In his column “PETA slanders UW scientists,” passionate but woefully misinformed student Jared Mehre made a series of sweeping, untruthful claims in defense of cruel and deadly experiments on cats at the University of Wisconsin. The record should be set straight.
An orange tabby cat named Double Trouble — who was named by UW faculty and staff, not by PETA — had her head cut open, a restraint device screwed to her skull and cochlear devices implanted in her ears. She was intentionally deafened with injections of toxic chemicals and was starved for up to six days at a time in order to force her to cooperate in experiments. The horrible photos UW staff took of Double Trouble — and fought for more than three years to keep secret — show her with a steel rod and wires protruding from her head with one of her eyes half-closed because her face was partially paralyzed by a sloppy surgery. During one invasive surgery on her head, records note her anesthetic mask came off and she “showed signs of waking.” These are sad facts UW provided through its own records.
Double Trouble’s treatment and progress records clearly show experimenters killed and decapitated her because she became too sick to continue and because the cochlear implants didn’t work — not because the experiment was completed or deemed a success. On the contrary, it was actually a failure. The experiment has never been published in any peer-reviewed scientific journal nor has any UW experiment involving cochlear implants on cats. The university’s suggestion Double Trouble’s suffering has benefited the field of human hearing research is a self-serving revision of history.
The USDA has not determined that UW’s cruel experiments on cats are cruel or unethical — that isn’t the agency’s job. They simply found that UW didn’t violate the law — a law that allows animals to be burned, crippled and poisoned to death, a law which permits animals to be electrocuted and addicted to drugs like cocaine and heroin as long as the right paperwork is filled out. Both PETA and a former veterinarian who worked in the laboratory dispute the USDA’s findings and have provided them with additional information to assist in their potential reevaluation of the case.
Cats have the capacity to feel pleasure, pain and suffering whether they are adopted from shelters into loving families or have the misfortune to be born into a life of misery in a laboratory. To suggest the latter do not deserve the same protection as the feline companions in our homes is nonsensical. It is analogous to saying dogs bred and abused by horrendous dogfighting operations should not elicit our defense, compassion or support because they were “born to do this.”
Outside of a laboratory, what UW did to Double Trouble and dozens of other cats would likely be considered a felony. The school knows this, and that’s precisely why last year they sneakily helped push through a law that prevents any abuse they commit against animals in their laboratories from being punished under state cruelty statutes even if it violates federal law.
Thankfully, despite the fear-mongering, obfuscation and propaganda from UW and its desperate experimenters, the public increasingly recognizes experimentation on animals for the cruelty and wastefulness that it is. Outraged by the disturbing photos of Double Trouble, more than 170,000 people have written to the National Institutes of Health asking for taxpayer funding for the experiments to be cut. They are not anomalies. Independent Gallup polls show that more than half of college-aged students are now morally opposed to experiments on animals for any reason and this number has dramatically increased over the last decade. More than half of women oppose the practice, as do more than 40 percent of adults overall.
The tide is quickly turning against animal experimentation for ethical, scientific and economic reasons. Nothing will change the horrible fate Double Trouble met at UW, but Americans are already demanding public policy be modernized to reflect their growing objection to the practice. It’s only a matter of time before UW faculty and staff who make their living tormenting animals in laboratories find themselves without government or private funders willing to defend and bankroll their cruel trade.
Justin Goodman is the associate director of laboratory investigations at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.