Today begins a series of posts that try and show the activities and motivations of a handful of the dedicated animal care technicians from across the country’s animal laboratories who work tirelessly to ensure animal welfare remains the highest priority. [Tom]
For decades the animal rights movement has worked to define those working in animal research as “monsters” and “murderers” who only look to harm the animals we work with and don’t care about their welfare. The reality, however, is very different. In fact, as someone who works in animal research, animal welfare is extremely important both to me personally and to the results obtained from the studies.
Animal welfare is a collaboration between the animal caretakers who are in the rooms changing cages every day, myself as the veterinary technician on the veterinary staff and the investigators doing the research. Our rodent cages are provided with nesting squares that the mice can chew up to simulate the natural behavior of building a nest. Plastic houses can be used as a cage enrichment device although careful attention must be paid to ensure that fighting for the house doesn’t occur. When there are swine in the facility, I have found that providing them with plastic balls that can be filled half way with water is something they particularly enjoy. These balls then roll in random directions and give the pigs something to push around with their nose. An older alternative was to provide bowling balls but this could cause considerable damage to the room floors as the pigs would roll them up the wall and let them drop. Previously I had also tried deflated basketballs thinking they would like to carry them around but the pigs didn’t seem particularly interested. The plastic balls, on the other hand, were a huge hit!
Animal welfare is not limited to just cage enrichment. It’s the whole process from effectively washing the cages and bottles to provide a clean habitat, to handling the animals gently to prevent injury and stress. It means adequately training the personnel in techniques and to teach update techniques as they become available. I often provide training to new grad students and laboratory technicians in the proper way to restrain their animals and the common methods of injections and sample collection. I’m at the disposal of any of the labs should they ever need training in a new technique or a refresher on something they haven’t done in awhile. Finally it means providing veterinary oversight to make sure the animals are being housed and treated according to the regulations and to provide health care when needed. Several times a week I’ll go through our various facilities spread out across campus and check in with the caretakers to see if there are any problems I should be aware of or information that needs to be passed along.
Working with laboratory animals is a responsibility that I take very seriously; ensuring that the animals are treated humanely and that the research never becomes more important than the animal.
Penn State University