This Memorial week-end, I met a new hero. No, he didn't serve in the
military, though I consider him a man of great valor and courage. His name
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is Matt Rossell and he goes places where only the bravest of the brave will
go --unless one is bereft of compassion: labs, slaughterhouses, circuses, and fur farms. His sole purpose is exposing animal abuse and he spends months and sometimes years appearing as a colleague while photographing, filming, taking notes, --documenting what goes on behind closed doors --often at risk to himself.
Interviewed for a Satya article in 2003 (this wonderful magazine has closed
its doors since), he was asked how it all started. He said that he worked as a
security guard for Boys Town Hospital in Omaha when he heard crying. He
went behind the locked vivarium door to check and found kittens which were
being used in a study purporting to help deaf children. Edward Walsh had been
botching brain surgeries on healthy very young kittens. Many didn't survive
but they were the lucky ones. The others were crying out in pain because they
had not been receiving pain medication.
He contacted PETA and eventually --after documenting the abuse, the cat studies at Boys Town were shut down. I myself remember writing to Boys Town at this time re my abhorence that a Catholic institution was involved in such cruelty. Of course, they probably didn't care what I thought, and this made me ashamed that I was Catholic.
In my 30 years of animal rights I have found out that the Christian religions
aren't too concerned about animal suffering. One woman accused me of
"generalizing." How is it generalizing? Aren't we basically a Christian country?
If there is animal cruelty in the US- ergo Christians must cause a great deal of it. At least my logic course at DePaul in the 60's makes sense to me. And to the naysayers, I always lay out the challenge - please prove me wrong. And as I told that woman, I taught in a Catholic school for 20 years and found no curriculum re compassion for the animals.
Matt left his security job in Omaha and joined PETA to work undercover because it is one of the best tools animal activists have. Without it, it comes down to a "he said, she said" situation, but videos don't lie. Even if the animal industries try to deny what happens, a video shown to the public reveals the truth.
His undercover work took him to a day on a slaughterhouse kill floor in Nebraska. He apprenticed for three months during the pelting season on a fox farm in Illinois where he documented the lives and deaths of over 500 innocent silver foxes. He worked for a month as a tent worker on Walker Brothers Circus to follow Lota and Liz, two sick elephants who were still on the road despite having turberculosis.
After leaving PETA, he worked for more than two years as a primate technician
at Oregon National Primate Research Center where he documented the abuse of more than 2500 monkeys. How sad that these primate centers continued their cruelty even despite the efforts of people who converged on the primate centers in Wisconsin, California, Georgia, and Massachusetts in 1984. It seems our protests then went for naught. But I will always remember our visit to Madison, Wisconsin where we held a funeral service for the primates who suffered death under the uncaring hands of those who worked there. It was also on the bus ride there that I learned that cheese was made with a substance from a pig's or calve's stomach to coagulate the cheese. No, I didn't need dairy cheese any longer. It was as easy as that, and from that day forward I was vegan.
When Matt was asked how he copes with all that suffering and cruelty, he answered "It's a question of looking long into an abyss without the darkness creeping into you. I still don't know how to avoid that and have not always coped well with the depression and anger that results. I've felt emotionally pinned beneath a heavy weight of powerlessness, surrounded by suffering animals, unable to stop their pain, and actually participating in acts of cruelty I abhor. It helps to focus on the end result, and I would relish the opportunities when I was able to get a critical piece of evidence."
While at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, his videos were played on Portland TV but Michael Conn of OHSU tried to descredit this documentation in his book "The War on Animal Research." Conn maintained he was trying to correct inaccuracies regarding Rossell's two years of employment in the primate laboratory at OHSU. However, Matt's video didn't lie and Dr. Jane Goodall, who viewed his film had this to say:
"I have heard that there are people at the Primate Center who have suggested that the images on your video had been faked. Well, the images that I saw - a baby monkey rolling up into a ball and sucking his penis, an infant monkey with the disease shigella crawling about in his own filth, an adult rhesus who was so crazy that he had bitten his arms, bitten off almost all the flesh, an individual capuchin who had been used in drug research sitting with staring eyes, clearly in the last stages of depression, a monkey strapped down and submitted to a horribly painful electro ejaculation process with electrodes strapped on his penis, just to get a semen sample - these things could not have been faked. There's no way they could have been faked. No, these monkeys were being tortured."
Imagine Conn's shabby attempt at a defense to disprove the video was that diligent inspections were conducted by USDA. Yes, indeed -thankfully Dr. Isis Johnson Brown of the USDA quit in frustration after her supervisors at the USDA failed to support her efforts to enforce the MINIMAL requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Every news agency in Portland was on hand when she said among other things "...What was surprising to me was my own superviors were disappointed and unsupportive of my efforts to simply enforce the bare minimum standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. The USDA has a good ol' boy relationship with the research industry and the laws are nothing more than smoke and mirrors."
Rossell also wrote re the experimentation of Dr. Eliot Spindel who has made a career of conducting nicotine experiments on macaque mothers and their infants for decades. Even school children know that nicotine is harmful to humans and their fetuses -- yet NIH funding contines through 2012 It's a real money maker for the university. (I hope you are as angry about this as anyone should be that not only our taxpayer money is used to keep the "good ol boys" profitably employed but the cruelty to the primates is inexcusable.)
We just celebrated mother's day in May. There is no celebration of mother's day in OHSU. In this regard Matt wrote what happened in Dr. Eliot Spindel's laboratory:
"Among the most horrifying things I witnessed at the lab were the times
when baby monkeys were stolen away from their mothers. (Spindel's experiments require that babies be taken away when only just weeks or months old, and killed.) This was a chaotic, ugly, heart-wrenching scene. A worker wearing thick leather 'guantlet' gloves would reach into the cage where the baby clung to her mother's breast and snatch the baby by one shoulder and arm and rip her from her mother, who was also screaming and desperately fighting to keep her baby safe. Once removed, the entire room of monkeys would erupt into total pandemonium--screaming, thrashing and crashing in their cages--some even reaching out through the bars in vain to get the baby back. Once outside the room, the screams of protest continued, echoing down the halls. The mother would never see that baby again, but would be bred again and again to produce more monkeys to feed the insatiable demand for research subjects."
Are human mothers the only ones who have feelings and needs? Thank you
Matt. Hopefully, people will be outraged and all your hours of terrible suffering
at witnessing and documenting how cruel man can be to his fellow living
creatures will bear fruit. Sadly, I'm not too optimistic.
As for Michael Conn who wrote the book vilifying attempts by people to expose the cruelty in primate centers, Matt said he never once saw Michael Conn step foot in an animal room. He is an administrator. He and his co-author, James Parker-- a public relations person, weren't really there as Matt was to see what happens every single day.