Our culture of care drives Waltham scientists to look for innovative ways to obtain the research data we need without compromising pet welfare. Coupled with reward based training, we believe the results we generate offer greater benefits, as they are more credible and relevant to pets globally.
Research involves collecting data. This could come from observing and recording behaviour, or biological samples from pets. But there are many approaches to doing this. Some examples of the ways in which we gather these samples demonstrate what we consider ‘caring science’:
- Our dogs have been trained, so they are happy for us to collect pee as they urinate, whilst our cats go to the toilet in specialised litter trays.
- We’ve trained both cats and dogs to give us saliva samples by chewing on a cotton bud.
- We train our pets so they are comfortable with the steps involved in taking a blood sample. This means that when we need a sample, they know what to expect, and it minimises any stress.
- And we can easily collect faeces, which are valuable to our studies.
In the UK, research involving animals is regulated by the Home Office through a process of licencing and frequent inspection. In addition to complying with legal regulations, we have our own Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, which ensures all our studies conform to the Mars Animal Research policy and the 3Rs of animal research. This means that we reduce the number of animals used for research, we continually refine and improve our methods and techniques and we replace the use of animals wherever possible (by using computer, laboratory simulations or people!).
But it’s not just training and research, the care for our pets is paramount every hour and every day that they are here. On our 100+ acre site in the Leicestershire countryside, we have plenty of space for our dogs to exercise and play off their leads. We also have areas with different agility equipment, or for our pets to use their noses to hunt out hidden treats. Housing is designed with welfare as the highest priority, including breed size specific housing.
Our cats love to spend time lounging in their rooms. They have plenty of places to hide, sleep, climb and watch from, as well as toys for them to practice their stalking skills. Handlers spend time every day in each room playing with our cats and generally giving them plenty of attention.
Pets at Waltham
All our pets at Waltham join us from an early age. This may mean at 8 weeks old, when they are mature enough to leave their mothers, or they may be born at the pet centre. We gradually introduce the puppies or kittens to their new surroundings. We are keen to make the most of the sensitive period as juveniles so they grow into confident pets in a range of different situations.
We spend a lot of time training basic life skills, so that day to day experiences are enjoyable for our pets, and their handlers. This includes how to walk on a lead, meet other pets, interact with people or being handled for a health check.
All this training is done through positive reinforcement techniques. One of the most popular office events is when we have a ‘puppy party’. This is when the puppies get to meet and play with a wide range of people in the centre of our office. A fantastic way to socialise our puppies, and always plenty of smiles from our Associates- a real win-win situation!
We are fortunate to have so many fantastic pet personalities at Waltham. Occasionally some pets may have veterinary issues which means that they can’t take part in our trials, or their temperament isn’t suited to our environment, and we recognise it isn’t for everyone, so they may be rehomed at any stage through their life.
Many of our pets have a list of potential new owners, ready and waiting to invite them into their homes. If you are interested in rehoming a pet from Waltham, please use the ‘contact us’ form to find out more.
Meet Topic and Jinx
Topic and Jinx are both Waltham pets that now live together with Su, a Waltham Associate. At the pet centre, we will occasionally change the dog breeds we have on site. This happened in 2015 when we rehomed all our Miniature Schnauzers. Topic was in the last litter of Schnauzers we had, which meant that Su rehomed ‘Toppy’ when he was 18 months old. Now 5 years old, he is enjoying being the focus of attention for Su.
Six months ago, Su was able to offer another Waltham pet a home- and in strutted Jinx, a yellow Labrador retriever. Although older than Toppy, it only took a couple of days for her to settle into her new home. “Jinx is really sweet natured, but completely unaware of her (large) size and a bit clumsy. She’s fantastic with my grandchildren and has trained them to rub her belly, much to her delight.”
Meet Wilson and Kelp
Wilson and Kelp are brothers from the same litter. They worked together at Waltham, and now they are both retired with Flea, who trained them during their time at the pet centre. “I worked with Wilson and Kelp and saw how much time they chose to spend together. Every morning when we arrived they would be snuggled up with each other, so they had to be rehomed as a pair.” Now 11 years old, they are enjoying a leisurely lifestyle. Kelp is the first to snuggle up on your lap, while Wilson loves to go off exploring around the farm.