Commentary : Violence Can't Protect All Lab Animals

Diane Calkins has three cats, two dogs, three birds, 10 fish and a rat

Animal rights activists won a victory recently when UC San Diego School of Medicine canceled a training seminar during which the use of surgical staples would have been demonstrated on 36 dogs obtained from the county animal shelter.

A Pyrrhic victory it was, though. The cause for cancellation, a threat to "put a bullet through the head" of the chief of surgery, plays into the hands of researchers who would have us believe that all animal rights advocates are irrational, anti-progress misanthropes who live with 32 cats and 15 dogs in a small duplex.

The demonstration itself, performed on anesthetized dogs to be put to sleep before they regained consciousness, would have been a model of humane, thoughtful animal experimentation compared to the horrors performed every day in labs all over the country.

Every year 70 million cats, dogs, monkeys, rabbits, mice, rats and other creatures die in the name of scientific progress in the United States. None of them are volunteers.

Indeed, it would be foolhardy for any animal to put itself in the hands of scientists who may or may not be ethical and humane, who may or may not have grown immune to suffering and fear. These scientists insist on the right to decapitate unanesthetized puppies, chop off the legs of baby mice to see whether they can learn to groom themselves, test the level of pain a monkey can endure before its heart stops, drop chemicals to be used in cosmetics into the eyes of tightly caged rabbits, and experiment with the effects of nerve gas on dogs and cats.

As required by the federal government, researchers study the toxicity of any new chemical or product by administering it to a group of animals until half of them die.

In psychology experiments designed to arouse fear, aggression or other reactions, cats are deprived of sleep until they die, and kittens receive strong shocks when they approach their mothers until both become frantic. To test learned helplessness, mice are dropped into water to swim until they drown, and dogs are given electric shocks until they go insane.

Experiments like these are not only cruel, but also often repetitious, a waste of taxpayers' money, scientifically invalid and ultimately dehumanizing to the researcher.

Common sense can answer many questions asked by scientists--whether, for instance, a kitten will get upset if it is hurt every time it gets near its mother. Animals don't have to be shot and set on fire when scientists can study burn victims in hospitals and gunshot wounds in any big-city emergency room on a Saturday night.

But researchers insist that any experiment dreamed up should be conducted in the name of scientific and medical progress. Their supporters assure us that a mere animal can never be as important as a human being.

While not an expert at placing value on life forms in descending or ascending order, I find such assurances as arrogant as the assumptions upon which they are based.

I resist the notion that all creatures were placed on the earth as spare parts or experimental ciphers for an all-wise, all-knowing being of the highest order.

Instead, human beings, imperfect as they are, owe some debt of responsibility to the dogs and cats they long ago domesticated and put to work as hunters, herders, ratters, protectors and companions.

Along with our awesome power over the animal world should come the commensurate burden of accountability.

Responsible animal rights advocates do not threaten scientists or demand an end to all animal experimentation. What we do demand is an end to the status quo, in which no guidelines except the conscience of the researcher govern the use and abuse of animals.

Unnecessary, duplicative and uselessly cruel experiments should end immediately, and every step possible should be taken to insure that animals used for experimentation be treated humanely.

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