Dogs in the fight

Let calm and reason govern animal-testing debate

The two-minute video would outrage any animal lover.

Footage released on social media – said to have been recorded at a Georgia Regents University research laboratory – shows several dogs looking malnourished and frightened, and being operated on and having their teeth and parts of their jaws removed during tests of dental implants. The procedures do not appear delicate.

The Humane Society of the United States claims that GRU bought the dogs from a dealer who was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, and that the implant experiments were conducted without proper legal approval.

Many animal lovers are further outraged over what they consider the cruelty of the implant tests, which they say are unnecessary because there already are implants approved by the Food and Drug Administration ready for human use.

If you view this video and the controversy swirling around it as a referendum on the morality of animal testing and that all animal testing should cease, understand that that’s not entirely the point.

Even the HSUS is not calling for an end to animal testing. Its official position is “to spur scientific development and innovation and the implementation of alternatives in order to replace the use of animals in research that causes animals harm.” Until then, the HSUS is working to see that fewer experimental animals suffer.

We can’t argue with that.

We also can’t argue with Nobel Prize-winning biologist Sir Peter Medawar, who said in his 1972 book The Hope of Progress that “we must grapple with the paradox that nothing but research on animals will provide us with the knowledge that will make it possible for us, one day, to dispense with the use of them altogether.”

Thanks to the use of mice and monkeys, we wiped out polio in North America. Experimenting on cows helped eradicate smallpox. And dogs were crucial in discovering and perfecting the extraction of insulin. Look at most of the major medical advances in the past century, and you’ll find animal testing at the heart of their successes.

But why is GRU testing dental implants when there already are several FDA-approved implants available? What makes GRU’s implants supposedly better? And are there no other testing alternatives that can spare the use of such a beloved, iconic animal as a domesticated dog?

These are the questions GRU must answer.

Also, what is the history of the dogs in the video? Were they ever someone’s pets? Clearly, pets and former pets shouldn’t be used for medical experiments. That would be the height of inhumanity.

Class “B” animal dealers provide live specimens for medical research, and the least scrupulous of these dealers have been known to lurk in newspaper classifieds and around animal shelters to get someone’s former pet for the purpose of reselling it. The vendor GRU supposedly did business with is a Class “B” dealer who has been charged with breaking laws that protect animals.

We urge both sides to remain calm and reasonable in this very emotional debate. We would ask the accusers to be fair and realistic, and for the university not to be overly dismissive or defensive. No one should want scrutiny or improvements in the animal testing program more than those conducting it.

A fair and independent study should be welcomed by both sides. If GRU is found in violation of any laws regarding these animal tests – or the protocols governing the safe, humane handling of these gentle creatures – the university should be held fully accountable.

But if the program is found to be in compliance with all rules, regulations and standards, then the complaints really are about animal testing in general – and the university will have been unfairly singled out for ridicule.

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