Articles and Reports
Through the Bars
The View from Inside a Laboratory
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Director, SAEN
What is it like inside an animal laboratory?
Most people never know. During my education as an Animal Health Technician, I spent one school year inside the laboratories of the University of Cincinnati. The staff of the university acted as though this was a normal work place, not a facility where thousands of animals died every year. Maintaining the appearance of normalcy was a part of a larger facade which I believe had the primary purpose of protecting the collective conscience of those employed by the lab.
I believe that the staffs inside animal laboratories keep their sanity by maintaining distance between themselves and the animals. Essentially, they keep an emotional barrier up to separate themselves and the animals they work with/on. Otherwise they could not ignore the death that surrounds them.
One tool that seems to maintain this barrier is the mythical term "laboratory animal." These are not wild animals. They are not domestic animals. Somehow taking that dog from the animal shelter (or B dealer), or the primate from the wild, and placing it into a laboratory cage changes it from a former pet, or wild animal, to a laboratory animal. And laboratory animals seem to be exempt from most ethical considerations. If you or I purposely broke the leg of a dog in our care, that would be cruelty to animals. In a laboratory this same act is called medical research. What is the difference?
Another thing happens when animals enter a laboratory. They cross into the unknown. While many of us seem to have at least some vague sense of how wild animals live, few know — and more don't want to know — what happens to animals inside a laboratory. Many of us simply don't want to see what happens inside a laboratory. It is less disconcerting to turn away from the harsh reality of animal experimentation than to deal with the unsettling truths hidden behind the laboratory door.
Evidently, the early life of a primate within a laboratory is stressful. In fact, many primates born within laboratories have very short lives. According to documents obtained from laboratories like the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center and the New England Regional Primate Research Center, infant mortality is a significant problem. The most recent annual reports for these labs disclose infant mortality rates of over 30%.
Many pathological conditions are common in primates held captive within laboratories. Pneumonia, colitis, enteritis, gastric bloat and rupture, encephalitis, and septicemia are all common. Primates lose fingers and toes, suffer from gangrene, and die of severe bacterial infections. The lives of individual primates within specific laboratories illustrate these conditions well.
But we must remember that these primates are not just examples of diseases. They are living beings with feelings and emotions. They feel stress and pain. They suffer and die. And even though they are currently considered nothing more than property, their lives have significance. Their deaths must be remembered, and mourned.
Stimpy was an eight-year-old rhesus macaque monkey who died at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in January of 1999. He was housed alone in a steel cage, denied even social contact with other monkeys. Stimpy had been used in several drug addiction studies including one involving an opioid. During the period from January of 1995 to October of 1996, Stimpy suffered from several severe bacterial infections which resulted from intravenous catheters that had been surgically attached to his body. (Drug addiction experiments such as the one Stimpy was used in typically involve confinement to primate restraint chairs, the use of surgically implanted intravenous catheters, stress, and sometimes drug overdoses, which can be fatal.)
On 1/9/99, Stimpy was given a drug called fentanyl. He immediately had trouble breathing and began to lose consciousness. He was then given a second drug to reverse the effects of the fentanyl, and appeared to recover. Over the next four days his appetite was inconsistent, and water was seen dribbling from his mouth when he drank. He also seemed to be abnormally inactive. On 1/14/99, Stimpy was reported to be lethargic, anorexic and slow to respond, but he seemed to improve after receiving fluids.
On 1/15/99, Stimpy became totally anorexic and showed signs of central nervous system dysfunction. He didn't respond to visual stimuli, and was slow to respond to being touched. It was suspected that Stimpy may have developed brain damage from a drug overdose on 1/9/99. Instead of receiving further treatment, he was killed. A post-mortem examination confirmed the brain damage.
D67Z was a young female rhesus macaque monkey who was born on May 28, 1999 (we believe she was born at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX — this is also where she died). By mid-September D67Z was very ill. She "...was found gasping for air, clenching fists and stretching out (her) body." She stopped breathing. She was given several drugs, IV fluids, and manual respiratory support. She did not respond, and was euthanized. In the days before her death she had developed severe bacterial bronchopneumonia. She had become dehydrated. Her life lasted only three and a half months.
At the University of Arizona a five-year-old male macaque monkey known only as 96M1 died on July 8, 1999. He had a two-year history of weight loss and diarrhea. Evidently 96M1 had been sick for a long time — the post mortem diagnosis was chronic inflammatory bowel disease. 96M1 had been assigned to a laboratory in the neurosystems department at the University of Arizona, to a Dr. Wilson. Wilson's experimentation confines primates to restraint chairs, and requires them to perform behavioral tasks to obtain water. For five days of each week these monkeys receive water only during the experiment. This practice deprives them of water for 19 hours each day. This experimentation attaches devices to the skulls of primates with steel screws, places electrodes into their brains, and wire coils near their eyes.
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