Cognitive dissonance up close: local cat rescue uses homeopathy, deletes my comments

What I saw on facebook earlier than made me mad has gotten too large to keep there, so here is a quick summary of the situation.

The Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association is a great organization I adopted my two wonderful cats from. Browsing their facebook page today, I noted a photo of a kitten with a bad eye, and it’s caption which stated the kitten was receiving homeopathic remedies. This immediately made me gasp, and type a comment asking them to please not use unproven medicine on animals. They replied they have had great success with homeopathy, herbal remedies, acupuncture and allopathic medicine (a somewhat derogatory term alt med folks use for proven medicine). So I launched into a description to ensure they knew what homeopathy really is. Which they deleted.

By this time I had posted the problem to several local skeptic groups, and some folks had backed me up. Their comments were deleted also. While they said they also use traditional medicine alongside alternative, the point still stands that as a charitable organization they are responsible to their donors, who deserve to be fully aware of their policies. I said as much, and posted again:

For those interested, I’ll say what I said again, and take a screenshot. All I am asking is that you go into this with your eyes open, and make sure you are fully aware what homeopathy is. It is not a herbal remedy, it is when substances are diluted up to 200 times, until there is less of that substance left that one drop in the ocean. Homeopaths believe that water has a “memory”, but no clinical trials have ever backed up this belief. No clinical trial of homeopathy ahs ever worked better than a placebo. Anecdotal evidence is just that – for example, it was mentioned that Olive is now eating, which would in no doubt help her fight ailments.

My bottom line is that you can give it to yourself all you want, but not to animals who have to sense of the choice.

Like I say, using proven medicine alongside homeopathy at least settles me that the cats are getting proper care, which is what I really care about (I got my cats from VOKRA), but the point still stands that you are essentially wasting donors money on unproven methods that have no rational background instead of using it to care for more cats.

This, too was deleted, and all comments on photos and their entire page were disabled. Their reasoning?

Hello all.. Karen here .. just so we can get this totally clear.. These kittens are in a wonderful foster home.. They have been nursed around the clock by Lilian and Valerie..They have been supplemented with kitten formula to help the mom . The ones with eye problems have all been to an alliopathic vet as well as a homeopathic practioner.. This kitten may look bad to you.. but was much worse until both treatments were working together. We have been caring for kittens and cats for over 14 years.. Many that the alliopathic vets had given up on have been made healthy by homeopathic treatments. it is all about who is doing the diagnosing and prescribing..Many do not have the training that our practioner does.

I am putting this up as i see some people have had their comments removed….if you have something you would like to share with us feel free to write in..we are not conducting a discussion on care on this board, but rather filling you in on some of the animals in our care at this time. karen

So I emailed them.

Hi VOKRA, this is Hayley Dunning, who began the comments on homeopathy on your photos.

I am curious why you are so afraid of alternative views. Why delete my comments, which were more than respectful, and let your supporters decide for themselves? Why not at least try to answer me in an honest and open forum? This is a controversial topic which deserves to be witnessed by those that support you. As a charitable organization, this is very important, as people need to be fully aware of your policies when they donate.
I fully support your efforts to rescue cats, as I’ve said I got my own cats from you and I love them more than anything, but I cannot support my funds going to unproven medicine.
Expert does not mean truthful. What I say about homeopathy being unproven still stands, and the CBC Marketplace review I pointed you to clearly points out the flaws in the system.
Like I say again and again, use it all you want on yourself, but not on animals that cannot choose.
My comments were not inflammatory, only designed to make everyone fully aware of the situation, and your response is overbearing and unwarranted.
I am thoroughly disappointed by your response. I cannot see why you would not allow people to have their own thoughts about these practices. Even if these are your private beliefs, that homeopathy works, until it is proven in clinical trials, and not just anecdotes, it is irresponsible to let those beliefs influence your work with innocent animals.
With all due respect,
Hayley Dunning
Their reply:
Hi Hayley.   Not afraid in the least ..just know how we have worked for over 14 years…and I don’t care to have an argument on this online..if you want to talk about it in email that is fine.
Our animals get more care and attention than most rescues give… our food is top of the line …and we do more in teaching proper care of animals than most.. We have done this for a very very long time.. As you see on our donations page …..the majority of our money spent is on vet care..We also use homeopathy… and it has saved more than you can imagine.. There are many many vets who are calling themselves homeopaths….they are not..We use someone who has had massive training in england…has a school here and has a proven record. All your comments do is offend me by not believing that we do all we can and more for the cats in our care.
I did not take off the comments.. A moderator did .. You can have your own thoughts on this type of treatment.. When or if you ever experience what we have over the years, you might change your mind.
This kitten was not doing better with alliopathic meds..it had stopped getting worse but the eye was not getting better.. Once the remedies were started it kicked over and got a new energy to eat and heal.
I have held kittens in my hands who were dying and have given a remedy to use ..within a few minutes a total change.. We deal with life and death constantly .
I give my life to what I do ..I do not take chances with our charges.. There will always be arguments pro and con.. We do all we can and we save thousands that would otherwise die.
I hope this eases your worries about our health treatments for the cats.
I won’t be having our facebook news and info site turned into a debating forum.. I would not have noticed it except someone let me know.. But generally I do not have the time.. As I am full time doing care and trying to find ways of supporting what we do
Thanks for your letter Haley..
It is obvious nothing will make them listen to reason, or even fair criticism of the practices of a charitable organization dealing with innocent animals. My final reply:
I am sorry that an alternative view offends you. It should not, just because it goes against your beliefs. I know you have worked hard, and as I say I respect you endlessly for that, and my kittens are excellent.

