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Article Published October 17, 2018
Nicholson Hopes ‘Thank God for Dogs’ Video Goes Viral to Save Pets’ Lives
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Every time a pet goes to the vet, valuable information could be gathered and shared to help save other pets’ lives. It’s happening now in the United Kingdom (UK), yet no nationwide surveillance exists in the United States. That’s where Lori Nicholson is determined to make a difference, and she needs her shoreline neighbors to help her.

The successful pets’ rights lobbyist, non-profit founder/president, author, and talented singer/songwriter is reaching out to ask shoreline residents to help her new YouTube music video, “Thank God for Dogs,” go viral to bring attention to her efforts to help establish the nation’s first pet Health Metrics data base program. The video can viewed at www.youtube.com by searching “Thank God for Dogs” by Lori Nicholson.

“My hope is that if the video gets a lot of attention, I could approach the Ellen DeGeneres or Rachael Ray shows, which would give this project traction, education and a national forum. This project is so important because it will improve our pets’ health outcomes by establishing health metrics,” says Lori, a Branford resident.

She’s already working toward a pilot program in Connecticut.

“If we succeed with the pilot program in Connecticut, it can be a model for other states,” she says. “There’s power in sharing data.”

Lori has already succeeded in lobbying to better pets’ lives in other areas. In 2013, she made local headlines when she spearheaded a call for legislation to curb pet stores’ use of “puppy mills” supplying animals for sale, and also lobbied for change at the state level. In 2014, Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law Public Act 14-77: An Act Concerning Certain Recommendations of the Task Force on the Sale of Cats and Dogs from Inhumane Origins at Connecticut Pet Shops.

Even as she was lobbying against puppy mills, what was never far from Lori’s mind was the loss of her beloved pet boxer, Mr. Beebs, in 2009. Following a routine veterinary procedure, an antimicrobial resistant infection set in, resulting in the amputation of a leg; he still did not recover. Lori worked tirelessly, but she could not save Mr. Beebs from an untimely death. Ultimately, it was the loss of Mr. Beebs that began Lori’s journey toward bringing a pet health metrics database to this country.

“Twelve years ago, he got a drug-resistant infection, and the veterinarian didn’t really have a whole lot of information on that, so I had to drive to the University of Georgia to meet a specialist,” Lori recounts. “And the thing that struck me was he said, ‘I wish I had seen him six months ago—I could have saved him.’ And I thought, ‘But we live in the age of technology. How come I have to drive to Georgia, and why are all these veterinarians siloed, when there’s this wonderful data and information, and nobody’s sharing it?’ That’s what got me on this path. It’s staggering, because this kind of data sharing could save lives. It could have saved his life.”

Like her memoir, The Fight of His Life—The Story of Mr. Beebs and the Mission He Inspired (www.lorinicholsonauthor.com), Lori’s new YouTube video was inspired by the life and passing of Mr. Beebs and is aimed at raising awareness to the need. Lori has also connected with an American group, the Association for Veterinary Informatics.

“These people have been trying for two decades to get this data collection happening. They are brilliant people and scientists, but they are not policy people. And this is where pet owners, and pushing it from a public policy standpoint, I think will get some traction,” says Lori.

Lori says establishing a nationwide data base is not impossible, it’s just something that hasn’t happened—yet.

“In human medicine, they’re measuring [data] and making strides to get those numbers as low as possible. That’s what I want to see,” she says. “I know [pet medicine] is more complicated than human medicine, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim or make strides toward those lowest possible rates.”

For example, “if one hospital has IV infection rates at 30 percent and another hospital has them at six percent, somebody’s doing a better job. And we need to know that. And they need to know that they’re not doing a good job, and that there are lower numbers that can be achieved with the right hygiene protocols or whatever it is,” says Lori, adding, “My dog got a surgical site infection. That’s what took his leg and his life. And it happened to be extremely resistant on top of it, which made it all the worse. Those are two different things [that could be measured], and yet nobody talks about it in the field. If we have a baseline, we know what we need to aim for.”

A few years ago, Lori began her own odyssey of trying to track down any aspects of such data-sharing taking place anywhere in the U.S. While she found corporately owned veterinary hospitals may be sharing such data between them, there is no national network of data sharing to incorporate those groups with private practitioners or among veterinary hospital associations and others.

