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animal experimentation

Animal Testing: The Irony of Veterinary Training

Animal Testing: The Irony of Veterinary Training

By Barbara Sharon Glick

From as early an age as I can remember, I loved animals, and decided to be a vet by the age of 5. In my senior year of high school, in pursuit of this goal, I took a course covering animal testing entitled "Scientific Research." We were given rats on whom we did all sorts of gruesome experiments, killing them with chloroform before we cut them open in the guise of animal testing. I imagine some of them were not dead when we did that, and how much they suffered as we exploited them. At the time, though, I thought I was working toward my goal of helping animals and continued on this ironic path.

Animal Testing

Animal Testing

I majored in Animal Science at Cornell, a common major for those wanting to go to vet school. From 1975-76 I worked on the Cornell Dairy Farm, a huge complex and testing place for the latest practices in intensive animal farming. I thought nothing of the fact that the calves I bottle fed in hutches were stolen from their grieving mothers or that the ice cream I served up at the campus dairy bar was made from stolen milk. I didn't recognize the cruelty of the dairy industry even while I was immersed in it. Despite the fact that I was so clueless, I did realize how odd the name of one of my text books was: "The Science of Animals That Serve Mankind." Today, I know that all animals exist for their own purposes, not to serve humans. It just took me a while to realize this even though I have been a social justice activist my whole life. 

In October 1969 I organized a bus to the March on Washington against the war in Vietnam. I have been involved with many social justice issues over the years. Before I became the animal rights activist I am now, I was heavily involved with environmental activism, and eventually I realized that I can do that via the animal rights movement and also fight for the animals. Although for many years I went to circus, zoo, and fur protests, it wasn't until a few years ago that I understood that in order to love animals we should not eat them, wear their wool, eat their eggs, drink their milk, or exploit them in any way. 

In 1977 my first "real" job was with the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), an agency of the USDA which no longer exists. FmHA financed farm purchase and operations as well as homes in rural areas. I moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where chicken farming was booming. My county was the home of Purdue headquarters. I remember meeting Frank Purdue in the opening of the "latest and greatest" style chicken houses (aka jails). My job was to approve loans for the purchase of farms, for construction of chicken houses, and for operating loans. I had absolutely no idea how immoral that whole industry was!

Last year, I attended the DxE Forum, which featured a session on open rescue. As a result of that and of the increasing role this work is having in our network, I rescued two chickens from Kaporos in Brooklyn, NY in October 2016. And to think that at one point in my life I had a job that financed the chicken farming industry! I like to think that rescuing those two chickens was just the start of making up for my former involvement in the chicken industry.

Now that I know how immoral it is to use another, I feel compelled to actively work against this violence. I plan to help save more lives this year and on. I am beyond grateful to be involved with Direct Action Everywhere, a truly supportive group of dedicated activists, I have learned and been inspired by so many, and I appreciate that we continue to study social sciences and emphasize developing the skills we need to become the most effective activists we can be. I will proudly fight side by side with these amazing activists for animal liberation.

Want to get involved? DxE is a grassroots network focused on empowering you to be the best activist you can be. Here are some steps you can take. 

  1. Sign up to our mailing list and share our content on social media. 
  2. Join a local DxE community (or, better yet, come visit us in Berkeley).
  3. Take the Liberation Pledge. And join us in building a true social movement for animals.

UPDATE: The Groundbreaking Case of Hercules and Leo

UPDATE: The Groundbreaking Case of Hercules and Leo

By Saryta Rodriguez


Earlier this year, I blogged about the Nonhuman Rights Project’s case against Stonybrook University on behalf of two captive chimpanzees named Hercules and Leo. While a decision has not yet been reached, here’s a brief update:

On May 27, 2015, for the first time in U.S. history, a case aiming to apply the writ of habeas corpus to nonhuman persons had its day in court. The hearing was held at the New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan, NY. Justice Jaffe countered the claim that there is no legal precedent for such a case (made by Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston) by declaring that the crux of common law is that it “evolves according to new discoveries and social mores.” In so doing, intentionally or otherwise, Jaffe highlighted the importance of consistently reexamining our legal system in light of our evolving morality— which, at a thrillingly accelerating rate, is evolving to encompass compassion and respect for nonhumans as well as humans in our society.

