This article, by SR member Michael Brunt, was first published in the March 2015 issue of AALAS’ Laboratory Animal Science Professional.
In 2013 the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science (CALAS) launched the InReach for OutReach program. One goal of InReach for OutReach is to assist our members to actively articulate the positive contributions they make to our society. The hope is to foster a culture where laboratory animal science professionals will feel accepted, valued, and recognized for their hard work and dedication to improving the lives of animals and people. Canada is an open-minded county when it comes to science. Roughly 60% of Canadians believe the potential suffering of an animal to be acceptable or somewhat acceptable for safety testing of medicine, conducting medical research or teaching and training of professionals such as veterinarians.1 Ninety-three percent of Canadians are moderately or very interested in scientific discoveries or technological developments and also have the lowest reservations towards science in the 17 countries considered. 2 This is great news for laboratory animal science professionals because we are an essential part of making many of those discoveries happen. With such a receptive population, the InReach for OutReach program can play an important role to empower laboratory animal science professionals in Canada.
Another goal is forging international partnerships to create synergies, utilize existing resources and coordinate outreach efforts. During the AALAS Foundation’s “WE CARE” campaign to educate the general public about the professionals that care for research animals, many groups and associations assisted in its international promotion across social media. “Caring for Animals – It’s Not Just My Job…It’s My Passion” is a message that reached millions of people, educating and fostering a culture where the contributions, dedication to our animals and personal sacrifices of laboratory animal science professionals can be openly acknowledged and valued.
Most laboratory animal science professionals choose this career because they love animals. We talk to our animals. We hold them close, hug or stroke them. We get to know their personalities. Most importantly we bond with them. We know that the emotional bond that is formed enhances the psychological wellbeing of the animals and helps to give them the absolute highest quality of life while they are with us. Sadly, projects end and our companions are euthanized to retrieve the vital scientific data that is required to make discoveries that will improve the health and relieve the suffering of millions of humans and animals. Rationally we know that it’s true but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. So what do laboratory animal science professionals do? We cry and grieve, and bond with the next group of animals that arrive because they deserve the absolute highest quality of life while they are with us as well. The repeated traumatic emotional loss for laboratory animal science professionals can cause significant health effects, confusing feelings of guilt, burnout and even cause some individuals to leave the profession. Everyone copes with loss in differing ways but I feel it is most important to support each other at every opportunity.
It is imperative for each of us to explore these emotional questions because we must educate ourselves with our own answers before we can share our truth to educate the public. In 2001, a U.S. nonprofit association for euthanasia technicians, the Mazer Guild, published 12 supportive concepts for its members. They have been adapted for laboratory animal science professionals by Alison Hopkins (www.monkeypuzzletraining.co.uk) in an article that was published in Animal Lab News.3 The supportive concepts acknowledge the challenges that laboratory animal science professionals face on a daily basis. Through that acknowledgement one is able to explore and navigate the emotions associated with the repeated traumatic loss of our animals. The concepts also reiterate our obligations as laboratory animal science professionals to promote public understanding, encourage discussion and support others that choose this career path.
We choose this path because it is our passion! We are passionate about animals that we have the privilege to care for with compassion and respect. We are passionate about the science that continually makes strides towards new therapeutic advancements. We are passionate about alleviating the suffering of our fellow animals and people who agonize with debilitating and painful diseases. “Caring for Animals – It’s Not Just My Job…It’s My Passion”
Michael Brunt, MSc, RMLAT, CMAR is a Project Manager for the Campus Animal Facilities at the University of Guelph, Canada.
