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Sherry’s Corner » The Politics of Pets

The Politics of Pets

Recently I saw a picture of a white rat wearing a harness.  He was part of an experiment on restoring movement to paralyzed limbs.  It was a study whose mission was to help man–perhaps many of our wounded warriors.  The picture reminded me of rats I had known as a graduate assistant in the University of Buffalo psychology department–could the one in the picture have been a great grandson of my fast learners?  He had a familiar pink twinkle in his eye!

      Rats are carefully bred.  Some families of rats are prone to cancer, others to heart problems, etc.  The rats I knew were bred for their intelligence.  As graduate assistants we handled them, fed them and petted them.  And, when it was time and they were socialized they became part of experiments involving mazes and Skinner boxes.  The rats’ health and welfare were carefully monitored.  They probably received better care, diet and temperature-controlled environments than any puppy mill puppies. At the Geisinger Medical Center animal care facility Dr. Sally Wixon was the first small animal veterinarian. She cared deeply about her animals used  in medical research.  In the Hershey Medical Center facilities Dr. Howard Hughes was the vet in charge and he agonized over every cough and symptom. 

      The rats in these trials “lived large”.  We couldn’t ask them to pay attention.  Rats don’t often look you in the eye.  So we withheld a meal and asked them to learn in order to receive a pellet.  Lots of positive body language and energy.  The results of laboratory animal studies must be uncontaminated by fear, pain, illness.  The rats cannot be sick or hurt or it will affect the results.      

      But back to the rats I knew.  They were fast and smart and they taught us a great deal about clicker training–long before dolphins and dogs.  They worked for a food reward which was later taken away in a pre-determined pattern and this pattern became the basis of positive reinforcement.  And so the way we taught children and animals changed forever. We began to teach dogs using positive rewards rather than fear and pain. 

      There is a difference between animal welfare and animal rights.  It is important to know this.  Those in organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA oppose all lab animal use. They also oppose all pet breeding, no-kill shelters (advocating euthanasia)  feline trap-neuter-return programs, and animal product consumption.  And, they oppose the use of crating.

      Many readers  feel that very little of this is important to them–and has little to do with white rats wearing harnesses and learning to walk.  It really is important.  Our beliefs have consequences.  They determine how we act and how humane and caring we are because we understand another species.  Since most of us don’t know any white rats with harnesses, consider crating.  HSUS says crates are evil. But, crates help housebreak a puppy, crating keeps a pet safe in a car or when it is home alone and it is a hospital room for a dog or cat that needs recovery time.  And, what would our response teams do without crates when there is a disaster and so many need to be saved and cared for?  A puppy not housebroken is a candidate for a shelter and perhaps death.    

      Regardless of what you believe, the policies behind your politics can be a big influence on the life and the death of your best friend and even that of strangers who need to regain their lives.      

Jul 03, 2012 | | Uncategorized

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