Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the Trenches: Lab Animal Rescue

In honor of World Week for Animals in Laboratories Week (WWAIL), EtsyVeg member Veronica of Scrappy Rat Designs shares her experience rescuing animals from death in a testing lab. Visit Veronica's blog and Etsy shop, where she sells animal themed stationery items (cruelty-free).

Though most people think of guinea pigs and rats when they picture animals in labs, my first lab rescues were Syrian hamsters (if they were in a pet store instead of a laboratory, they'd be called "teddy bear hamsters") and several Mongolian gerbils. We were careful to tread carefully at the pickup, not wanting to offend the facility that was turning the animals over to us. If they were to stop allowing us to take their surplus animals, it would sentence these small creatures to certain death. Any surplus animals who didn't go home with a rescue or as the pet of an employee of the facility were slated to be killed. By "surplus", I mean the animals the lab purchased and didn't end up using for experiments. For various reasons, it was a rarity to be able to rescue any who had been experimented on, so in general, they were killed regardless.

Of course, labs don't just use rodents, though that's what our rescue specialized in. The facility used many rabbits and beagles and cats as well. Luckily, there were some cat and dog rescues who were doing the same thing we were--taking in as many as we could care for humanely and adopt out, but just like us, there were simply far more animals than they could take in. That was the toughest part of the "job" (we were volunteers, hence the quotes), having to decide who lives and who dies.

Once there, I'd go into the room they'd put the animals to be released in. I didn't ask questions, talk much, or try to see anything else, because honestly, if they were cooperative enough to let us take in whichever animals we could, I didn't want to jinx it. After all, not every lab is so kind, and I appreciated every animal we were allowed to carry out.

I remember being surprised at how tiny the cages were, with nothing inside but a little bit of wood litter. There was a sloped part in the lid for plain lab block and a water bottle, so even less of the space inside was actually usable for the animal inside. I tried not to actually look at any of the animals in particular. It was too hard to look into those deep, marble-like eyes and know that I had to leave some of them behind. I just gave the number of hamsters I could take and was relieved to discover that they had only a small number of gerbils at that pickup and I could take them all. Still, I knew there was a room full of rabbits we didn't have spaces for, and that definitely made my heart squeeze.

The mood changed dramatically when we got them home and started setting up our new fosters into their new cages, filled with toys to climb on, dens to hide in, plenty of litter to burrow deep into, special bedding that could be shredded and expanded into soft nests, and more. Their first feeding time was a huge event--their first experience with "real" food. Squeaks of excitement announced the discovery of fresh veggies and bits of real fruit along with carefully blended mixed food diets formulated to be species specific, instead of the "rodent block" they were used to eating--think large bland blocks made to avoid interfering with experiments and to be convenient to researchers. Much gleeful hoarding, of food, re-arranging those stashes, and nibbling went on long into the night.

The happiest of the new arrivals had to be the gerbils, who had formerly lived alone. While hamsters are solitary creatures who should not be kept in groups, gerbils are highly social creatures and these guys couldn't have been happier to form a family. They would play together, build complex tunnels, and even sing happily (it sounds like birds chirping and is the cutest thing *ever*) Despite a lonely start, these boys lived together for nearly 5 years, which I can attest to, because I was the one who adopted them. I am grateful for the lab that allowed me to take them in, along with the others I picked up that day who all found fabulous homes. If they hadn't opted to allow rescues to take in their unwanted animals, these guys wouldn't have had the happy experiences they enjoyed together.

Meanwhile, I will do all I can to work toward a day when animals are no longer used in testing. I will always avoid purchasing products tested on animals, and I will encourage the implication of the three R's wherever animal testing continues:

*Reduce the numbers of animals used to the absolute minimum needed
*Refine tests to ensure that duplicate unnecessary animal tests are not performed
*Replace animals with non-animal testing.

If all labs follow these rules, animal testing will come to an end.

1 comment:

Donna said...

Hurray for these humane rescues!