“Isn’t it incumbent on judiciaries to at least consider whether a class of beings may be granted a right?”
Justice Jaffe, May 27, 2015

In a surprisingly balanced report on Fox News following the proceedings, NhRP was quoted as demanding: “Chimps, although not human, should be designated persons, which would make their captivity illegal.”

Steven Wise asserts in court that Hercules and Leo are someones, not somethings, and, as such, they deserve legal protection from unjustified captivity.

Steven Wise asserts in court that Hercules and Leo are someones, not somethings, and, as such, they deserve legal protection from unjustified captivity.

Steven Wise said in court of chimpanzees, “They are the kinds of beings who can remember the past, plan ahead for the future…Which is one of the reasons why imprisoning a chimpanzee is at least as bad and maybe even worse than imprisoning a human being.” While the inclusion of “maybe even worse than” was perhaps unnecessary, the point being made is clear: chimpanzees are thinking, feeling beings who should not be detained and used as mere objects or tools.

The office of New York’s Attorney General, representing the university, desperately suggested that sending the chimpanzees to a sanctuary in Florida, NhRP’s intention, would simply be replacing one type of confinement for another. Anyone who has actually visited an animal sanctuary knows that this is patently false. While technically the chimps would still be in captivity—as they must be, because, regrettably, we humans have already robbed them of the ability to fend for themselves in the wild—they would enjoy both freedom to engage in their natural tendencies and socialize with others and safety from experimentation and other unnecessary human intrusion into their lives. This, and nothing less, is what chimpanzees—indeed, all animals—deserve.

Controversially, Wise likened the plight of the captive chimpanzees to that of enslaved African-Americans in U.S. history, reminding us all of the ongoing debates regarding the difference between a legitimate comparison and appropriation. I for one certainly hope that such a debate does not eclipse the matter at hand: the fate of Hercules and Leo.

The controversial comment reads: “We had a history of that for hundreds of years saying black people are not part of society and you can enslave them. That wasn’t right. It didn’t work.” When one considers this alongside Justice Jaffe’s statement about a “class of beings,” the comparison makes perfect sense. The idea here is not to compare individuals within different groups but to uphold the tradition of consistently challenging who in our society has rights, and who doesn’t.

Coulston reasoned, “The reality is these are fundamentally different species. They have no ability to partake in human society.” However, as NhRP and others have already stated, in response to NhRP’s past attempts to apply habeas corpus to nonhumans that were denied without a hearing on these and similar grounds, not all humans are able to “partake in human society” either. Not everyone can vote. Not everyone can have a job. And so forth. Still, we protect these humans. We do not enslave them based on their limited abilities.

I look forward to hearing these defenses employed on behalf of other nonhumans in the years to come. Much of the trial of Hercules and Leo has revealed scientific information about chimpanzees, emphasizing their intelligence. However, when personhood is finally granted to one nonhuman, inevitably animal liberation organizations such as NhRP will endeavor to apply the law to other nonhumans—including those who may be less intelligent than apes. This should not—cannot—serve as grounds for dismissal of these future cases.

This case, coupled with PETA’s recent decision to file suit against Whole Foods for false advertising, serves as proof that activism works—that when people speak loudly and confidently on behalf of those whose cries are so often ignored by society, change is not only possible, but also inevitable.

Jaffe is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

How Did I End Up Here?

How Did I End Up Here?

By Almira Tanner


Animal liberationist Almira Tanner working at a vivisection lab, years ago.

Animal liberationist Almira Tanner working at a vivisection lab, years ago.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while— partly to share my story and partly in the (likely false) hope that it will alleviate some of the guilt I feel about this period in my life. Reading Kirstine’s post about her experiences as the daughter of a dairy farmer and re-watching Maximum Tolerated Dose has helped this finally come to fruition.

Growing up, I loved animals. I begged for a dog every birthday and Christmas, and had a monthly column in the SPCA newsletter about my various animal friends. Animals were in all of the books I read and all of the games I played. At the age of ten, when my best friend asked me why I still ate animals if I loved them so much, I promptly became a vegetarian. That year, in Grade Four, our class dissected a salmon as part of a project. My friend and I sat in the hallway in protest, crying.

