Of Mice, Rats, Birds and Men

Facts are often stranger than fiction.

A case in point: The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that provides basic protections for animals used in laboratory research doesn’t cover 95% of those animals, including mice, rats, and birds. While dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and nonhuman primates must receive appropriate food, shelter, and medical care, the majority lack any such consideration. Instead, researchers can subject them to excruciating procedures without anesthesia, house them in overcrowded conditions or in isolation, and dispose of them as they see fit.

It verges on a horror story.

picture3What is the Animal Welfare Act?

The AWA is the federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers by setting minimum acceptable standards. In regards to research, the AWA requires suitable housing, veterinary care, and research being conducted in compliance with the “three R’s”: replacement, reduction, and refinement.

Replacement: Where possible, researchers should perform experiments on a replacement, such as computer simulations, mathematical models, and in vitro.

Reduction: Researchers should reduce the number of animals used to the smallest amount possible.

Refinement: Researchers should design experiments to minimize the animals’ pain and suffering.

A 1970 amendment to the AWA covered all warm-blooded animals. The federal anti-cruelty law did not specify protections but directed the USDA to adopt regulations to protect the animals.

Follow the Money

Despite direction from Congress, the Secretary of Agriculture promptly excluded the majority used in research. In 2002, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, amended the Farm Bill (H.R. 2646) to legally seal the deal to exclude these animals. Why? His top contributors included tobacco companies that experiment on these animals.

So, USDA veterinary inspectors do not oversee their care. Their numbers are not even reported (though estimated to be up to 100 million).

The economics also make the circumstances worse for these animals. Cheaply bred and sold by laboratory supply companies, they’re used en masse. With higher priced animals – say rhesus monkeys – the ledgers require more carefully designed research methodology to minimize variables. The higher costs of these animals also ensure they’re better treated because, by golly, they’re more expensive to replace.

Cheap animals are disposable. You can have a study involving a thousand mice with fewer controls for variables, because the large numbers themselves will ultimately bear out statistically significant results. (Apparently, some studies are so unconstrained that they cannot be replicated in different labs.)

“Ethically Indefensible”

Many researchers themselves, including the American Association for Laboratory Animal Sciences and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, say the treatment of these animals is “ethically indefensible.”

The lack of regulation even goes against the intent of Congress. Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-KS, has stated, “When Congress stated that the AWA applied to all warm-blooded animals, we certainly did not intend to exclude 95% of the animals used in biomedical research laboratories.”

The current law is even out of whack with the National Institute of Health’s voluntary industry standards to consider alternatives and minimize and avoid pain for all vertebrates (including cold-blooded animals, such as fish and frogs), as well as the National Academy of Sciences’ Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-VA, introduced a bill (H.R. 6693*) last year to include rats, mice and birds under the AWA, basically restoring it to its 1970 scope as the bipartisan framers intended. Unsurprisingly, the bill now lingers in the Committee on Agriculture.

While Utah does not have a representative on that committee, petitions are available on the internet to weigh in on the issue and help bring it to a vote. Don’t let Congress Mickey Mouse around on this.

*UPDATE: This bill died in Congress. Of course.


picm_oct2013First published in Pets in the City Magazine, October 2013.

“Blue Bear and Snow Toad”: Pre-Order a Copy on Kickstarter


The Blue Bear and Snow Toad Kickstarter campaign has officially launched!  Please help turn this dream into reality and pre-order a copy today for a child in your life.

The campaign only has 20 days to fully fund, so don’t delay. There are lots of goodies to thank you: a copy of the book (of course), bookmarks, winter hats, embroidered fleece blankets, puzzles, and limited edition giclee prints. There are reward levels for everyone.

I thank you in advance. And so do Blue Bear and Snow Toad.

Dreams Do Come True: Kickstarter to Kick Off

Blank book cover vector template isolated on white background.Some years back, I wrote Blue Bear and Snow Toad, a rhyming children’s picture book about a young bear and toad who resist hibernating, so they can experience the sights and sounds of winter. Like every child, they just want to stay up a bit longer, just in case they miss out on something exciting.

My dream now is to see it in print.

I’ve paired up with a talented illustrator who brings the words to life with his charming, playful art. Richard Svensson, an artist from Sweden, brings a long list of publishing and film credits to the table, and you can see why. His illustrations are beautiful, and many make me laugh.

Blue Bear and Snow Toad is now ready to go out into the world. We’re currently planning a limited run of 1,000 copies of the 8.5″ X 8.5″ hard-bound picture book to be available in time for Winter 2017 and holiday gift giving. The picture book will be full color, coffee table quality. After all, it will be a work of art, in the vein of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Toward that end, I’m setting up a Kickstarter page, complete with some fun goodies at various reward levels, including copies of the book.

As you may already know with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. If the goal is met, the project goes forward. If not, your money is refunded.

Hopefully, there is a reward level right for you or a child in your life. So, watch out for news in the next few days of this project going live, and please, please help the dream come alive.