The Sunday, September 2, New York Times Magazine included a disturbing story, by Frederick Kaufman, about the testing of pet food on dogs, headed, "They Eat What We Are." (p20)
"I had been told that in the basement of the animal-science laboratory building at the University of Illinois, Dr. George Fahey kept a colony of strange-looking dogs. At Faheys orders, each of the dogs had undergone a surgical procedure to string a length of tubing from its intestinal tract to a clear plastic spout that stuck out its side. Fahey, a professor of animal and nutritional sciences, could open a spout by hand, fill a bag with whatever happened to ooze out and calculate how much the dog had digested before whatever it had not digested could move farther through its body. The plastic tubing was inserted in the ileum the exact spot where food absorption ends and fermentation by the microflora and bacteria of the lower bowel begins. Given a large enough sample of any dog food, George Fahey could calculate how much vitamin or mineral or fat or sugar would enter a dogs bloodstream and how much would be irretrievably lost. Fahey has spent his career investigating the
metabolism of domestic animals, and his research has helped define the nature of pet food.
"In addition to his dog colony, Fahey supervised a number of other nutrition laboratories in the universitys department of animal sciences, and for the most part his workaday hardware consisted of the various contrivances necessary to measure how much food a pet might or might not digest. ...
"I had come to Urbana-Champaign to tour Faheys nutrition laboratories and to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the canine- and feline-nutrition business. I had geared myself up to see those plugged dogs in the basement, but first we had to spend an hour or so strolling the upper floors of offices and laboratories."
The article provides good information, from a guru of pet nutrition, for those at all concerned about feeding their dogs vegetarian diets:
"Dogs can get along just fine on a daily ration of corn and soybeans. 'Thats about the cheapest diet you could put together,' Fahey said, and it provides all the vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates a dog needs. But it wouldnt sell to broad segments of the modern market."
It is a long article, with some unappetizing information about what is in standard commercial dog food. The last few paragraphs, in which we learn details of about how long the test subjects have been kept there -- many years -- how often they get out of their single cages to play at all -- twice a week -- and the attitude of the researchers towards them, are upsetting:
"As we neared the end of Faheys tour of the laboratories at Urbana-Champaign, I wasnt exactly eager to see the animals in the basement that had been mutilated for the sake of science however much their surgically attached plugs may have contributed to the research Fahey and his colleagues had published on the digestibility of beet pulp and citrus pulp, potato starch and wood cellulose. But there seemed to be little choice. 'Lets go out and see the dogs,' he said.
"When we came to the Authorized Access sign, the professor swept his electronic pass card over a pad, and the metal door swung open. 'This is a very secure building,' he said. Accompanied by one of his lab technicians, we passed a set of bright red cattle gates, then continued down a long corridor of pink portals, behind which resided colonies of rats, rabbits, hens, swine and cats. We passed a disease quarantine room and a chamber marked Surgery.
"Fahey stopped at a green door. Another swipe of the pass card and we stood before seven immaculate kennels, each of which held a short-haired, mixed-breed hound. From the side of each hound emerged a clear, plastic spout.
"'Hello, girls,' Fahey said. They looked at him with calm, bright eyes and wagged their tails.
"Wiggles came up to us and sniffed my fingers. She had a wet nose and sleek white fur. Above her black-barred kennel hung a plastic clipboard marked with a number, courtesy of the U.S.D.A. 'We get inspected,' Fahey said.
"Wiggless sign read:
Canine, Hound Mix, Female DOB 8/25/00
Received 8/28/01 Butler Farms
Dr. Fahey Protocol 06222
"Protocol 06222 turned out to be a test of something called an oligosaccharide. Fahey would not reveal the precise origin and nature of this particular carbohydrate, but given his record it was possible to imagine that the mystery molecule might one day turn up in Iams dog food, or perhaps your seven-grain bread.
"We inspected Wiggless cage, then the cages of Bo, Teeny, Dutchess, Flick, Shai and Todd. Every floor sparkled, every stainless-steel feed bowl shone. The hounds were gentle and sociable, Fahey said, 'ideal animals to work with.'
"The dogs appeared content within their temperature-controlled environment, where the lights go on at 6 every morning and off at 8 every evening, where regulated supplies of air enter and exit the ventilation system, where they can play with their toys and listen to AM radio all day. Fahey said that the kennels exceeded federal guidelines for size and that the lab assistants took the dogs outside twice a week to exercise, romp and catch some rays. 'If you had this much money spent on you, youd be happy, too,' he said.
"Theyre spoiled brats,' the lab technician said.
"Of course, the installation of plastic plumbing into a living hound did not seem much like spoiling. And in fact there was another way a more precise way to determine how much energy a dog or a cat had acquired from its food. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a research method called 'total carcass analysis,' which, as the name implies, required the animal to be dead. 'You need to have a darned good reason to do a terminal case,' Fahey said to me earlier. 'Its too expensive.' And it is not for the squeamish. 'Its a helluva job,' he said. 'You have to grind, you have to sieve, you have to grind again. Its a good technique, but its very labor-intensive.' I cringed.
"Now Fahey pointed to the spout sticking out of Wiggless side. 'There,' he said. 'You see the cannula.'
"The plugs did not seem to irritate the dogs. 'If it is put in correctly, it becomes part of them,' he said. 'It heals very nicely, and becomes a part of their anatomy.' The ports must be opened and inspected at least once a week and flushed at least once a month, and when Fahey or his colleagues collect samples they simply unplug a stopper, attach a plastic bag and let the dogs run around, which pushes out the digesta.
"As Fahey described the labs procedures, the room grew quiet, and by the end of his monologue the dogs sat in total silence, their eyes plaintive. Clearly, they were begging, but begging for what? Perhaps they expected to be fed. Perhaps they longed for an end to their captivity. Fahey grinned and said nothing, but the moment we left the room and shut the green metal door, it sounded as if some evil doctor had begun to torture the poor animals. They howled and blubbered and brayed and whined, and their pathetic ululations followed us as we traced our way back down the yellow cinder-block hallway, past the cattle gates, through the final door and out to the light of a hot Midwestern afternoon.
"'What made them so upset?' I asked.
"They thought you were going to take them out to play,' Fahey said. 'Look what you did.'"
You'll find the whole article on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/magazine/02pet-t.html and can send a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Date: Mon Sep 3 21:46:36 2007