Or, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy, except in their capacity to raise funds.”
WASHINGTON D.C.––Lest there be any doubt that antivivisection advocacy in the 21st century has gone to the dogs, the White Coat Waste Project, the Humane Society of the U.S., and Stop Animal Exploitation Now in recent donor communications each underscored the point.
Each focused on the 58,000 dogs per year used in U.S. biomedical research and testing, with scarcely a mention of the other 112 million animals suffering the same fate.
“In their capacity to suffer,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder Ingrid Newkirk famously pointed out when PETA was young, “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
Not much talk of rodents any more
Decades later, with donor communications now a data-driven science focused on fundraising response to the message, animal advocacy organizations from the biggest to the smallest, and the oldest to the youngest, don’t talk much about mice and rats any more.
Mice, rats, birds, and fish are officially not even “animals,” according to the U.S. federal Animal Welfare Act. And mice, rats, birds and fish do not bring in the big bucks.
This, for instance, is the most evident reason why the Humane Society of the U.S. in 2017 in effect traded an exemption from cruelty prosecution for Pennsylvania pigeon shooters, who kill and wound tens of thousands of birds per year, for passage of Libre’s Law, which permits felony penalties for some offenses against dogs and cats that bring charges barely a dozen times per year.
Only SAEN gave other species equal billing
The Humane Society of the U.S., Stop Animal Exploitation Now, and the White Coat Waste Project, to be sure, all made pro forma mention of concern for other animals used in laboratories in their recent missives, but only Stop Animal Exploitation Now gave another species––pigs––equal billing with dogs.
Why does this matter, if all three animal advocacy organizations, and many others, are pursuing legislation on behalf of the range of species used in cruel experiments?
It matters because legislation promoted almost exclusively in the name of dogs is easily amended into legislation written exclusively on behalf of dogs.
Trading the use of dogs for more use of rats, mice, and birds is then easily accomplished in the name of pragmatic compromise, to secure a donor-pleasing “victory,” even as the universe of animal suffering is not reduced at all.
The history of animal advocacy is replete with such examples, often with most donors and individual activists none the wiser in the celebratory aftermath of each sellout.
Wrote White Coat Waste Project publicist Natalie Warhit on March 17, 2021, “I thought you might be interested that a bipartisan bill, the Alternatives to Animals for Regulatory Fairness (AARF) Act (H.R. 1905), was just introduced by U.S. Representatives Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) to ensure that drug makers are not forced by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to poison puppies and other animals in cruel, expensive and ineffective tests and are allowed to use more effective and efficient non-animal alternatives instead.”
Why did Warhit specifically cite puppies, but not any of the “other animals” who are used in equally cruel ways, in vastly greater numbers?
Most likely because donors––and the general public, who might become donors––respond emotively and positively to puppies, but mostly not so positively to mice and rats.
“Thousands of puppies”
“Even though superior alternatives exist,” Warhit continued, “the FDA currently forces companies to waste millions of dollars and years of time pumping experimental drugs down puppies’ throats or making them inhale drugs every day for up to a year in painful and deadly tests.
“Thousands of dogs—including puppies as young as one week old—are experimented on each year just to fulfill the FDA’s outdated regulations even though federal agencies admit that animal tests fail to predict human drug responses over 90% of the time.
“Still, the FDA has rejected and punished companies seeking to employ more efficient and effective non-animal testing tools, slowing the search for treatments for COVID and other illnesses.”
To be sure, Warhit did give “animal tests” and “non-animal testing” some attention.
The White Coat Waste Project emphasis on puppies, at the expense of specific concern for “other animals,” might be pardoned as a strategic ploy––if results are won that genuinely benefit the “other animals” too, instead of merely transferring suffering from puppies to other animals through regulatory sleight-of-hand.
The biggest organizations in animal advocacy unfortunately have long histories of such compromised “victories” that won nothing.
That the American Humane Association and American SPCA accepted the use of impounded dogs and cats in laboratories was a major impetus to the breakaway formation of the Humane Society of the United States in 1954.
That the then-leadership of Humane Society of the United States did not oppose sport hunting was in turn a major impetus to the rise of the constellation of organizations that became the “animal rights movement” circa 25 years later.
Cutting bad deals
Forty-five years after that, the Humane Society of the United States is, if anything, even more notorious for cutting deals that leave animals little better off, if at all, declaring victory, and going home.
(See HSUS, Donald Trump, & the PACT Act: The Art of the Deal for details of a “victory” that specifically excluded protection for animals in laboratories, in agribusiness, and in hunters’ gunsights or trappers’ traps.)
For that reason alone, animal advocates should be alarmed by the verbiage offered by Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund, in their co-signed March 16, 2021 blog post.
Dog use by labs has not dropped. Rodent use has exploded.
Apparently promoting the same bill that the White Coat Waste Project promoted a day later, Block and Amundson opened by mentioning that, “Despite a growing distaste among Americans for animal testing, the number of dogs used in federally funded research or testing has not dropped appreciably over the past 20 years.”
