Animals, Vegetables and Minerals; I Love Animals, and Can Still Work with Them in a Research Laboratory

By Szymczyk, Jessica | Newsweek, August 14, 1995 | Go to article overview

Animals, Vegetables and Minerals; I Love Animals, and Can Still Work with Them in a Research Laboratory


Szymczyk, Jessica, Newsweek


I'VE BEEN A VEGETARIAN (AN OVO-LACTO VEGETARIAN, TO be exact) since I was 13 years old. I don't wear cosmetics. I won't buy or wear fur. I refuse to wear or use leather if at all possible. And I absolutely love animals. I live with fish, a mouse, a pony, a horse and cats, and I'm looking for the perfect dog to complement my other companion animals. Oh, yes. I also love rats. I've had rats for pets. The last was a big black-and-white-hooded rat. I even nursed an abandoned baby mouse, whose eyes had not yet opened, until she reached adulthood.

So why am I working in a biomedical research lab that uses animals in its experiments? No, I am not an infiltrator from the so-called "animal rights" movement. I love what I do, and I get angry when I hear the terrible things animal-rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say about me and my colleagues and how we supposedly treat laboratory animals.

If you buy into the stories of some animal-rightists, I am the last person you would expect to find working at an animal research lab. Well, not only are these groups wrong about me and my profession; they are also grossly mistaken about my colleagues, our work and the conditions under which we keep our animals.

The work we do with animals is crucial. It's important to me as a woman, as a human and as an animal lover. Although most of my work as a veterinary technician involves rodents, two new studies I find pretty exciting involve dogs. In one, my dogs undergo a minor surgical procedure and take one pill a day of a promising drug that may regenerate bone in victims of osteoarthritis, a condition that cripples many elderly folks. In the second, we're investigating a drug that stimulates T-cell and white-blood-cell production, something of vital importance to AIDS patients.

Both would likely be condemned by the rightists as cruel and unnecessary. Let me tell you the extent of the "cruelty" my dogs undergo. In the first study, they play with a lab technician for an hour every day. The other experiment requires that they drink a tiny amount of an extremely diluted drug, about a fifth of a teaspoonful, every day for eight days, and have some blood drawn. When I draw blood, the dogs are happy to see me and they romp about like bouncy pups. Contrary to popular belief, all animals are not euthanized at the end of a study. Those that are receive the same treatment from a veterinarian that your pet would in a veterinary hospital.

How do I justify my profession in view of my beliefs? I want to dispel any idea that I do what I do for the money. I've wanted to work with animals--horses, actually--since I was old enough to think such thoughts. My first job out of high school was working for a wonderful and compassionate veterinarian for $4 an hour. Until then I had always imagined myself working on a farm where I could train and ride horses.

I guess you could say my desire to work with animals caused me to go back to school, where I earned a degree in equine veterinary science with a minor in animal science. I spent a few years as a vet tech in private practice taking care of sick animals, assisting with surgery and dealing with the pet owners. …

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Animals, Vegetables and Minerals; I Love Animals, and Can Still Work with Them in a Research Laboratory
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