Over the next thirteen years, vegetarianism became more and more of a habit, and less and less of an ethical stance. I don’t know if it was that I stopped caring, that I didn’t want to make a “scene,” or if it was something else entirely; but my days of standing up for animals were mostly gone. I continued to abstain from eating their flesh, but I became perfectly content with dissecting it. In high school, I did it all: frog, cow’s eye, cow’s lung, various invertebrates, and even a fetal pig.

I studied Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology as an undergraduate. As part of an anatomy course, I spent an entire semester dissecting a rabbit. I named her and spent hours with her each week, but neither talked nor thought about where she came from, what life she had lived, or the purpose of the exercise---considering that each dissection was complete with numerous annotations about how human anatomy differed.

In my last semester, I took a fascinating class about implantable neural interfaces and the rehabilitation of movement control. I had recently decided I didn’t want to move forward with my plan of becoming a physiotherapist, so I jumped on the opportunity to complete a Master’s and possibly a PhD thesis with the professor in his lab. We would be designing a biomedical device that could save lives, reduce hospital stays, and save the healthcare system millions of dollars.

Within the first few weeks in the lab, it became clear that I was going to be a vivisector. I don’t know if I really was so naïve as to think that I could do this work in the current academic culture without doing vivisection, or if I just forced myself to not think about it when I agreed to take the position. Either way, there I was, standing in a pseudo-operating room with an anesthetized female pig on the table, ready to be sliced open.

I remember the research facility vividly. I remember waiting to be let in at the entrance with my ID.  I remember the lunchroom covered with posters of the technologies and cures we wouldn’t have without animal experimentation… And I remember the pigs.

We never saw the pigs when they were conscious. They were brought in (from where, I don’t know), anesthetized and prepped before we got there, and we were gone before they ever woke up. The lab technicians would tell us how they did between experiments: if they thought they were in pain, how they handled the techniques, if they were developing an infection; but we never saw them awake.

The worst came when were done with an individual pig. I remember asking why we couldn’t let them live, considering our research did not require them to be murdered. I was told that they were “purpose-bred,” we needed a few tissue samples, and no one would want them anyway—so what was the point of letting them live?

When the team physician administered the drug that ended the pig’s life, the lab technician brought us a garbage can. The table was tilted, the pig was slid into the can, and she was taken downstairs. She was literally garbage.

There was a sort of hazing in the lab where the newest member would have to take the body down to the basement. The team exempted me because I was a vegetarian. I was relieved.

I spent six months in the program and then quit. It was probably the most miserable time of my life. I didn’t realize how distraught I was until my mom innocently asked me how things were going into the lab and I burst into tears. I found myself unable to stop crying.

That was almost five years ago; but the lab still haunts me.

Almira with Lucy, a rescued pig, at The Happy Herd sanctuary.

Almira with Lucy, a rescued pig, at The Happy Herd sanctuary.

Reflecting on my experience, I realize that even when I was in the thick of it all, I was so distanced from what was actually happening; similar to the case at a slaughterhouse, as described by Timothy Pachirat in his book, Every Twelve Seconds, separation was everywhere. I did not know the pigs: where they came from, how they grew up, or what they were like when they were conscious. I alleviated my guilt by not having to see where they ended up when we killed them, as if that made what I was doing more ethically acceptable.

My relief of not having to go down to the basement meant nothing to those pigs. On the other hand, the lab technicians who did know them barely saw them during the experimentation and were not the ones to administer the final lethal dose. In the end, it felt like no one was really responsible. It was just something we did, something that “had” to be done, for the good of science and humankind. In case we ever forgot this, the posters lining the facility would remind us.

Almira now speaks out for pigs and other animals. 

Almira now speaks out for pigs and other animals. 

It’s a strange trajectory to go from refusing dissection at age ten to being a vivisector at age twenty-three. Societal norms are incredibly powerful forces, and are often used to erode the values and ethics we hold as children; but we can harness these forces for good and create a culture where justice and nonviolence are the norm. We can create an expansive network of people who proudly proclaim that all animals are equal. We can move forward from our past and dedicate our lives to advocating for those who are suffering. For the pigs and the rest of the millions of animal who are exploited each year in the name of Science.

These are my initial thoughts on my experiences as a vivisector. I anticipate that I will continue to reflect and write about this time in my life.