy; I had been part of a very large clinic for almost eighteen years and in that time developed cherished relationships with people and their animals. But deep down I knew it was time to branch out on my own, and though I felt confident in my ability to succeed in the veterinary side of things, it was vitally important to develop a name and logo that was both meaningful and attractive, and for that I needed help.

I have a middling amount of creativity; I can write and am pretty handy with a camera, but my most valuable skill is the ability to conceptualize and communicate a vision. It’s the execution where everything goes to hell. Smart enough to realize I couldn’t do this in my own, I turned to the net and googled Seattle area designers. After clicking through a bunch of portfolios and following up with interviews, I eventually decided on Akira Morita and Dipika Kohli, the dynamic husband-and-wife team behind
Design Kompany, who had almost dropped off my list when I discovered they had relocated to North Carolina. I had thought distance might hinder communication, but at our first Skype meeting there was an almost audible click of meshing personalities, and I knew this was the right crew for me.

One of the more rewarding aspects of working with Akira and Dipika is their commitment to getting it right and develop a name and design that speak to both clients and me. It was weeks before we even thought about a name, or put pen to paper for a logo. Instead, it began with a lot of talk of what the clinic was about, what it stood for, who my clients are, and, when it comes right down to it, who I am. This conversation produced a group of about a hundred words that defined the new practice and then painstakingly winnowed this list down to seven keywords: integrity, compassionate, confident, talented, attentive, passion, and insightful.

mind map
These words were the seeds for an online mind-map, where for days we would go and free associate. Subjects emerged that one wouldn’t normally associate with the keywords: mountain and river, turtleshell and spiderweb, dancers and samurai, and many, many others found their way onto a map that wound up more like a rabbit warren than a L’Enfant layout. We also constructed a mood board: a collection of images that reflected the sentiment of our seven keywords. Elements of color, texture, and theme emerged from both image and word—building blocks for the naming and design stage.

It was Dipika who had the spark of inspiration. Though we constantly exchanged emails, tossing names back and forth like a game of hot potato, she waited until our next Skype meeting to present it, wanting to see my reaction. “What do you think of…Hindsight?” It took a few seconds for the word to sink in. It made so much sense: one simple word that evoked feelings of vision and clarity, but also the idea of learning from the past. Dipika had hit it out of the park. She knew it too, for she had the same smile on her face that my boys get when they know they’ve just done something really cool, like flip on a trampoline or write a clever story. Over the next few days I’d throw it out to coworkers and clients and every single person thought the same thing: perfect. We had a winner of a name, now we just had to develop a visual representation of it.

At our next online meeting, Akira and Dipika presented some very simple concept sketches: more about thematic and structural possibilities than any move towards a logo. A lot of these came from repeated elements in the mood board and mind map: curves, patterns, interconnectedness, and figures in nature. This idea of patterns and connectivity was important because it is so representative of both chiropractic and Chinese medicine.

The team came up with some brilliant, intricate designs that were gorgeous, but a bit too busy to incorporate into a logo. Plus, I liked the lines of the sketches, something crafted by hand, similar to the pencil sketches of the great masters. Dipika sent me a sample: “hindsight” inside a hand drawn circle and we were close, really close. But there was no pattern, no connectedness. She added another circle below and suddenly we had it all: the beginnings of a pattern and feelings of connectedness, motion. The circles are reminiscent of lenses, in line with a sense of vision, or focus. But what colors to use?

Blue came up a lot in the images of the mood board, as did various shades of yellow. Blue though, was my first choice. Looking for inspiration, I had been reading a collection of poems by
Gary Snyder called No Nature, given to me by my good friend Katy. In this collection is a poem called The Blue Sky. Here are two excerpts:

Eastward from here,
beyond Buddha-worlds ten times as
numerous as the sands of the Ganges
there is a world called
its Buddha is called Master of Healing,

And later:

Horse with lightning feet, a mane like
distant rain, the turquoise horse,
a black star for an eye
white shell teeth
Pony that feeds on the pollen of flowers
may he
make thee whole.

So blue it was.

As the design was tweaked, we searched for a brand statement, something short but meaningful to the practice; a tagline if you will. From our conversations, Dipika put together a collection of thoughts that resonated so well I put it on the homepage. Its original form was this:

Close your eyes, listen with your heart.
Feel the energy of the everywhere
distilled before you.
For now, forget the start point, the end point,
and the mechanics of method.
Trace the pattern.
Learn. Heal.

“See” was added to the last line, because it completes the process I go through with every case. To “see” is to take in everything about a patient, searching for that imbalance causing pain, illness or poor performance. From this I try to “learn” what’s going on. I like this word very much because it’s a reminder that every case can teach me something, that I don’t know it all, and will continue to be a student, always. I also want clients to learn from me, and that understanding why we treat a certain way will strengthen their relationship with the animal. “Heal” is of course the goal with any patient, but must come last in the sequence because if you are blind, if you are closed to learning, you will never accomplish this last step.

It is hard to describe how much fun working with both Akira and Dipika has been. We have always been on the same page, but on those occasions when we did differ on details, they always took great pains to explain why one design choice was preferable over another, how subtle changes can speak volumes in the final product.
Edmund Burke said, “Good order is the foundation of all things” and with the help of my new friends in Durham, Hindsight is starting off with a deeper, stronger foundation than I could have ever hoped for.

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