I have just read a lengthy, detailed and worthwhile five part series, published Monday-Friday last week, in the online magazine Slate. The series is by Daniel Engber, a research scientist turned science writer. He takes an even-handed look at animal research, sharing what has been learned to aid human health, and also discussing the cost, with regard to cruelty to animals -- and questioning the practice.
The titles of the five pieces, which I have printed below with a link to each piece, give you a good idea of how the series develops. Engber opens with the story of a dog, Pepper, stolen for research. He shares in two further articles how that incident affected the research world. In the fourth article he takes a wider look at the use of animals other than dogs, and in the fifth discusses his own experience, with a monkey named Clayton. Here are the titles and links:
1) Where's Pepper?
In the summer of 1965, a female Dalmatian was stolen from a farm in Pennsylvania. Her story changed America.
Jun 01, 2009
2) Man Cuts Dog
Pepper arrives at a laboratory in the Bronx.
Jun 02, 2009
3) Pepper Goes to Washington
The most important animal-welfare law in America began with a stolen dog.
Jun 03, 2009
4) Brown Dogs and Red Herrings
Or, why we no longer experiment much on dogs.
Jun 04, 2009
5) Me and My Monkey
The confessions of a reluctant vivisector.
Jun 05, 2009
Engber seems to use the articles on dogs to warm up his readers, while in the last two articles the use of all animals is examined. The fourth piece tells us of our movement's inability so far to protect animals -- dogs and others. We learn that attempts to ban the sale of dogs from "Class B dealers," who often acquire the dogs by questionable means, have failed. And we read about the exclusion of rats, mice and birds from the Animal Welfare Act.
"With Schwindaman's help, the USDA put in place in 1972 a special exemption for rats, mice, and birds, allowing scientists to treat them however they saw fitin cages of any size, in experiments with any degree of pain and suffering. That exemption remains in force, despite Schwindaman's later attempts to overturn it. To this day, 95 percent of the animals used in research labs receive no federal protection whatsoever under the Animal Welfare Act.
"In the fall of 2001, an undercover animal activist took a job cleaning rat and mouse cages on the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina. Over the next six months, she would collect more than 40 hours of footage on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with a camera hidden under her lab coat. The video showed researchers marking newborn mice by amputating their toes and cutting the brains from baby rats without anesthesia. Rodents were trampled to death in overcrowded cages, left to die in garbage bins, or allowed to suffer with swollen tumors and open sores."
Later in the article he writes:
"For 100 years or more, scientists and activists had traded blows over the ethics and practice of research on dogs and cats. Through all that back-and-forth, lab rodents were always left just across the moral frontier of live-animal experimentationclose enough to humans to remain a meaningful source of knowledge but not so close that we couldn't slaughter them in droves. Yet it's not obviousto those who might consider the questionthat the welfare of a rat or mouse is any less important than that of a dog. Recent research suggests that the health of mice improves when they're given cage toys, running wheels, and crawl tubes to play with. Rats can learn to respond to a name and recognize individual people. We might quarrel over the inner lives of honeybees or river trout, but is the suffering of our fellow mammals really in question?"
Then, having acknowledged their suffering, he gives us even more information about their treatment:
"We regularly subject rodents to pain, starvation, solitary confinement, and grotesque disfigurement. Whatever misery they endure is multiplied across the hundreds of millions of rats and mice used in labs every year."
In the fifth piece, on Engber's personal experience working with a monkey, there is no discussion of such outright and obvious abuse. Yet Engber shares his thoughts on his return visit to the laboratory years later:
"In all the time I'd been gone, Clayton had lived in the same room, on the same feeding schedule, and with many of the same neighbors. Since we'd last seen each other, I'd moved across the country twice, quit graduate school, and become a journalist. Scientists had published more than 10,000 research papers using macaque models, and a team at the Baylor College of Medicine sequenced the entire genome of the rhesus monkey. For Clayton, though, nothing has changed. Every day or two, he's carted off to a room painted all in black, and his head is fixed in place by the post that still protrudes from his skull. He sits there as always, staring at targets on a computer screen. When he moves his eyes the way he's supposed to, he gets a droplet of Tang as a reward.
"It occurred to me that Pepper had been lucky. She'd spent her life roaming an 82-acre farm in Slatington, Pa., with a mate, Fred. (They even had a litter of puppies.) Her time at Montefiore Hospital in the summer of 1965 would last all of one day: After a single night spent locked in the rooftop kennel, she was brought downstairs, anesthetized, and killed.
"Clayton was born in a breeding center; he grew up in metal boxes and spent his adolescence with a hole in his head and a coil around his eye. In 10 or 15 years of life, he suffered through multiple surgeries and infections and endless hours of restraint in a plastic chair. And for what? Pepper's death, at least, contributed to the development of the cardiac pacemakera revolutionary medical device that would prolong millions of lives. Every hour of Clayton's existence has been spent, and will continue to be spent, in the service of basic science."
The series is well worth checking out. And please, get involved, email it to your friends, comment in the designated spots at the end of the articles -- both to keep the discussion alive and so that Slate knows these stories matter to readers. And please thank Engber. We learn that he left animal research unable to stomach it; please let him know we appreciate his writing about it so comprehensively. His email, firstname.lastname@example.org , is provided at the end of the articles above, which again, I urge you to read.
I send thanks to Daria Kerridge for making sure we saw "Me and My Monkey," and therefore the whole series.
Yours and the animals',
(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)
Please go to www.ThankingtheMonkey.com for a fun celeb-studded promo video and information on Karen Dawn's book, "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals," which was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of 2008." And check out Karen's new blog at www.ThankingtheMonkey.com/blog !
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Date: Mon Jun 8 21:15:29 2009