In Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go (made into a movie in 2010), children at an isolated English boarding school do not have parents but rather guardians who continually encourage them to remain healthy. Three students learn that this emphasis on health is not for their own good, but because they have a special function. They are clones created for only one purpose, to provide healthy organs for members of the society outside the school who need to replace parts of their bodies. After the organs of these clones have been harvested, they will die, a step referred to as completion. The school and the students come from a novelist’s imagination, but for laboratory animals such a world is not fictional.
As Lynda Birke wrote in a 2012 article in Body & Society, the “edifice of what we call scientific, medical, knowledge is built upon animal corpses.” Dogs have been specifically bred for laboratory experimentation as commercial products for over a hundred years (Asdal 2008), but this segment of the canine breeding industry, unlike all other dog breeders, strives to remain as inconspicuous to the general public as possible. The scientists who perform research on animals also avoid describing how those animals were used in their experiments, perhaps 45% of the time do not indicate how the animals were killed, and frequently do not even acknowledge that the animals in fact died (Smith et al. 2005). One seminal analysis of animal research papers found that of 98 papers describing “procedures which must have involved the death of the animals involved,” only 44 of the papers mentioned that the animals in the experiments had died (Smith et al. 1997).
Killing Snails and Slugs
|Laboratory Research Dog (courtesy Peta)|
Somewhere in the back of my mind, when I encounter such references, is an image of a dog in a cage in a sterile room, looking at other dogs in cages, none ever having any name beyond numbers on their cages, perhaps allowed a brief period of exercise each day in a small room with a concrete floor and windows too high to look out, perhaps not even allowed to play with other dogs if companionship might violate somebody’s requirements for the research being conducted on them, often maimed or killed in the interest of science and human welfare, autopsied with organs weighed and then biopsied to establish variance from a control population (which may also be killed, but here it is sometimes possible to use legacy statistics from other laboratories), and finally disposed of as laboratory waste rather than given any dignity in a burial or individual cremation.
Recently I saw a document that gave more information than is usually available, more than I really wanted to know because it forced me think about what the animals’ lives were like, something I try not to think about, until I can’t avoid it. The Federal Register for March 4, 2015, contained a release of the Environmental Protection Agency that provided tolerances for residues of metaldehyde in parts per million (ppm) on certain commodities including ginseng (0.25 ppm), pea and bean (succulent shelled, subgroup 6B, 0.20 ppm), vegetable, foliage of legume (except soybean, 1.5 ppm), clover (forage and hay, each 0.60 ppm). Metaldehyde is a molluscicide that is used by growers and gardeners to kill snails and slugs and the EPA was doing some fine tuning to its regulation (40 CFR 180.522) on how much can be present in certain food items for human and animal consumption, such as for cattle that are slaughtered for meat markets.
|Metaldehyde (National Center for Biotechnology Information)|
[M]etaldehyde baits are particularly poisonous to dogs and cats, and the pelleted form is especially attractive to dogs. Don’t use metaldehyde snail baits where children and pets could encounter them. Metaldehyde baits containing 4% active ingredient are more effective than those containing only 2%; however, they also are more toxic to dogs and wildlife. Avoid getting metaldehyde bait on plants, especially vegetables.
The entry in the Federal Register came about because a research group at Rutgers University, the IR-4 Project, had recommended in 2013 that tolerance levels for metaldehyde on certain crops be established, and recommended changes to tolerance levels previously set by the EPA for certain other crops. This is a case where a university research program was filling in certain gaps in industrial research that would not be cost-effective for chemical manufacturers to conduct. The crops with new tolerance levels included ginseng, certain peas, beans, and tomatoes, forage clover and hay
The EPA’s release effectively finalized some of the proposals previously made by IR-4.
