Weekly News Roundup 3/30–4/5

Kitty litter can kill sea otters

As recently as 1938, California sea otters were believed to be extinct, killed off by fur hunters. But they survived to face a new threat: cats. A new study finds that a deadly single-celled parasite carried by cats is surprisingly common in otters, especially those living near the mouths of rivers or streams. Toxoplasma gondii is best known for the threat it poses to the fetuses of pregnant women exposed to the parasite’s eggs when cleaning their pets’ litter boxes. Autopsies have revealed that some otters have died from brain infections caused by the parasite.

New York considers bill authorizing medical marijuana for animals

Two years after the launch of its human medical marijuana program, the New York Assembly will consider legislation that would authorize licensed veterinarians to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients for the treatment of medical conditions. “This could be helpful to many animals in need of relief, especially those [who] have chronic illnesses and for whom more traditional medical treatment has not proven to be effective,” the bill states. With this bill, New York joins Nevada and California in the push to legalize medical marijuana for animals.

Owners of canine slain by cop get $75,000

The owners of a dog who was shot and killed by a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy will receive $75,000 in a settlement in their lawsuit against Iberia Parish Deputy Lucas Plauche. Plauche’s body camera captured part of his August 2015 encounter with the large dog, a two-year-old Perro de Presa Canario named Tank. The video captured Plauche saying, “Dog, you’re about the die, you understand me? You’re about to die,” before chuckling. The video ends before the deputy shot the dog in the owners’ yard. The suit claimed Plauche and another deputy “purposefully” turned off their body cameras before the shooting.

Dog medication can help humans beat mosquitoes

New research may have just changed the game for Texans and other mosquito-infested areas after it was discovered that a drug commonly given to dogs could help people fight the pesky insect from the inside out. Kenyan researchers found that ivermectin—an antiparasitic drug commonly used to treat roundworms, threadworms, and other parasites in dogs—can make human blood poisonous to mosquitoes. The drug is already used to fight the parasites that cause river blindness and elephantiasis, and the new research shows that it can also be used to help eradicate malaria.

Comfort dogs in court can bias juries

As dogs and other animals are increasingly used in courts to comfort and calm prosecution witnesses, critics are calling to keep the practice on a short leash, saying they could bias juries. There are now more than 155 “courthouse facility dogs” working in 35 states, and that's not counting an untold number of emotional-support dogs who have been allowed on a case by case basis in many states. But having dogs and other emotional-support animals in the witness box can illegitimately boost witness credibility and prejudice juries against defendants, Denver defense lawyer Christopher Decker argues.

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