The Research Animals We Love

In my previous blog post I mentioned we have a dog (Arrow), two cats (Michu and Maneki Neko), a bird (Gilligan) and a turtle (Squirt). These pets are, in terms of our family hierarchy, way higher than me. Actually, the joke at home is that we work for them! But we love them. And for many who work in animal research, we love the research animals we work with too.

During the 2019 IACUC Conference I attended an interesting discussion on animal play and the importance of such activity to the welfare of animals. The videos of animals at play, enjoying complex and stimulating environments, were just a small slice of the behind-the-scene efforts that go into maintaining the health of research animals, both physically and psychologically, at institutions with good programs of animal care and use.

I remembered some of the animals I have worked with during my career and the efforts I and my coworkers put into ensuring our animals had not only the basics (food, water, clean cages, etc.), but also a good time. From enrichment foods and devises, to music and videos, we tried everything. Like many institutions, we had an “enrichment committee”, a group of imaginative techs who would create toys with items that the untrained person would deem trash. They even bought items with their own money just to ensure the animals had something fun and different as often as possible.

These were the techs that knew the animals best. And as I went from technician to veterinarian I relied on them to let me know when an animal needed attention; I relied on them to carry out prescribed veterinary treatments. I also relied on them when it was time to say goodbye.  

With compassion and the heavy heart of one who is about to lose a friend, they would play and feed the favorite treat to their animals, for the last time. And sometimes, hiding the tears behind a joke, would tell a story: when a dog (Houdini) would escape from his enclosure to get into the next run with his buddy, or when the monkey (Gizmo) would throw his least favorite vegetables back at you.

Each tech had his/her own ritual, a way of euthanizing their animals with respect and love, like saying farewell to a soldier that gave his life to save countless others. And sometimes we would gather at a local bar to say the final goodbye with a beer flavored with tears.

Those in the field of laboratory animal medicine come to this job with love for animals, but a special kind of love—one that understands that we will be separated, but agrees to love anyway. This is a love that transcends species: a mouse, a dog, a monkey—we love them all. And we give these research animals the best we can give; so they play and are healthy and can serve science and society.

Because we understand that Arrow (a rescued pet) is a healthy old dog today thanks to the vaccines and heartworm medication developed using lab animals. We understand that my mother-in-law is healthy today thanks to the surgery, chemo, and radiation developed using lab animals. And we dream that someday, hopefully sooner than later, cancer and diabetes and heart disease will all be diseases of the past, thanks to lab animals.

Noé Tirado-Muñiz DMV, DVM, MS, CPIA, joined the University of Kentucky Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in 2011 and is currently the Associate Attending Veterinarian and Associate Director for the Office of the Attending Veterinarian (OAV). He serves as Executive Secretary to the IACUC and his functions include IACUC administration, policy development, completion of federally mandated reports, IACUC education and Principal Investigator orientation among others.

Dr. Tirado-Muñiz obtained his DMV from The Superior Institute of Agricultural Sciences of Havana, Cuba (now The Agrarian University of Havana) in 1984 and his second veterinary degree (DVM) in 1994 from The Ohio State University. After being in private practice he was accepted into the Laboratory Animal Residency Program at OSU where he obtained his MS in 1999. He obtained his credential as Certified Professional IACUC Administration in 2014.

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