Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Black and White?
HT to Luisa for this five-part Slate article on Pepper, The Stolen Dog Who Changed American Science.
Read The Whole Thing.
Parts 4 and 5 are not yet up as I write this.
An observation about the effects of the Animal Welfare Act.
As many of you may have gleaned, I am not one of those people who think the only relevant thing about an animal is his or her capacity to feel physical pain.
A fixation on "freedom from pain" can become at best a distraction tactic from a thoughtful appreciation of the full scope of animal lives, and at worst, a self-serving justification for euphemasia -- killing a healthy animal who desperately wants to live and declaring it a kindness.
Nevertheless, if someone is going to subject an animal to pain and distress that is not in the animal's own best interest -- if he is going to use an animal for extrinsic ends -- then he is damned well obligated to mitigate that pain and distress as much as is humanly possible.
That's true of humane slaughter, of ethical hunting, and that's true of medical research.
I think an animal being used in this way has the right to demand this of its exploiter: If your ends require that you hurt me, you had damned well better hurt me as little as possible, even if it is inconvenient for you to take this trouble.
I think an animal being used in this way has the right to demand of the law of the land that its exploiter be held to this standard.
The Animal Welfare Act is intended to keep medical researchers honest. Because a white coat is not a substitute for a normally developed sense of empathy, or of perspective.
Real story. Our rooster, Henery Hawk, got his leg broken in an accident.
I had a decision to make in the moments after the accident: Do I attempt to repair the fracture and rehab the rooster, or do I break his neck right now and stop his pain?
I know this is shocking to people who have had only beloved pets, but that's the difference between livestock -- even livestock with a name -- and a pet. That stark decision.
I decided that it was likely that Henery would, if he could choose, choose to try to live. I may have made the wrong call from an animal welfare point of view. I may have been influenced by sentimentality and even aesthetics. But it was the choice I made: see if we can fix the rooster.
The fracture was a distal closed fracture of the tib-fib. (In a human, this would be a fracture of the two bones of the lower leg just above the ankle joint; in a chicken, the lower end of the drumstick, just before the scaly part of the leg.)
Tricky fracture to stabilize and splint -- mid-bone is much easier. But we did splint it -- Henery was a surprisingly cooperative patient -- and I moved him into a small cage with a heat lamp.
Went inside and got on the googles looking for some information about pain-control for a chicken -- what could I give him that would be safe and effective?
Try googling "chicken analgesia" or any number of other possibilities, and see what you find. Try google scholar. Hell, try Ask Jeeves.
What you will find is dick-all. Nobody knows how to control pain in a chicken. Or pigeon. Or even a parrot. Very few researchers have even considered the issue.
Now google "dog analgesia." The trouble there is sorting through the hits for your specific query. You'll have to narrow it down.
Birds are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act.
So why bother to learn anything about pain control for them? They're not getting any. The government doesn't force the issue.
Now here we have a Catch-22. Because chickens, ducks, pigeons, et. al. "bred for research" do not fall under the aegis of the Animal Welfare Act, no one is counting how many are used in research.
But in Europe, it is, according to one anti-vivisection organization, 650,000 per year.
If rates are comparable in the US -- that's a lot of birds.
And no legal authority in this country is forcing those who are using them as a means to an end to consider their welfare, even on the basest level of pain-control in the conscious animal.
So if you think that people who use animals on an industrial scale -- whether in agriculture or surrounded by the glowing halo of "science" -- can be left to their own devices when it comes to the welfare of their charges, think of Henery.
Henery and the late Pepper the Dalmatian have only two things in common: Flashy black-and-white coloration, and the indifference of the law of the land.
Henery's bones have healed. He's still not walking normally, and this is clearly an involvement in the ligaments at that joint. I cannot tell whether he's dealing with weakness or pain. If I could give him conscious pain control, that could tell us.
Millions of his species used in research for decades, and nobody has bothered to find out whether I could safely give him a friggin' aspirin, and whether that would help.