By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
IN A NARROW vote, the St. Paul City Council last week ended three years of debate over the sale of animals from the city pound to the University of Minnesota for veterinary and medical research programs. Council member Dave Thune cast the swing vote in favor of reducing the fees the city charges researchers for the animals after hearing UM Veterinary Program Professor Emeritus Benjamin Pomeroy describe how the animals are used.
"There's no denying that this is a real emotional issue," Pomeroy said. "But it boils down to this: If passing this ordinance can assist a vet in learning to take care of our pets, then so be it. If we don't pass this ordinance, it just means that more animals will be used from puppy farms."
Happy with the vote, Cynthia Gillett, director of UM Research Animal Resources, is eager to dispel what she calls the myths of abuse and misconduct about animal research programs. "Getting animals from the pound means that we don't have to use purpose-bred animals, animals raised specifically to be sold for research," she explains. "The reason that we go to the pound isn't because of money. Money is secondary. If we don't buy the animal from the pound, that animal dies anyway. Buying animals from the pound as opposed to purpose-bred farms is a conservation procedure."
The question of whether the animals being sold to the University are lost or unwanted got attention back in May 1995, when Timberwolves forward Christian Laettner lost his dog Chief, who ended up being sold to the U for research before finding his way home.
As Gillett sees it, Chief's saga merely strengthens her position. "If we hadn't bought that dog, it would have been dead. We hold on to animals for at least five days, which is five more days than the animal would have lived had it stayed at the pound. We are always happy--ecstatic--to reunite pets with their owners.
"The real answer to this problem is to demand a more reliable network for recovering lost pets. In Seattle, there's one phone service that helps you. In Minneapolis/St. Paul there are 10 different places to go. Some people would rather see their animal dead than to go to research. They don't realize that the animals don't suffer. There is much protocol involved and an amazing bureaucracy to go through before animal use is even considered for research."
As for the proper use and care of research animals, Timothy McConville, who graduated from the UM's veterinary program in 1996, makes a proud witness. The adoptive owner of one of the dogs used in the university's research program, McConville was part of a continuing effort on the part of the program to adopt out research animals to loving homes. According to McConville, his class was able to find homes for 18 out of 20 animals.
"We had 20 animals that showed up for diagnostic and therapeutic technology classes. That's where we'd learn to do things like draw blood, take bone marrow, do biopsies. During all of these procedures, the animals were anaesthetized. It was simple stuff we were doing, but having animals gave us a chance to study it in depth. We also had surgery classes where we'd do spays or neuters on dogs and cats.
"There was one terminal surgery, which was optional, where the animal would be euthanized afterwards. Usually it was for...situations where if a dog or cat ate something like a ball or a bone, you'd have to cut into them. You'd have inexperienced students doing these very complicated surgeries, so there was potential for the animal to get peritonitis, a deadly infection and an extremely painful way to die. That's why we'd put them to sleep."
McConville is adamant about the necessity of having live animals for student research. The class of 1997 did not get animals for its Diagnostics, Therapeutics, and Techniques course, he says, "which means that they didn't get hands-on practice for things like bone marrow aspirates, liver biopsies, EKGs--all the things that you use every day in practice. I think that's sad. I heard that they used computer models, but doing these things for real and reading about them are two different things."