Question: What do John of Salisbury, Pepper the Dalmatian, and Jeremy Bentham have in common?

by Joan Rachlin, executive director

Answer: They’ve all been prominently referenced at an exciting conference that I’m attending in Bethesda, called 25 Years of Animal Welfare and Scientific Research: 1985 to 2010. The meeting was planned by Susan Silk and Pat Brown of the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (NIH OLAW). Other sponsors include the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Animal Care, and IACUC 101. PRIM&R was proud to be a supporter of the meeting.

There have been so many outstanding sessions, but time and space will only permit me to discuss one of them here today. If you’re interested in seeing, hearing, and learning more visit the meeting website for details.

I’d like to share with you a few highlights of a talk given by Charles McCarthy, beloved PRIM&R Board member and former Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR) director. Charlie gave a keynote address last night in which he quoted John of Salisbury, who, in 1159, said, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

That quote was spot-on for this meeting, as it has featured many of the giants who created and nurtured the lab animal protection system that we now know so well. These giants included Charlie, Bob Whitney, Tom Wolfle, Dale Schwindaman, John Miller, Kathryn Bayne, Chester Gipson, Betty Goldentyer, Nelson Garnett, Ralph Dell, Stuart Zola, and many others who have built and strengthened the available protections for laboratory animals over the past 40+ years.

Charlie talked about the passage of the Animal Welfare Act, which was sparked by the theft, in 1965, of Pepper, the beloved pet Dalmatian of the Lakavage family from Pennsylvania. Pepper was stolen, sold to a dealer in New York, and sold again to Montefiore Hospital where she died on the operating table in the course of a procedure relating to pacemaker implantation.

Before she died during that surgical procedure, though, Mrs. Lakavage saw Pepper in TV news footage of a truck stopped by a state trooper. She tried to get Pepper back, but the dealer was uncooperative, and then was similarly uncooperative when approached by his Congressman. The public outcry that ensued led to the drafting of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (LAWA), which was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. The initial version of the Act was intended to prevent the use or sale of stolen dogs or cats for research and, toward that end, it required the registration of research facilities and the licensure of dealers. It also required special training for lab animal veterinarians in an effort to improve the quality of veterinary care for animals used in research. Christine Stevens of the Humane Society of the US and Peyton Dunn of WARDS were the individuals and organizations responsible for the Act’s passage. Mrs. Stevens was a constructive and gracious, if uncommonly determined, faculty member at several of PRIM&R’s earliest conferences on animal care and use, and I felt privileged to have known and worked with her.

In addition, another dear and dearly departed friend of PRIM&R, Frank Loew (former PRIM&R Board member, former dean of the Tufts Veterinary School, and former president of Becker College) also played a significant role in the passage of LAWA. Frank was a young lab animal vet at RJ Reynolds when he received a request from the Committee Chair in Congress to assess any problems with the anticipated passage of the LAWA. Frank said no. Had he said yes, it is quite possible the bill would have been shelved.

In any case, Pepper’s death and the passage of LAWA did not solve every problem. Charlie went on to discuss how he had been on a site visit in California in 1983 when he turned on the news and learned of the Silver Spring monkey case. Edward Taub, the principal investigator in whose lab the monkeys lived, conducted research on stroke rehabilitation. Part of his protocol included cutting the ganglia that supplied sensation to the monkeys’ brains from their arms and legs. He then used restraint, electric shock, and withholding of food to force them to use the limbs they could not feel. There was no veterinary care for the monkeys for prolonged periods of time, as Dr. Taub claimed to know more about them than the vets.

Alex Pacheco, the founder of PETA, took photos of Dr. Taub’s lab and arranged for a police raid, while pretending to be an employee. The monkeys were stolen, and eventually returned to the custody of the NIH. The case swelled PETA’s coffers as donations in the millions flooded in, following the repeated broadcasts of these maltreated monkeys. Dr. William Raub handled the case for NIH, and it thus became known as the Raub/Taub case. Dr. Taub was eventually convicted and lost his NIH funding.

There was so much more information in Charlie’s talk, and when you multiply that by 30+ speakers, you can begin to understand how rich a meeting this has been.

I’ve told you about John of Salisbury and Pepper, but what about the Jeremy Bentham reference? Well, it turns out that he wisely noted about animals, “The question is not whether they can talk or reason, but whether they can suffer.” Bob Whitney, a longtime and highly respected vet with the US Public Health Service, quoted Bentham and then added that “we all know that the answer to that question is yes.” He went on to remind us that the goal of the animal protections community is to relieve, minimize, and mitigate their suffering.

Thanks to all of you who are involved in and committed to that very noble endeavor.

And thanks to my good friend and longtime Board member, Andrew Rowan, for helping fill in some of the historical blanks while I was writing this blog.