Before you read any further in this column, you must know that I have an absolute and unshakable bias: I am a crazy cat lady.
But the reason the University of Wisconsin’s recent run-in with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has me all aflutter is not just because the cat in the picture looks like my widdle Theokins baby. The main problem facing the advancement of this dialogue is PETA and UW alike are talking past each other.
On one hand, PETA takes issue with this invasive nature of the sound localization experiments. There’s something about the use of domesticated animals for research that strikes a nerve. If the photo published had been one of a golden retriever, people might have been more up in arms, but whatever the domesticated animal used, it’s an animal that has been bred to trust humans. Taking advantage of hundreds of years of breeding, UW scientists have used purposefully docile creatures to carry out invasive research, which PETA states includes “[having] holes drilled into her head, a steel post screwed to her skull, electrodes implanted in her brain, and coils implanted in her eyes.” After the experiment, PETA said, the cat was killed and decapitated.
On the other hand, researchers see nothing wrong with the invasive experiments. When sophomore and animal researcher Kelsey Corrigan said, “We are not vicious toward them or treat them poorly,” she was right that the cats felt no pain during the procedure. Those who do animal testing undergo rigorous training and have to meet high standards of procedure and care during the experiments. I do not doubt the UW adheres to these, and the Association for Assessment Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International Council agrees. The group even “awarded UW’s animal research programs full accreditation with no additional suggestions for improvement.”
The problem here is obvious. PETA fails to see that the tests, although cruel, are carried out to a high standard of anti-cruelty measures and scientific rigor. And the UW fails to see that although the tests are under strict procedure, they are still inherently cruel. If the two wanted to enter into mediation talks, PETA might be able to demand further standards be applied, especially since this is not the UW’s first snag with animal cruelty issues. UW, in turn, could advertise itself as even more compliant than AAALAC standards and perhaps grab some more funding.
But as it stands, PETA calls for the end of animal testing all together. And UW’s Animal Research Oversight Director Eric Sandgren pompously told the Herald, “Had any claim been proven to be true, the university would have made changes accordingly.”
Yes, PETA is taking the procedures out of the larger scientific context. Yes, UW doesn’t realize that while they reach a high standard for experimentation, it’s still terrible to purposely deafen an animal. Understanding points on each others’ levels would cause both to make progress toward an end, but UW and PETA need to stop talking past each other.
And for God’s sake, quit using the cats already. They’re just too damn cute.
Taylor Nye ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in biology, archaeology and Latin American studies. She is a known cat enthusiast.