- Canadian Council on Animal Care. [Internet]. 2013. 2013 National Survey. [Cited 7 January 2015]. Available at: http://www.ccac.ca/Documents/2013_National_Survey.pdf
- Council of Canadian Academies. [Internet]. 2014. Science Culture: Where Canada Stands. [Cited 7 January 2015]. Available at: http://www.scienceadvice.ca/en/assessments/completed/science-culture.aspx
- Alison Hopkins. [Internet]. 2014. Towards Fostering Emotional Resiliency in the Workplace. [Cited 7 January 2015]. Available at: http://www.alnmag.com/articles/2014/04/toward-fostering-emotional-resilience-workplace
8 thoughts on “Educating Ourselves and the Public – The Toll of Caring”
To come back to the topic then, Michael writes that “most laboratory animal science professionals choose this career because they love animals”. What type of love involves deliberately harming and killing an animal against its interests? That is not an expression of care or compassion for that animal, it is a complete disregard of what is in that animals best interests for our own gain. To describe that as love is just wrong.
Now I am sure animal researchers do express care for their animals, becoming very attached to them. But that is not what defines their relationship. Rather they are there to experiment on the animal, potentially cause it significant pain and distress before being killed, its life cut short. That is where the relationship ends, and end which defines it not as some expression of love but rather of a life cut short for our own interests.
If you accept that this type of research must be done – for the benefit of humans (medicine) and animals (veterinary treatments) – then you get involved because you want to help ensure high standards of animal welfare. A pet-focused vet may euthanise animals, but they still care for them.
I recommend reading the experiences of both a vet and a technician explaining why they do what they do:
I think you may also be confused as to the different roles in labs. There are researchers whose primary aim is to conduct scientific research (though most I’ve spoken to regard animal welfare as hugely important), and the animal technologists and veterinarians whose job is a mix of animal welfare and facilitating good animal science.
What about the experience of those patients who suffer because we do not conduct experiments on humans, such as those with disabilities, who have a comparable levels of cognitive abilities to animals? Its not due to a lack of compassion for patients that such experiments are not performed but rather a recognition that those humans have rights that mean they should not just be used as a means to an end.
Now if we to give rights based on cognitive ability, such as the capacity to suffer, animals should be given such rights too. Its not as if all medical progress would stop, just as medical progress has not stopped since we became more ethical about conducting research on non-consenting humans. But we accept such slowing of progress because it is wrong to violate those rights. It is the same with animals.
We’re now starting to roll around the same rights argument (which is off-topic). The question about rights is addressed here: https://speakingofresearch.com/extremism-undone/ar-beliefs/
I think you’d find ending animal research – the only whole organism model we have – would do a lot more than merely slow medical progress.
I will not comment on eating meat but will address your comments on animal research. Yes, I feel very sad when an animal in my care must be euthanized. I not only care for animals but also humans. These animals contribute to the alleviation of pain and distress of millions of animals and humans suffering from chronic and acute medical conditions. What about the experience of those people and animals without ethically conducted animal research
Err no, the difference is that you don’t cause children in other countries to suffer. You might be able to prevent it, but it is not your fault. Eating meat on the other hand is your responsibility, you pay people to kill animals. So your analogy is just plain wrong.
Separate issues? They are not separate at all, they are both examples of how we interact with animals, interactions which define our views and relationships with them. And it is our relationship with farm animals that supports the view that animals can be treated as property, ours to do as what we will.
You say animal researchers care for their animals. It is true that they feel sad when they kill them, but causing them harm is not in the interests of the animal that is killed. What type of love involves killing and causing to suffer that loved one? So while animal researchers do express care for animals they experiment on, it is this disregard of the animals interests that in the end defines their relationship. Every time one eats meat one nurtures the idea that one is justified to do so. The whole relationship with animals is compromised, we have created a whole culture with animals to be treated as property resulting in us directly causing animals to suffer and experience unimaginable pain and distress.
You claim to care deeply for animals, but how many scientists advocate for animal welfare? The vast majority of animal researchers continue to eat meat, disregarding the lives of animals, causing them pain and distress merely for enjoyment. Why then should anyone believe claims that animal researchers are driven by concern for animals when they choose to cause them so much needless harm in their every day lives?
That’s like saying if you don’t spend all your money saving the lives of children in other countries then you can’t say you care about human welfare – it’s a nonsense argument.
Researchers care for welfare in their labs. They feel responsible for it. A child for cares deeply for his pets doesn’t care for them any less because he also eats animals. You have mashed two very separate issues together.
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