The March 4 Federal Register release contained the following sentences in the description of the toxicological profile of metaldehyde:
The principal toxic effects for metaldehyde are clinical signs of neurotoxicity, as well as changes in the liver and testes/prostate following repeated oral dosing. The dog is the most sensitive species for neurotoxic effects. Nervous system effects observed in the subchronic and chronic oral toxicity studies include: Ataxia and tremors; twitching; salivation; emesis; rapid respiration in dogs and maternal rats; and limb paralysis, spinal cord necrosis, and hemorrhage in maternal rats. Liver effects include increased liver weight, increased incidence of liver lesions (hepatocellular necrosis, hepatocellular hypertrophy and inflammation), and an increased incidence of hepatocellular adenomas in female rats and in both sexes of mice. In dogs, atrophy of the testes and prostate was observed following subchronic and chronic exposure.
|Summary of Toxicological Doses and Endpoints for Metaldehyde Use in Human Health Risk Assessment (EPA 2013)|
NOAEL = no-observed-adverse-effect-level
LOAEL = lowest-observed-adverse-effect-level
LOC = level of concern
MOE = margin of exposure
UF = uncertainty factor
UFA = uncertainty factor extrapolated from the study on dogs to humans because humans, of course, are not available to be put in cages and administered poisons to undertake such tests. UFH = potential variation among humans, i.e., once the dosage limit is extrapolated from dogs to humans, how much variation in that estimate there might be in the human population.
RID = reference dogs
The 2013 release added some detail to the information about the dog studies on which the various limits for metaldehyde were determined, stating that clinical “signs (ataxia, tremors, twitching, salivation) in the chronic dog study, which occurred within the first week of explosure and persisted through week 19 (other signs included lateral position, reduced mobility, convulsions, and vocalization in one female, and agitation in another).” Thus, some of the dogs had been given doses of metaldehyde over at least 19 weeks, almost five months, and one female dog protested her unfair lot by barking while another may have begun to lose her mind.
Metaldehyde Dog Experiments
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes a manual, Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings (Roberts and Reigart 2013), which gives sources that were not provided by the agency in its Federal Register releases. Prior to 1986 there had only been two metaldehyde pharmacology studies, both of which used mice, that had found (1) a significant decrease in the brain concentration of γ-aminobutyric acid, (2) and increase in monoamine oxidase activity, and (3) a significant decrease in brain levals of noradrenaline, 5-hydroxytryptamine, and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid. The LD50 for rats (the dosage level that would kill 50% of a population of test animals) was determined to be between 420 and 690 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram of body weight).
Then in 1986, Booze and Oehme used dogs instead of rats. They chose 15 “healthy mixed-breed male dogs” weighing between 8 and 19 kilograms (18 and 42 pounds), from six months to two years old. Using young dogs is preferred so that measures such as organ weight and damage can largely exclude effects of aging. The animals came from Kansas State University’s Animal Resources Facility (renamed the Comparative Medicine Group in 2009). Dogs were “housed individually in large metabolism cages, two to a room.” (Metabolism, or metabolic cages, have themselves been the subject of research. Sabchuk et al. (2012) found that “dogs kept in metabolic cages eliminate drier feces and spend more time inactive than those kept in kennels.” The dogs in this study also slept more in cages than kennels.)
Tremors were graded into four categories: none, slight, moderate, severe; respiration as normal, panting, or labored; salivation as normal, increased, or thick; coordination as normal or abnormal; hyperesthesia (increased sensitivity to stimulation) as absent or present; vomiting as absent or present; and diarrhea as absent or present. One dog had tonic-clinic convulsions, profuse and thick salivation, hyperesthesia, and ataxia, and died 4.5 hours after dosing. The remaining dogs appeared normal a day after dosing. The clinical signs occurred in the following numbers of the eight dogs dosed with metaldehyde:
The authors concluded that the LD50 of metaldehyde for dogs is greater than 600 milligrams per kilogram of the dog’s body weight, refining a previous estimate of the same authors (1985), based on poisoning cases, of between 100 and 1,000 mg/kg of body weight.
More recent dog research on metaldehyde was conducted in England. A 1996 British government report by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Pesticides Safety Directorate, describes an unpublished German study (Neumann 1980) using smaller doses of metaldehyde (20, 60, or 90 mg/kg body weight/day) where there were “no clinical or ophthalmological signs of toxicity and no deaths” over six months of dosing. The research also found that “clinical chemistry, haematology and urinalysis were unaffected by treatment.” All of which makes the study sound relatively harmless to the dogs except for the observation that “post-mortem organ weights were not affected by the treatment.” The animals were killed at the end of the study to verify internal effects resulting from the administration of the pesticide. The NOEL level (no observed effect level) for metaldehyde, from this study was determined to be 20 mg/kg body weight/ day. It is on the basis of this finding that some of the minimum levels of metaldehyde in agricultural products were established.
