Environment Column

NY animal laws should be first step toward more humane testing

/ The Daily Orange

When you think about it, anti-animal testing activists are of the same mindset as the veterinarians in research labs: both want an improved quality of life for animals. Still, some animal lovers don’t see it that way.

The University of Missouri, a public institution, was in hot water last week when the media picked up that a Mizzou faculty member blinded six beagles during veterinary vision research and proceeded to euthanize them after the tests. The news of this incident rekindled the debate on the ethics of animal testing in New York state — one that Gov. Andrew Cuomo started with signing the “Research Animal Retirement Act” in August.

The legislation requires privately-funded higher education research institutions to put cats and dogs no longer being used for scientific research up for adoption, either through private placement or nonprofit animal rescue organizations. New York has joined Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey and Maryland in the fight against the common practice of euthanizing animals who are still suitable for adoption after research.

Mizzou’s euthanasia was legal, but it wasn’t as ethical a decision as it could have been. By contrast, New York is right to pass the law requiring animals to be put up for adoption because it makes the animal testing process a little more humane. But the bottom line is despite the perception that all testing is negative, animal rights supporters should understand that justifications for it vary greatly. Life-saving veterinary research should not be seen as cruel or selfish in the way that testing cosmetics on bunnies is.

And because neither type of animal testing will go away anytime soon, New York’s push for more inclusive animal adoption rightfully acknowledges that these animals deserve a good and enjoyable life, even after they retire from the lab.

Mizzou spokeswoman Jo Banken claimed the studies were in accordance with the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and were also approved by the MU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. And while Mizzou researchers were in the right to proceed with research that would benefit animals, the grey area came after all the reports were filed and no one considered giving the dogs new homes.

So while New York is more progressive than Missouri in this case, the Research Animal Retirement Act isn’t perfect. Kathy Gilmour, director of Helping Hounds Dog Rescue in the DeWitt, NY pointed out the holes in Cuomo’s legislation.

“It is fantastic that the bill was passed,” Gilmour said. “But ultimately the bill does not ban the use of live animals for research testing.”

Another aspect the Research Animal Retirement Act doesn’t address is how shelters themselves will accommodate this influx of post-lab animals. The law never mentions any funding designated to the already overcrowded nonprofit animal shelter organizations that will take in the research animals.

The ASPCA estimates that approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide each year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats, and each year 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats are euthanized.

New York state faces the same issue: While Helping Hounds has yet to receive any dogs from research facilities, according to Gilmour, Nick Pirro, interim director of the Central New York SPCA said even the Syracuse shelter is experiencing overcrowding. With over 400 animals in the agency’s care, “every spot in this place is packed.”

Instead of outright condemning its researchers, Mizzou’s misstep should be considered an opportunity to improve the current culture around animal testing and treatment. From an individual perspective, we can also donate our deceased pets to research facilities. If this proposal seems absurd, please consider how your donation could save another animal’s life.

Sometimes, sacrifices like this need to be made in order to advance veterinary science. As seen in the situation with Mizzou, it’s always best if this process can be made as humane as possible. It’s for that reason that lawmakers and the activists that hope to influence them should work to find pragmatic solutions that balance the best interests of researchers, shelters, potential pet owners and the animals themselves.

It’s essential that we keep in mind that all animals are sentient beings, and unnecessary harm done to any being should be unacceptable.

Victoria Chen is a senior international relations major, and an environment and society minor. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at vlchen@syr.edu.

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