Indeed. But the numbers of mice, rats, birds, and fish used in federally funded research and testing has apparently increased exponentially over the same 20 years, University of California at San Francisco researcher Larry Carbone, DVM, explained in the January 12, 2021 edition of Scientific Reports, a publication of Nature.com.
“Rats and mice comprised approximately 99.3% of mammals at these representative institutions,” Carbone found.
“Extrapolating from 780,070 Animal Welfare Act-covered mammals in 2017–2018,” Carbone deduced that about “111.5 million rats and mice were used per year in this [two-year] period.
What about other animals?
Block and Amundson, however, chose to focus almost entirely on dogs.
“Between 2015 and 2019, the National Institutes of Health awarded more than $200 million to 200 individual institutions for 303 separate projects using dogs as experimental models,” Block and Amundson wrote.
Substitute the words “mice,” “rats,” “birds,” “fish,” “rabbits,” “hamsters,” “guinea pigs,” “cats,” “monkeys,” or any of a wide array of other species for the word “dogs” in any of Block and Amundson’s next several sentences and all would be just as true:
“The dogs in these projects may have been subjected to multiple surgeries, fitted with equipment to impair their heart function, or implanted with devices to alter normal bodily functions. Following the conclusion of an experiment, the dogs are often killed so that their organs can be examined.”
“Serious ethical problems”
And then came what should have been the most alarming sentence of all to anyone concerned about any animal suffering, not just that of dogs:
“There are serious ethical and scientific problems associated with the use of dogs in animal research and testing.”
There are the same serious ethical and scientific problems associated with the use of any animals, not just dogs.
A sentence later, Block and Amundson did acknowledge that “Today, with science having advanced by leaps and bounds, there is a plethora of scientific, non-animal testing methods available that can provide results that are faster, more accurate and relevant to humans,” but this was mentioned, apparently, only for “making dog tests in many cases unnecessary.”
Note the further qualifier “in many cases,” a signal that the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society Legislative Fund are even willing to accept some continuing use of dogs in experiments, so long as legislators and regulators throw them some sort of a bone that they can tout as a “victory.”
Concluded Block and Amundson, “Dogs used in toxicity testing and research lead miserable lives. They are confined to sterile steel cages…”
This too is true of all the 112 million animals used in laboratories, not just the 58,000 dogs.
The Block and Amundson blog posting did include a link to a March 2021 Humane Society of the United States report entitled Ending the use of dogs in research and testing.
Within that report is a paragraph affirming that the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society Legislative Fund “advocate an end to the use of all animals in biomedical research and testing.
“Not necessarily optimal models”
This paragraph even mentions that, “There is growing recognition within the scientific community that rodents, dogs, monkeys, and other animals are not necessarily the optimal models for understanding human biology and disease.”
And the paragraph ends, “It is evident that a move away from animals need not negatively impact research and that using human biology-based tools could accelerate understanding of human disease.”
As a whole, though, the report on Ending the use of dogs in research and testing mentions dogs 273 times in 25 pages, almost always in contexts where the same statements could apply to all animals used in laboratories.
The words “animal” and “animals” occur 188 times, usually in contexts subordinate to the focal concern about dogs.
“Five dogs died of heat stress”
One day before Block and Amundson posted their blog, two days before the White Coat Waste Project media release, Stop Animal Exploitation Now on March 15, 2021 disclosed that “The University of Missouri at Columbia admits in previously unpublished documents that five dogs died of ‘heat stress.’
“An earlier report dated June 12, 2019 states that two piglets disappeared into a drain after a floor panel became dislodged.”
Said Stop Animal Exploitation Now cofounder Michael Budkie, “Allowing five dogs to essentially be cooked to death is simply unconscionable. The infant pigs that apparently disappeared into a floor drain trough may have drowned.”
Michael Budkie and the other Stop Animal Exploitation Now cofounder, his wife Karen, have for nearly 30 years combed Animal Welfare Act filings from laboratories, publicizing similar incidents involving every sort of animal used in biomedical research.
No giant step
The Budkies know, though, from their long experience, that anything involving dogs is far more likely to attract mainstream media notice than almost anything involving other animals. Had the mention of the earlier deaths of the two piglets not been linked to the deaths of the dogs, the piglets would very likely never have been mentioned in the lead sentence of coverage by Roger McKinney of the Columbia Daily Tribune, if indeed the piglet deaths were noticed at all.
Thus antivivisection advocacy in the 21st century has gone to the dogs for a reason, albeit a reason that the animal rights movement of 30-40 years ago hoped to overcome by promoting public recognition that “In their capacity to suffer, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
But abandoning the effort to promote empathy for the suffering of all animals, in favor of the easier path to “victories” by emphasizing dogs to the exclusion of others, is not exactly a “giant step for mankind.”
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