In our work to replace the use of animals for experimentation with superior non-animal methods, we at PETA often say, "If what happens to animals inside a laboratory happened outside the lab, it would be a crime."
In July, a grand jury agreed with us. Fourteen felony cruelty-to-animals indictments were returned against four former employees of Professional Laboratory and Research Services (PLRS) in North Carolina, which was investigated and exposed by PETA last year. Indictments and charges against those who abuse animals--wherever the cruelty occurs--should happen more often.
For decades, PLRS was hired by big pharmaceutical companies to test the pesticides in flea and tick products on dogs, cats and rabbits. Last year, a PETA investigator worked undercover in the facility and caught these employees on video kicking, throwing and dragging dogs; hoisting rabbits by their ears and puppies by their throats; violently slamming cats into cages; and screaming obscenities and death wishes at terrified animals. One worker can be seen on video trying to rip out a cat's claws by violently pulling the animal from the chain link fence that the cat clung to.
The indictments follow citations by federal officials for serious violations of animal welfare laws, the laboratory's closure and the surrender of nearly 200 dogs and more than 50 cats just a week after we released our findings. Laboratory staff reportedly killed all the rabbits, but the dogs and cats have been placed in homes.
I know one of the rescued dogs, a small terrier-hound who looks a little like the beleaguered but hopeful pup in the animated version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." She was known only by the number tattooed in her ear. Bone-thin, terrified and infested with worms, she was pulled from her cage and began a long journey that ended in the home of one of my colleagues.
At first Libby, as she was named, cowered in fear and crawled on her belly rather than standing upright and risk being noticed. I visited her recently. She is a joyful little dog today who loves her person, her canine friends and her happy life. Imprisonment in a laboratory has been replaced by long walks in the mountains, where she darts up and down the trails, her tail wagging.
Some abuse in laboratories has the approval of oversight committees and is funded by the federal government with our tax dollars. They don't call it abuse of course--it's "research" when someone gets paid to collect data on suffering animals. But forcing mice to fight with each other until they're bloody, keeping monkeys constantly thirsty to coerce them to cooperate in brain experiments, torching sheep over two-thirds of their bodies, force-feeding chemicals to dogs, electrically shocking the sensitive feet of rats, cutting off the tops of cats' skull to insert electrodes in their brains--all this is legal.
Many state anti-cruelty laws exempt experiments on animals. Wisconsin, where the mice-fighting experiments occurred and were in apparent violation of anti-animal fighting laws, just passed such an exemption.
As Libby shows, the animals are the same whether they're inside a laboratory or outside it. They feel pain when they're hurt. They want their own lives, even if some humans think these lives are of no value. Thank goodness the grand jury in North Carolina saw the appalling treatment of animals for what it was and refused to give the laboratory a free pass. Let's hope it's a trend.
Kathy Guillermo is vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.