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Local News Summary of January, 29th

  • Lawyer murdered in Rünenberg
  • Animals help coma patients in leading research project

Lawyer murdered in Rünenberg

A media lawyer from Baselland was shot dead yesterday morning in Rünenberg, Baselland. Martin Wagner (57), who was well known in Basel, was killed at his villa at around 9am. The alleged murderer is Mr Wagner's 39-year-old neighbour, who committed suicide a short time later. 

The Baselland police and prosecution service have launched an investigation surrounding the motive for the murder. They did not give any details about the murder weapon which was found in front of the villa. 

Martin Wagner was known in Basel as a “vibrant” person. Along with FCB president Bernhard Burgener, Mr Wagner also represented the UEFA Europa League rights. For a short time, he was the CEO of the “Basler Zeitung” until owner Tito Tettamanti resigned and former federal government member Christoph Blocher bought the newspaper. 

When Mr Wagner was running as an MP for the FDP, he called Mr Blocher “a poison” and resigned from the Basler media group's board of management. Mr Wagner had lived a quieter life lately. The vibrant media lawyer was confronted with the serious illness suffered by his wife, who died at the end of last year. 

The police confirmed yesterday afternoon that Mr Wagner's murder was not connected to his professional activities, but was instead most probably connected to his private life. There was no information available either about whether Martin Wagner had opened the door for his murderer or whether he had entered the house by himself.

The run up to the murder and the fact that the murderer shot himself afterwards has led to rumours that it was a crime of passion. Mr Wagner may genuinely have opened the door to let the murderer enter since it was a neighbour and they knew each other. 

The Baselland police have not confirmed any details about the alleged murderer or his possible motive. Martin Wagner's death is a tragedy. The widower leaves behind three children.

Animals help coma patients in leading research project

For five years, the interaction between patients and animals has been under the microscope at Rehab Basel. The pioneering research is unique in Switzerland. Karin Hediger, who is responsible for the research, gives an insight into the everyday routine where small moments of luck are valued highest.

“It simply gives me goosebumps,” Ms Hediger says. For the last five years she has worked at Rehab Basel researching how animals influence patients. “These goosebumps moments” happen when an animal can evoke a smile, a word or even just a small reaction from a person with brain damage, Ms Hediger says.

“For example, when a coma-patient suddenly formulates a word because he wants to call an animal by its name,” she explains. These are small steps and it is never clear whether this would have also happened without the animal's intervention. But these emotional moments often only occur when animals are around. Why and what really happens in such moments is the research topic of the team, which is led by Karin Hediger.

Animals protect from diseases

“It's an affair of the heart,” she says. She first became interested in the interaction between humans and animals in her high school years and later for her PhD. “Then the project at Rehab Basel was set up and I could make a step forward.” Research for animal-based interventions – i.e. using animals for therapeutic reasons – is still at the margins of science. “We depend on foundations and support from private companies.” With this help, the passionate scientist can successfully conduct first studies, now even for the Swiss National Science Foundation. The reason why this topic has not been focused on so far, according to Karin Hediger, is due to a lack of economic interest in this research. “But there has been a change,” she says.

Even animals are sometimes unmotivated

The speciality of this research is that the effects on animals as well as humans is researched, according to Ms Hediger. “The health of humans and animals is connected,” she says. The group, including researchers studying the guinea pigs at Rehab Basel, have had their first success in implementing results. “When guinea pigs have a possibility to withdraw their interaction with human beings, it is better for them,” she says. Their stress level rises when they are kept on the lap of a human. Therefore a table has been set up at Rehab Basel where patients can sit in their wheel chairs and pet and feed the guinea pigs.

“Like this, the animal can choose whether it wants to approach the patient or not,”, she says. This is a big difference for the patients too: When a guinea pig approaches a human out of free will, this triggers emotions. “Even when it doesn't want to come, this is of therapeutic use,” says Karin Hediger. “It's all about seeing and understanding needs.” Not all animals are suitable for therapeutic purposes, however. “Some simply don't find it amusing at all to do something with human beings, or their reaction shows they are frightened or stressed out,” the animal expert explains. 

Clucking chicken and bleating sheep

Half a zoo can be found at Rehab Basel, and all of these animals like to work with human beings: Horses, sheep, goats, chicken, rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs, even mini pigs help patients to get over a difficult phase in their lives. “Animals are not being linked to a certain illness specifically, but instead with the purpose of the therapy,” Ms Hediger said. Is it about learning to walk again? Or should a patient be stimulated to talk or should emotions be evoked? “We talk to the patient, or in case it doesn't work with relatives about the animals in their lives,” she says. Someone who grew up on a farm can be helped with the sound of a bleating sheep or a clucking chicken.

The research of patients with brain damage and their relationship to animals is unique in Switzerland and is pioneering work. “It is our goal to conduct this research for as long as possible,” Ms Hediger says. Initial results show that patients more focused on interpreting themselves show more positive emotions, and communicate better when animals are around. Although this can be understood as a distraction, often this enrichment helps the patients to make a step back into life.