Laboratory Animal Welfare Act
The fate of laboratory dogs is all quite legal, of course, though Congress has taken occasional interest in laboratory animals, often because of stories disturbing to the public about escaped pets that ended up as subjects in research facilities (National Research Council 2009). This generally happens in states that permit pounds to sell pets, usually after a short period, to research facilities as an alternative to euthanizing them. (The connections between pounds and research facilities could itself be an extensive study.)
|Number of Animals Covered by AWA Used in Research 2001-2007 (NRC 2009)|
Section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (PL 89-544, August 24, 1966) provides that the Secretary of Agriculture is to “establish and promulgate standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers and research facilities.” Standards are to include requirements on “housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter from extremes of weather and temperature, separation by species, and adequate veterinary care.”
Under 9 CFR 3.7, which concerns the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of dogs and cats by “dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities,” specifies that if “a dog is housed, held, or maintained at a facility without sensory contact with another dog, it must be provided with positive physical contact with humans at least daily.” Thus, the research facility has a choice between giving dogs contact with each other or contact with people.
The National Research Council of the National Academies publishes a Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (8th ed. 2011), which accepts that dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals benefit from “positive human interaction.” Dogs are singled out as regards human attention: “Dogs can be given additional opportunities for activity by being walked on a leash, having access to a run, or being moved into areas for social contact, play, or exploration.”
|Cage Height Table (NRC 2011)|
Dogs have the disadvantage of needing more space in cages that cats and rabbits, so the fact that dogs are used less extensively than some other species is not wholly due to the reluctance of researchers to use animals that their children might think of as pets. Cage size also determines why certain breeds, such as beagles, are more common in research settings (Andersen 1970).
Various organization, including Peta and the Humane Society, have launched campaigns to improve the lot of laboratory animals, in some cases attempting to force the USDA’s Animal & Plant Inspection Service to investigate complaints about how some laboratories care for animals on which they are experimenting. Of course, this goes only to the more superficial trappings of what happens to these animals, insuring that cages are cleaned, vermin are removed from the environment, wounds are treated, etc. The fact that there is often a horror to the overall fate of these animals is not something that the present law or rules will do anything to alleviate.
Sociological Research on Researchers Who Use Dogs in Lethal Experiments
Lynda Birke of the University of Chester, already quoted, must be read if one wants to delve into the nether world of the use of animals in biomedical research. In a 2012 paper she gets as close to the core of anyone I have read as to why we find the use of animals in experiments to be acceptable:
We inherit a long history of cultural beliefs that animals, unlike humans, do not have souls/consciousness, and that other species cannot perceive pain or perceive it less than we do. Thus we can justify producing sick animals as models, and we can accept probing into their bodies in the search for understanding what bodies do. Indeed, it is precisely because of that history of human exceptionalism that probing into animals’ living bodies in pursuit of knowledge becomes acceptable. Animal bodies, whether alive or dead, thus stand in for human ones, representing our diseases – so much so, that lab animals can be said to represent our salvation from the terror of our own mortality.
Arnold Arluke of Northeastern University, who has also studied how researchers relate to laboratory animals and is a sometime collaborator with Birke, notes (Arluke 1988) that researchers often prefer to avoid eye contact with the dogs on which they experiment.
A laboratory that transported conscious dogs kept them in a private hallway outside the laboratory until moments before an experiment was to get under way. Another laboratory, which had no such hallway, would turn the dogs' cages to face a wall and sometimes drape surgical sheets over the cages as well.
|Laboratory Research Beagle (courtesy Peta)|
Once lab animals are thus perceived, it becomes more difficult to see them in the same way as ‘naturalistic’ animals elsewhere. They are different: they would not exist were it not for the demands of experimental science. As such, we can learn to justify intrusion into their bodies for a putative greater good, and we can learn (if somewhat ambivalently) to see their bodies as sums of parts.
As someone who once did research to determine if intertidal crabs could orient toward the nearest shore by the position of the sun or, at night, the moon, I am aware of how easily the objective of the research, and its importance to the advancement of science (or at least to one’s career), can become an excuse for ignoring the effects of the experiments on the animal subjects that are producing the raw data. Yet it sometimes moves to the macabre, and must make us question our humanity, as with a technician described by Arluke (1988) who amused his colleagues by addressing a dog he was about to anesthetize by saying to it, “Okay Fido, let’s boogie!”
Birke (2012) also notes that because of an animal’s species-specific biology, its ability to stand in for humans and provide relevant conclusions may often be questionable. This, of course, opens up yet another issue that could fill volumes.
If it could be shown that some research directed towards human health requires validation through experiments on medium-sized mammals (National Research Council 2009 accepts that this is the case), and admitting that some core element of our humanity requires that we not use members of our own species as research subjects, then insisting that dogs not be used while pigs or rabbits can be used seems arbitrary, as if we must heed the advice of the Chick-fil-A cows and EAT MOR CHIKIN. Birke et al. (2006) cite one scientist who did not have a problem experimenting on certain species, but could not see working with dogs, cats, or monkeys.
Yet perhaps there should be a social contract in the human-canine relationship, as if the fact their varied and complex assistance to us throughout the long history of their domestication creates an obligation on us to excuse them from the more horrific burdens of domesticated status. Certainly, as I shall argue elsewhere in much greater detail, the law of domestication as it applies to dogs is often more nuanced than the law applied to our relationship with other domesticates, though this does not prove that we move onto moral high ground if we insist that dogs not be used in painful and fatal experiments yet accept that pigs can be.
Scientists should indicate in published research when and how animals are used, and when they are killed for experimental purposes. Federal and state agencies relying on such research for setting standards should at least refer to the research, in the Federal Register or elsewhere, when indicating the justification for a standard being set. Steps should be taken to lift the veil of secrecy that has been built to protect the industry that produces animals for research. Efforts by various groups, such as the Humane Society, to find out about conditions of laboratory animals often require filing of Freedom of Information Act requests with the USDA and other inspection services. Such reports should be publicly available, without advocates having to figure out where information and statistics may have been hidden by government bureaucracies to avoid the possibility of public outrage.
Finally, although efforts should continue to be made to regulate the transfer of animals from pounds and general dealer markets into research markets, the use of purpose-bred dogs by laboratories should not create a façade that allows us to ignore the horror faced by such dogs just because they were never pets or around other dogs that were to become pets. Purpose-bred dogs are as horrifying as purpose-bred people. Like the children in Ishiguro’s novel, such dogs have only one purpose, and often one fate, and many, in the few short years they are allowed to live, will never be able to stand tall enough to look out to any other world. We cannot absolve ourselves, even if we can justify our research.
Additional Note: The EPA continues to adjust its metaldehyde regulations, though it is not clear that any additional dog experiments have been conducted in doing so. 81 Fed. Reg. 71633 (October 18, 2016).
Additional Note: The EPA continues to adjust its metaldehyde regulations, though it is not clear that any additional dog experiments have been conducted in doing so. 81 Fed. Reg. 71633 (October 18, 2016).
This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet.
- Andersen, A.C. (1970). The Beagle as an Experimental Dog. Ames: Iowa State University Press.
- Arluke, A.B. (1988). Sacrificial Symbolism in Animal Experimentation: Object or Pet? Anthrozoos, 2(2), 98-116 (discussing how researchers avoid the term “kill” when referring to what happens to laboratory animals, preferring “sacrifice,” “sack,” “terminate,” or just putting an X on a form. “Sacrifice” is no longer used in scientific contexts because of a desire to avoid any religious connotations.
- Asdal, K. (2008). Subjected to Parliament: The Laboratory Experimental Medicine and the Animal Body. Social Studies of Science, 38, 899-917.
- Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) (2012). CLH Report for Metaldehyde.
- Barber, A.L.A., Randi, D., Muller, C.A., and Huber, L. (2016). The Processing of Human Emotional Faces by Pet and Lab Dogs: Evidence for Lateralization and Experience Effects. PLoS/One, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0152393 (April 13, 2016) (finding that lab dogs pay less attention to the mouths of humans, perhaps because they are not anticipating verbal commands as pet dogs do; pet dogs also look at faces more quickly perhaps because the lab dogs here "live in packs and are therefore surrounded by other dogs but not humans, [so] human faces are not salient enough to elicit a fast response.").
- Bates, N. S., Sutton, N. M., & Campbell, A. (2012). Suspected Metaldehyde Slug Bait Poisoning in Dogs: a Retrospective Analysis of Cases Reported to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service. Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association, 171(13), 324 (“A retrospective analysis of telephone enquiries to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service found 772 cases with follow-up concerning suspected metaldehyde slug bait ingestion in dogs between 1985 and 2010. Half the enquiries occurred in the summer months. The amount and strength of the slug bait ingested was rarely known. In 56, cases the quantity consumed was estimated and was on average 229.6 grams of bait. Clinical signs developed in 77.3 per cent of dogs; common signs were convulsions, hypersalivation, twitching, hyperaesthesia, tremor, vomiting, hyperthermia and ataxia. Only 4.6 per cent of dogs developed hepatic changes, and only one developed renal impairment. The average time to onset of signs was 2.9 hours post-ingestion, with 50.3 per cent of dogs developing effects within one hour. Increased muscle activity (twitching, convulsions) lasted on average 15.2 hours. Recovery time was reported in 61 cases and occurred on average at 39.3 hours. Common treatments were gut decontamination, anticonvulsants, anaesthetics and intravenous fluids. Of the dogs that were treated with sedatives, 45.8 per cent required more than one sedative or anaesthetic agent. Methocarbamol was rarely used, probably due to unavailability. The outcome was reported in 762 dogs; 21.7 per cent remained asymptomatic, 61.7 per cent recovered and 16 per cent of dogs died or were euthanased. Where known (only six cases), the fatal dose of bait ranged from 4.2 to 26.7 g/kg (average 11.8 g/kg).”).
- Birke, L. (2012). Animal Bodies in the Production of Scientific Knowledge: Modelling Medicine. Body & Society, 18(3-4), 156-178.
- Birke, L., Arluke, A. and Michael, M. (2006). The Sacrifice: How Scientific Experiments Transform Animals and People. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.
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- Environmental Protection Agency. Metaldehyde; Pesticide Tolerances. 78 Fed. Reg. 70864 (November 27, 2013).
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- Humane Society (November 11, 2014). Fact Sheet: Pets Used in Experiments (describing the Class B dealer system and efforts to stop laboratory reliance on such dealers).
- IR-4 Project 2013 Annual Report. (“The IR-4 Project (Interregional Research Project Number-4) was established by the Directors of the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1963 as a cooperative research program with the goal to support growers of fruits, vegetables, nuts and other small acreage specialty food crops by assisting with the registration of pesticides on these “minor crops”. The IR-4 Project was needed because companies that develop and register pesticides concentrate their efforts on large acreage crops that provide adequate return on investment. These companies do not consider specialty crops and other minor uses of pesticides a priority business objective. Potential sales in these small markets do not justify the investment in development of the required data for registration. As a result, there are often many pest management voids in specialty crops and minor use markets. IR-4 fills the void by developing the magnitude of the residue and/or product performance data needed by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the crop protection industry and/or other regulatory authorities to allow registrations on the specialty crops.”).
- Ishiguro, K. (2006). Never Let Me Go. New York: Vintage.
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- National Research Council (2009). Scientific and Human Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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- Roberts, J.R., and Reigart, J.R. (2013). Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings (6th ed.). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Sabchuk, T.T., Felix, A.P., Comin, J.G., Guimaraes, A., de Oliveira, S.G.,and Maiorka, A. (2012). Digestibility and Behavior of Dogs Housed in Kennels or Metabolic Cages. Revista Brasileira de Zootecnia, 41(1), 118-122.
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