Monday, June 16, 2008

The Pain of Animal Experimentation

[From SAEN!]

by Michael Budkie

Animal experimentation is a huge issue. It’s so big that we really have no adequate idea of how many animals are victimized in labs every year. About 1100 labs in the U.S. perform animal experiments. Tens of thousands of animal die every day – one at a time.

It is impossible to make sense of this issue. Duplication, (non) regulation, experimentation, brutalization. Protocols, inspection reports, animal use reports, grant applications, journal articles – this issue is comprised of a sea of paper. Too much to read. When you spend your days and nights looking at all of this you become an expert, whether you really want to or not, an expert in pain and suffering.

In the roughly 20 years that I’ve been an animal activist I have worked almost exclusively on the animal experimentation issue. I’ve read tens of thousands of pages of inspection reports, research protocols, and health care records for dogs, cats, goats, and primates. After awhile you start to look at things not in terms of the pain and suffering, or the insanity of the experimentation, but for the quality of the information. Dealing with all of this suffering, greed, and death tends to rob you of your emotions. You start to keep a distance, speaking in terms of press coverage, and reaching people with the truth. You separate yourself from the pain – the pain of the animals – and your own. You start to function almost like the staff of animal laboratories. If you think in terms of the individual lives lost it will be far too painful.

Then it happens. Something grabs you and won’t let go. It might be a picture, it might be a specific animal, or it might even be a phrase.

Marilyn Carroll performs drug addiction experiments on primates at the University of Minnesota. This is nothing new. In fact, this project has been funded for 28 years. Carroll is actually funded through 4 separate grants, totaling roughly $1.1 million annually. Three of these grants have portions of unknown size that are devoted to salary. The fourth grant is nothing but salary, and it is funded in the amount of $138,988 per year. It would not be surprising if Marilyn Carroll received something in the vicinity of $200,000 per year as salary. The motivation for animal experimentation should be clear – it is very profitable, both for the institution and the individuals. This situation is not unique. Marilyn Carroll is only one of many researchers at the University of Minnesota, and this is only one of many labs. These numbers are repeated numerous times across the United States. The only things that change are the names of the individuals and the labs that they are located in.

Possibly the most common result of experimentation and confinement in the laboratory, at least for primates, is insanity. The laboratory environment is so artificial, so utterly contradictory to virtually every aspect of what is normal behavior for a primate, that insanity is almost unavoidable. It is a normal reaction to an extremely abnormal situation.

The abnormality of the situation of primates within the University of Minnesota is revealed very clearly by the medical records which the lab maintains for the primates used in this experimentation. On 8/9/05 primate 05GP20 is listed as “Temp was up due to primate jumping back and forth wildly.” On both 7/26/05 and 7/28/05 primate #312A is described “Still overdosing on current drug dosage, ataxic, hypersalivating, disoriented.” On 4/2/07 the same primate is listed with generalized alopecia and “On current drug dosage ataxic, hypersalivating, disoriented.” On 8/23/05 primate #312E shows evidence of self-mutilation: “did bite knee after observation.” Primate #45C on 3/21/06 is listed as “extremely thin, body condition is poor, severe alopecia . . . bruising on top of left ankle.” Monkey #45D on 11/15/05 is described: “ . . . ripping hair from the armpit area and chewing on the fur, each time he would grab a tuft of fur he would vocalize” Records for primate #78B dated 9/7/05 disclose “extreme alopecia” and #78B still has severe alopecia on 9/11/06. #25A lost part of his tongue on 3/22/05. Primate #25b was overdosed on 9/14/04 and was observed 11/15/05 “ . . . ripping hair from the armpit area and chewing on the fur, each time he would grab a tuft of hair he would vocalize.” Two separate primates are described this way. How many more are behaving like this without being noticed?

These terms describe lives of suffering, days of agony. The primates have little to look forward to other than the addictive drugs that at least temporarily remove them from reality.

Sometimes, when you least expect it something reaches out and grabs you. It’s not what you wanted to happen, and there may not be anything particularly different about the information, but it touches you – and you just can’t let go.

“NHP was observed by LACT ripping hair from the armpit area and chewing on the fur, each time he would grab a tuft of hair he would vocalize.”

The picture that this sentence creates in my mind is so clear that it is inescapable. The psychic agony of this monkey is so abject, so pure, so utter that it can drown your soul. I have been swamped by this image for days.

I did not choose this existence. Looking for suffering as though I was some ghoulish spectator at dismemberment is not the goal of my life.

But freedom is.

The only rational reason that any human being could have for immersion in this world of cruelty is to end it. When I read about puppies that have drowned in floor drains (Michigan State University), primates that are dissected while still alive (Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research) or a female sheep that dies with two rotting lambs inside her womb (North Dakota State University), these things are at the same time both tragedies and truths. They are ghastly and they are reality.

Each one of the thousands of pieces of paper that describe the horror of animal experimentation also describes some aspect of the life of an individual animal. The existence of these victims is sketched out one page at a time. Inspection report, daily care log, surgical record, necropsy (post-mortem) report. The deaths of infants and the decades-long lives of intelligent animals like rhesus monkeys whose reality is utterly unreal to them, all of these things are captured one page at a time. They are not just statistics to be added and subtracted; they are individuals whose lives matter.

It is up to us to try to give their lives some collective meaning. It is our duty to make sure that their deaths were not in vain, that they do not go unnoticed. They must be honored, and remembered.

We have a very simple choice to make. We can either sit on the sidelines and let these images overwhelm us with grief or we can use this pain, the pain that we share with these animals because they are so much like us, as our motivation for action.

I choose to act. I choose to try to give these countless lives and deaths some meaning. And I have made that choice anew virtually every day since 1986.

This is the world of animal experimentation. Welcome to it.

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