The animal research [community] has a history of silence that we are beginning to understand must be broken. The public doesn’t have the information needed to understand what happens in our facilities. They’ve been inundated by propaganda that, at best, misrepresents us and at worst, spreads hate and fear. The public is almost exclusively exposed to this nearly always false, fantastical, fanatical misleading information. This isn’t fair to the public, to those of us who work in this industry, or to our animals.
During a recent interview, I was asked what I wanted the public to know about my job in animal research. My answer may have been too simplistic. Please allow me to give a more complete answer.
What I want the public to know is the truth.
I chose a career in animal medicine initially because I believed in ensuring the good health of animals and animal welfare, and because I believe in the great value of serving as an advocate.
When I was in vet tech school, a facility visit was arranged as we prepared to graduate and choose our career paths. One of our instructors urged us strongly to consider a path in animal research. He said we would never see the level of animal suffering in the research setting as we would in private practice. I have years of experience in both settings, and I can tell you without hesitation that he was absolutely right.
Some of the public hates us and our industry for what they think we do, because they’ve been misinformed. In an animal medical research facility, there are two groups of employees — the research group and the husbandry group. The researchers are kind to the animals and treat them with the utmost dignity. They want them to be happy and healthy. The animals do not make very good models if they are sick or depressed, and also the researchers want them to be treated as the heroes they are for leading patients to hope and healing.
Medical research doesn’t include the types of things that people see in extremists’ photos and videos. There are no cosmetics involved, no uncontrolled pain and no drug overdoses. Researchers are not going room to room inflicting pain on every creature in their path. The reality is researchers are seeking cures and comfort for humans and animals alike. How could this group of professionals whose careers are focused on helping possibly be focused on spreading cruelty? I challenge the doubting public to justify this misconception.
The other group is the husbandry group, which provides food, shelter, health, peace, love, toys and so much more to the animals. The husbandry group does not conduct research on animals. Instead, we take care of them as if they were our own. We refer to them as our own because we feed them every day, play with them, give them treats and as many special things as we can — every single day. Caring for these animals is the sole reason the husbandry group exists. We grieve when we lose them and celebrate when we send them to a new forever home. We know everything about them — which toys are their favorites, which foods they like, who is their favorite person and even their favorite music.
I want the public to understand everything we do in a research facility is guided by many, many regulations. We undergo inspections several times a year — often unannounced — by several different agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture.
I want the public to know environmental conditions are strictly controlled. For example, if an animal room’s temperature gets even a degree out of range, we must respond and correct it immediately — no matter the hour of the day or night. Recently, I drove in to work to check on a mouse whose water valve had stopped working at 1 a.m. Now tell me people like me feel nothing.
Telling the public about those of us who work in animal research may not change opinions, but I want to break the silence.
I want real information to be available so, no matter what opinions are formed, they are formed only after considering and knowing facts.
Finally, I also call on others in this [community] to follow me and tell the story from our side, to be transparent and open the door to the truth to dispute and dispel the myths about animals in medical research.
By Meagan Shetler, a licensed veterinary technician and lab animal technologist, is the lab animal supervisor in the University of Kentucky’s Division of Laboratory Animal Resources.