Animal Writes
From 29 May 2005 Issue

Another Look at the Dissected Dog
From the Salt Lake Tribune
By Michael Mountain - Best Friends Society

After finding itself in the glare of the national media spotlight, Gunnison Valley High School has apologized for using a homeless dog in a school biology experiment.

The dog, who had been abandoned and was unclaimed after two weeks, was going to be put down. So their biology teacher organized a class in which the dog was cut open in front of the 16- and 17-year-old girls so they could see the digestive system at work. After the surgery, the dog was destroyed.

The story was broadcast on KTVX News and then made its way into the national media, whereupon the school was surprised to find itself facing some very unwelcome publicity and protests from around the country.

"We don't condone this," said Donald Hill, South Sanpete School District assistant superintendent. "Our schools will not participate in this again."

But the teacher stood by what he'd done, and even the assistant principal's apology was somewhat half-hearted. "They did not remove or dissect any parts. It was not barbaric, [but] we will have to find a better way next time."

A "better way" to accomplish what, exactly? Any other lessons we teach them in school or church about the sanctity of life and family values are instantly undermined in a class like this, when we treat living creatures as no more than objects to be sliced open, inspected and then killed.

Vivisection (cutting up live animals for experiments) has long been abandoned by schools in the mainstream of education. Teachers know that it's the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. Once life - any life - is viewed with such disrespect, the door is open to all life being treated similarly.

"It just makes me sick," said student Sierra Williams to KTVX News. Other students told their parents that their teacher was less than sympathetic to their distress, telling them they simply needed to be able to "handle" it. But what the students couldn't handle was not the sight of blood or body parts. Had they been witnessing a heroic effort to save a life, they would have reacted quite differently. Sure, many of us are squeamish about watching surgery, but that's very different from the horror and distress of these girls.

Young people learn some of their most important life lessons from the way their parents and teachers treat animals. Even seeing a family pet dropped off at the local shelter can be traumatic. When the family runs into financial problems, and Mom and Dad decide they can no longer keep Fido or Fluffy, it sends a very clear message to the youngest child, who now finds himself at the bottom of the family hierarchy: "I may be next."

Cruelty and disrespect to animals breed the same attitude toward humans. In homes where animals are being abused, spouses and children are almost always being abused, too. It's a well-known fact that every serial killer ever captured has admitted to having started on animals before graduating to people. And according to the pastor of the high school boys who carried out the infamous massacre at the Columbine High School a few years ago, the two boys were known to have practiced first on birds.

Respect for life is fundamental to any civilized society. It's why we surround the execution of a condemned criminal with certain rituals - the last meal, the visit from the chaplain. And it's why, when a lost, lonely, helpless dog is going to be killed, shelter workers do their best to offer him or her a caring and dignified end.

We should be proud that the girls at Gunnison Valley were horrified and upset at the school experiment they witnessed. They don't need to learn to "handle" their reaction. They need to be guided by it.

In a world where the daily news is full of routine killing and cruelty, we need to teach our children that kindness to animals builds respect for all living creatures, and that this is the foundation of a better world for all of us.
Michael Mountain is the president of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, the nation's largest no-kill animal sanctuary.

Go on to The Foundations of a Movement 2005
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