In the summer of 2004, the American Society of Primatology held its annual conference in Madison. At the time, I was working at the Harlow Primate Lab, one of two major primates laboratories at the UW-Madison that together house nearly 2,000 monkeys.
I put in a request to attend the conference. One of my bosses, the lab manager, asked if I planned to visit the animal rights counterconference that was going on at the same time. The question surprised me and sounded like an accusation. I said I hadn’t planned to do so, but if I saw protesters who were peaceful, I would have no problem talking with them, since my salary was paid by taxpayers.
The lab manager’s response: “What, are you going to turn into an animal rights person now?” I replied defensively, “No, of course not!”
Later that week, I overheard the lab manager telling other people in the building what I’d said. It wasn’t long before most everyone thought I was turning into an animal rights activist. Given that I had been trained to believe that animal rights people were ignorant, manipulative and violent, I was offended by this divisive labeling.
The principal investigator, my top supervisor, came to see me. “Look, Amy,” the investigator said, “I just want to explain this animal rights issue to you. I know if you spoke with someone, they could manipulate your words and put it in Isthmus and you would feel very, very bad if you read about our lab in a bad manner.”
I said, “I know, I will not speak about our research.”
Shortly afterward, the lab manager apprised me that I could no longer come in on weekends or work after hours — anytime I might be alone. These new constraints, on top of the discomfort I already felt about my work in the primate lab, made my job unbearable. Three months later, I resigned.
It was probably inevitable that I came to this end. During my five years at the Harlow Primate Lab, I had come to question the validity of the research and what I had come to believe was a callous attitude among many of the researchers. My efforts to introduce changes to reduce the stress of animals in our care were met with resistance.
But, perhaps most traumatic of all was watching what happened to a 5-year-old rhesus monkey I’ll call “Sam.” Of all I things I saw in the primate lab, that’s still the saddest story. Read full story here.