But I will never stop saying that anecdotal evidence, which is the only evidence you give, does not mean it works. Empirical scientific clinical trials are the only proof that discounts our hopes, beliefs and ideas that are clouded by the emotions of what we see in front of us.
But I see I will never be able to make a difference to what you believe is right (and I use the word believe with strong intent here), and I certainly don’t want people to stop donating because overall you do a great job. But some of my faith in the organization has been lost.
Best,
Hayley
This truly and deeply upsets me. “Experience” can be so misleading. People in the Middle Ages had endless experience with leeches, but does that mean they cure everything they were prescribed for? No. Experience should never be confused with efficacy.
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8 thoughts on “Cognitive dissonance up close: local cat rescue uses homeopathy, deletes my comments

  1. This should be the textbook reference for how to respond to this sort of madness – with calm facts and reason. Thanks for sharing this. The only thing I would have added was a link or two to Science Based Medicine or a similar site referencing one of their great articles on regression to the mean, the difference between correlation and causation, and all that other good stuff that makes it seem homeopathy works. E.g. http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/altbelief.html

    1. Thanks for your comment. I had originally included a link to a CBC Marketplace investigation into homeopathy that I thought might help introduce some of the science and reasoning while being quite accessible, but that got deleted in the mass. I didn’t post any resources after that (because I couldn’t), but I was certainly looking for some, and your suggestion is great. I’m considering a post outlining all of the rationale behind my position, explaining the placebo, selective bias (what’s the proper term – when you only remember the times it worked, not the times it didn’t) at and all that so it can be a resource for anyone similarly concerned (and possibly for VOKRA itself).

      1. That would be confirmation bias. Here’s a good link to send them and others: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

        It’s a tricky and frustrating thing trying to present this sort of evidence to those that believe homeopathy (or any other pseudoscience) works. It often seems really difficult to get through to them because they keep finding ways to downplay or avoid the evidence, which is exactly what we see with the people at VOKRA. One resource I highly recommend is the Debunking Handbook, which is a short (6 page) booklet on trying to get around these tendencies so they’ll be more open to our evidence. Hope it helps.

    1. I was tempted to just not approve this comment and delete it. But, if this is your opinion, you have clearly read nothing about how much I care about cats and how I am trying to stop a charity from wasting their precious money on unproven remedies. That is how I am trying to help.

  2. That’s quite disturbing! One of my kitties recently had a scratch on his cornea and it affected his eye. Thanks to proven meds, he is now better! I wouldn’t risk blinding him by trying out other kinds of treatments.

    As an individual, I have in the past been given homeopathic medication for anxiety related to public speaking. While they taste great (sugar pills, anyone?), they didn’t do anything.

    It’s great that you’re trying to take a stance but sadly, there will always be people using unproven things because as a placebo it may have worked in the past. I see it in my line of work as a psychologist where there are therapists who will still use non-evidence based therapies which have the risk of damaging the client further only because “it worked with another client”.

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