It’s an unlikely equation: YouTube.com plus PETA equals the first animal protection legislation ever to be enacted in Bolivia. But it’s as true as E = mc².
Here’s what happened and, more importantly, why it matters to you.
A few weeks ago, someone posted video footage on YouTube showing a man repeatedly stabbing a conscious dog in the head and chest. It really was as terrible as it sounds. The dog, who is tied down with a rope to a wooden platform, shrieks in pain as a knife is plunged again and again into her chest and head. The man then removes the dog’s heart and smears the blood-soaked organ on the faces of several other men who are watching the spectacle.
The man with the knife is an instructor in the Bolivian military; the others are Bolivian soldiers.
A researcher in PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department saw the video and was so horrified that he made it his mission to get it stopped. With a little digging, he found another online posting of the Bolivian military conducting an equally violent dog killing. Soon he had collected eyewitness accounts and testimonials proving that the stabbings were part of an ongoing Bolivian training program. The theory was that cutting out dogs’ hearts helped to instill bloodlust in the hearts of the soldiers.
This PETA researcher set to work. He wrote to Bolivian President Evo Morales, enlisted the help of a Bolivian member of congress, rallied support from a fledgling Bolivian animal rights group and posted an alert on PETA.org. Within days, more than 20,000 people had e-mailed President Morales. Within a month, Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel had appeared on Bolivian television to announce an end to the stabbings.
The minister declared that “we are issuing a Resolution 217, by which we prohibit all acts of violence, exploitation, mistreatment that provokes the death of animals.” Violators will be prosecuted by a military tribunal and, in the case of a civil complaint, in the traditional justice system. This resolution carries unprecedented significance because, until March 31, 2009, when the announcement was made, Bolivia had no animal welfare regulations.
Now, here’s why it matters to Americans: A variation of this same atrocity occurs at 17 military bases in the U.S. Not killings for bloodlust, no, but they’re just as violent. Pigs, goats and monkeys are stabbed, shot, burned and poisoned with chemicals, supposedly to train medics who will treat troops injured in battle. PETA learned about this “training” from soldiers and medics who called us because they were upset about being required to kill animals who didn’t make war but were about to become its casualties.
A little research turned up numerous alternatives to the use of live animals for medical trauma training as well as statements from combat surgeons and other experts that animals are very poor models for wounded humans. Much better, we were told, to use the incredibly sophisticated simulators now available—models with pulses and blood pressure that bleed, respond to treatment or even “die.” Some military bases already use these simulators, and some rotate their medics through civilian trauma center hospitals, where they can get real-life experience treating their own species.
We quickly realized that it’s not just the animals who suffer here but potentially the soldiers who are wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. They deserve to receive care from medics who have been given the very best training available. That doesn’t include pigs, goats and monkeys.
The U.S. military is proving a little more difficult to persuade than the Bolivian military was. But every one of us has the right to ask Congress and the president to order a stop to the shooting and stabbing of animals and to guarantee that the medics who treat our soldiers receive the best and most humane trauma training that our country can provide.Kathy Guillermo is the director of laboratory investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.StopAnimalTests.com.