It's No Way To Treat A Dog Or Anything Else

ALICE STEINBACH

April 12, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

My cat, Max, is napping outside in the late afternoon sun, his heart-shaped face parting the new grass that is pushing up through the spring earth.

Ordinarily, I would be transfixed in admiration. But today I am not.

Today, I find myself imagining Max strapped to a table in a research laboratory, unable to turn his small head away from the bullet that will rip through his brain. Today -- in my fantasy -- I see his restrained, rigid body suddenly twitch and jerk, then go limp.

That, more or less, was the fate of 700 cats used in a federally funded Defense Department experiment which -- along with a number of such projects -- was denounced this week by animal welfare groups as "experiments that are as pointless as they are cruel."

Pointless indeed.

In this particular cat experiment -- conducted at Louisiana State University to provide information about treating soldiers' head injuries -- the major finding came down to this: "The cats stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated."

Translated into practical wound treatment this means that soldiers with head injuries who have stopped breathing should be given respiratory support, said the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group devoted to identifying the questionable use of animals in research.

And for this cutting-edge piece of science, dear taxpayer, you paid hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You also paid for radiation experiments on monkeys and dogs -- presumably conducted to determine the effect of radiation on a human pilot, soldier or sailor. How was this research carried out?

Well, at one military radiobiological research institute, dogs first received gunshot wounds and then were irradiated. The records showed that the dogs usually took a week to die; they received no pain relief during that time.

But surely, I hear you saying, the benefits accruing to humans from such an experiment must render acceptable the suffering involved.

Wrong.

One Air Force officer, who spent 10 years working on animal radiation experiments, called the research "useless." And a military psychologist who spent 16 years involved in radiation experiments on monkeys said of his long-term work: "It was all in vain."

Remember, we are not talking here about the kind of biomedical research that made the polio vaccine possible. Or that made possible such life-saving breakthroughs as heart and kidney transplants.

We are talking about the kind of cruel and wasteful research that is being uncovered more and more often by such responsible animal welfare groups as the Humane Society and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Of course, many of us are just not ready to make up our minds on where we stand when it comes to how animals are used in research.

After all, consciousness-raising is a slow process. And when it comes to how we regard animals, there are some tough ethical questions to be asked. For instance: Do animals belong to

people and do we have the right to do anything we want to them if it will yield even the smallest human benefit?

Of course, a lot of folks will write off such ideas as nonsense -- the mind-set of animal rights' crazies. But you don't have to fully buy into the more radical approach of a group such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- which believes that all animal research is immoral -- to feel outrage when unnecessary pain and suffering is inflicted on animals.

The fact is, we've come a long way in our attitude about what we deem an acceptable use of animals.

Not so long ago, for instance, it was considered radical to protest the painful testing on animals of such cosmetics as mascara and lipstick. Now, most of the major cosmetics companies no longer do such testing.

I also know many women who have re-examined their attitude about wearing fur after reading about the agonizing death many animals endure in the process of becoming someone's coat.

Of course, once you start this consciousness-raising thing about animals, the world takes on a different shape. You no longer find "cute" all those TV stories about terrified pigs who escape overturned trucks to wander the highway. You look at animals in the zoo differently. Suddenly, the dancing bear in a circus seems more sad than amusing.

And should you ever visit a lab and lock eyes with a chimp confined to a cage no bigger than an oven, the world -- I promise you -- will never seem the same.

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