If you haven’t already heard of this controversy, let me give you a very brief overview. Since 2009, PETA has been targeting a research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for controversial research involving cats. Recently, PETA purchased ads on the sides of Madison buses, showing pictures of a lab cat named Double Trouble and asking for the end of cat experiments at UW-Madison. It caused quite a commotion, because Double Trouble has a surgical alteration that looks pretty strange. And PETA’s reports include references to the implantation of “small, twisted wire coils on the top of the cats’ heads or around one or both eyeballs.” See where the controversy is coming from?
OK. Remember that- we’ll come back to it. Now let me give you some details about a couple of procedures. Read these descriptions, and think about them for a minute.
Procedure #1: A device is surgically implanted into the shoulder area. Wires are then forced into veins in the chest, and electrical impulses are sent through these wires.
Procedure #2: An incision is made over the spine. A portion of one or more vertebrae are chipped or drilled away. Wires are then pushed into the spine, and they lay against the spinal cord, emitting electrical pulses.
Procedure #3: Medication is given to completely paralyze the body. Artificial life support is required. Then, the body temperature is artificially lowered dramatically, causing unnaturally cold temperatures in the body- and shivering to raise body temperature is impossible due to paralysis.
All of these procedures sound pretty bad, right? When you read these, they probably make you shudder a little bit- right? So what are these horrible procedures? Well, procedure #1 is surgery to implant a pacemaker into a 14-year-old child with a heart problem. Procedure #2 is surgery to implant a spinal cord stimulator into a 25-year-old patient who deals with chronic pain from permanent nerve damage that was caused when a drunk driver hit him as he was crossing at a crosswalk. And procedure #3 is treatment for a 60-year old grandfather of 8 who suffered from a heart attack. All three of these procedures will either save and/or improve the quality of these patients’ lives.
They don’t sound so horrible now, do they? I’ll bet you went back and re-read those descriptions, and they make a little more sense. Why didn’t I just explain them normally, then? To make a point! Remember PETA’s description: “small, twisted wire coils on the top of the cats’ heads or around one or both eyeballs.” That definitely doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Animal rights groups know what buttons to push. They say “metal coil in the eyeball” and they know it will make people cringe. But plenty of people live with metal coils, rods, screws, plates, and pins implanted in their bodies, and those people can tell you that these nasty-sounding metal pieces don’t cause them any pain.
Double Trouble has a head cap that is necessary for the study that researcher Tom Lin is working on. They’re trying to determine how the brain detects sound, and Double Trouble and 17 other cats are giving researchers insight into what makes us able to detect differences in the frequency and volume of sounds. Research like this is important in the understanding and development of devices and procedures that can improve or restore hearing- including cochlear implants.
Researchers don’t work with animals for their studies because they want to cause pain and discomfort just for the fun of it, to see what will happen. If there was a better way to develop new procedures that didn’t involve animals, that’s what they’d do. Why would researchers purposely perform animal studies if there was a way to do it better and get published faster? They wouldn’t.
Researchers also aren’t out to hurt animals. They don’t want to see animals suffer, and if these cats were suffering, there’s no way that they would yield useful data. If you read descriptions of the study, positive reinforcement training is used to elicit the necessary behaviors from the cats. Treating these animals humanely is the only way to actually have them respond appropriately and give useful data, so in addition to not wanting to make a living being suffer, researchers are extra careful to make sure that their animals are happy and healthy so that they are confident in the validity of their study outcomes. Read the USDA and veterinary descriptions- healthy cats, good body condition and ideal body weight, no signs of distress, and proper surgical protocols were followed in all cases.
Let me ask you a question. Re-read those three procedures again, and tell me if you would be willing to sign your 14-year-old daughter, 25-year-old brother, or 60-year-old grandfather up for any of those life-saving procedures if you didn’t know that they were developed and tested to the point that the doctors felt comfortable recommending and performing the procedures on humans. We don’t want to think that we’ll ever need any of these interventions- but the truth is that we very well might. And another truth- all of those procedures, and countless more, would not be options for patients at all if it wasn’t for basic research involving animals.
The next time you hear about animal research in a negative light, take a step back. Look at how the information is presented to you, and remember that people with an agenda will try to twist words around to make it sound as bad as possible. Pay close attention to facts, including results of USDA inspections, descriptions from licensed veterinarians, and behavioral information about the animals. There are regulations for a reason- it’s because researchers value animal life and they want to avoid suffering, but at this point in time we need to validate life-saving treatments in animals before we can try them in humans. So if animals need to be used, you’d better believe that everyone involved is making sure that these animals are as happy and healthy as possible. You may not understand animal research; even if you do, you may not want to be the one to DO animal research; but please respect the people who have committed their lives to making YOURS better through the use of responsible animal research. And I, for one, am thankful for the dedicated, professional researchers like Tom Yin and the animals like Double Trouble that work every day to save and improve our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
What do you think?
Read more about the research and the controversy here: