Like A Rat In A Cage

NPR reports on the new NIH guidelines(pdf) for animal care in research. Of course, the comments at the story are the usual ink-blot test of personal positions, using the current guidelines to argue anything from pro-life positions to pro-animal-study to anti-NPR, to you name it. A few thoughts, after the jump:

I remember when our lab, a number of years ago, upgraded its animal cages. Cuttlefish Hall was being renovated, so we got to see the animals’ cages increase in size (the old racks of cages were unceremoniously dragged to the dumpster–I wanted to keep one for nostalgia’s sake, but we were renters at the time) even as the size of our offices shrank considerably. The animal floor was climate-controlled (as, of course, it should be); our offices froze in winter and baked in summer, with single-paned antique windows that stayed where they were painted stuck, whether open an inch or two or solidly closed with a draft coming through the sides. Of course, I’d still rather be able to leave my little cage when I wanted than be stuck in the climate-controlled little box.

I’ve seen rat studies which use an “enhanced environment”–typically, a slightly larger cage and access to a running wheel, and a few other doodads. Compare that to the real world. Sure, no foxes or hawks, but no heaps of garbage, either.

If you’ve never had the chance to work in an animal lab, take a look at the new guidelines. Many of the commenters at the NPR site clearly have not done so; the guide is put together by people who are clearly advocates for the animals, while also clearly believers in the necessity of animal research.

For my part, it’s as good an excuse as any to repost this:

To A Rat, On Looking Back On Her Career, In The Lab

Oh, little lab rat, in your prison,
What a sad day has arisen—
Yours, a life of serving science,
Not of resting,
You help us climb atop of giants
Through rodent testing

Tis your misfortune, some fine morning
To be dispatched without a warning
With hopes we’ll find, on close inspection
Some information
Perhaps enough so your dissection
Is our salvation

Some remedy for our diseases,
Grown from bread mold, or from cheeses:
In times of plague or killing fever
You played the villain;
It’s fitting now, you help deliver

Psychologists who study learning
Used your help in their discerning—
You led them through the many phases
Of their endeavors,
Teaching them, by running mazes
And pressing levers

And pictures made from careful staining,
Slicing, mounting, then explaining
Former secrets, now revealed
Through brain perfusion,
Dissecting what we know is real
From mere illusion

As we devised atomic powers—
Mushroom clouds that bloomed like flowers—
And looked at what we’d now created
With admiration
You showed us how you tolerated
The radiation

You’ve had a paw in our advances;
We blunder on, and take our chances
Faster than our contemplation,
So please forgive us;
Our lot is likely annihilation,
And you’ll outlive us.

The high plateaus we’re proud of reaching
Are ours because of your good teaching
Let’s hope these skills, which keep on growing
Through your instruction
Are for the best, not simply sowing
Our own destruction


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