“The thing is that there’s all this wonderful knowledge out there, but it’s being siloed. It’s not being filtered into a main portal or hub where you can look at it,” she says.

Universal data hubs like that do exist elsewhere.

“I just came back from Liverpool [England], where I went to a veterinary conference where they’ve been doing this for 10 years,” says Lori. “And you should see the lifesaving things they’ve discovered by tapping into thousands and thousands of veterinary practices across the UK. You can type in something like ‘tick illness’ and you will see, in real time, on a map, where there’s an explosion of it. That means they can call the departments of public health there and [inform] them of tick infestation in pets—which means there’s a danger for humans, too.”

Lori joined one UK computer lab where she had four million records at her fingertips. The system also automatically redacts personal and private information linked to electronic records sent in by thousands of veterinarians, she notes.

“The software understands all the records. It immediately redacts all the personal information, sends millions of records into the hub and siphons them out—it could be cancer, it could be ticks, it could be heart conditions. The veterinarians don’t have to do anything else [because] there are veterinary researchers who then go through these records and do the analytics,” she says. “And that’s where they’re going to start to develop drugs for certain conditions; they’re going to come up with treatment options; they’re going to spot trends and look at prescribing habits, because now they can see them. That’s the power in this.”

The data establishes baseline rates and monitors trends in areas including antibiotic resistance, cancer, hospital-acquired infections, vector-borne diseases, and diseases transmitted between animals and humans. Lori wants to bring the same type of software and research system to this country. Now, thanks to a fateful visit with an expert from the National Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) program at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she’s getting one step closer. While the expert told Lori that no one in the U.S. is measuring antibiotic resistance in companion animals, she also remembered Lori’s name at a very pivotal moment.

“It turned out a lady from San Francisco had gone to her and said, ‘I want to start measuring this, and I’ve got a grant to do it.’ And she told her, ‘You’ve got to call Lori Nicholson!’” says Lori, who is ready to work with the grant-winner.

“She’s willing to fly here, so we can do a pilot program and start measuring this through a network,” says Lori. “We would be one of the first to do this [in Connecticut]. We would have to look at veterinary data, which is scrubbed. We’d have clean data on things like how many times cats and dogs have had antibiotics in a one-year period.”

The network would be tied in to the year-long U.S. government Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) Challenge, launched in September 2018 to accelerate the fight against all anti-microbial resistance. Lori’s also already locked in assistance at the state level.

“I’ve got a state representative, Fred Camillo from Greenwich, who has promised me a task force, which means it has the authority of the legislature,” says Lori. “And what we’d do is bring the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Board, Department of Public Health, and all the stakeholders to the table that would make this real, and we’d flesh it out.”

Trips to the CDC and even England to learn more about how she can help save pets’ lives were just a few stops on the road Lori is determined to forge toward developing a nationwide pet health metrics database in this country. In 2017, Lori founded a non-profit pet owners’ lobby, Bark to Be Heard (www.barktobeheard.org) to help build momentum for the cause. Now, she’s just released her original song “Thank God for Dogs” on YouTube. It took her a year and half of compiling motion graphics with photos of locals with their dogs and service canines to fill the slide-show style, four-minute video. The photos were taken by a Cambridge, Massachusetts photographer who “fell in love with this whole project and the mission,” Lori notes.

“We tried for the very best pictures we could get. It took a year and half to get all the different seasons, genders, age groups, and races, because pet owners are everybody,” says Lori, adding it all combines to tell the story of the “human-animal bond.”

Lori says the video is also her way of saying, “Hey, look what they do for us…Now don’t they deserve our best efforts?”

With 30 years of professional experience as a keyboard player, guitarist, singer, and published songwriter, Lori’s evocative music and heartfelt words, sung in beautiful voice, could very well capture the heart of any pet lover across the country who happens upon the YouTube video.

“I meant every word of it. That song was right from my heart,” says Lori. “If I could get on the Ellen Show and just say, ‘This is what we can do together, pet owners.’ If we go to our veterinarians and these boards and the teaching hospitals and we say, ‘If you start sharing this data, the outcomes could save lives.’ We could really help them if we could just bust up these silos and let this information flow. There’s so much power in it. There’s so much healing in it.”