Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pets Vs. Children

Oi. So, as per usual, there seems to be a disagreement in the blogosphere, started several days ago by Dr. Isis and Dr. J. The discussion (a rather polite term, I think for the circumstances) was about the selection of research subjects. Dr. J, simply enough, would prefer leaving dogs and cats (specifically cats) out of research labs. Dr. Isis seems to support the use of the best candidate for the test. Both, of course, as most scientists insist (if not all), aim for the least pain and discomfort for the research subjects. The issue wasn't so much about the removal of cats from the lab, but Dr. J's choice in words on his blog. Granted, after reading it, I felt he'd gone a wee bit off the deep end. He equated pets (his cats) to human children. I can understand the human emotion and psychological ties we may develop with our pets, but found myself unable to agree with his assessment of what a cat is. Dr. Isis couldn't either, and decided to write about it. After her post, ScientistMother wrote about her opinion that although you may love your pet, they are not your offspring. I can understand both women's outrage at Dr. J's conclusion, although for reasons neither seemed to bring up.

So, here's the short and sweet of it. Of course, I adore my Half Pint. She's an absolute sweetie. But, she's my pet. I may talk to her, encourage her, and care for her like many care for children, but she is not a child. Children-particularly babies, are defenseless (except their cuteness. I'm thinking babies' cuteness is a defense mechanism to keep parents from throttling them). They are unable to feed themselves; they cannot provide the basics for survival. Pets, however, can. Your pet, if you were not around (and didn't lock the pet up), would be able to survive. Your dog would scavenge. Your cat would catch rodents. All your other pets would be just fine (unless horrendously outside their native habitat). I know for a fact that my dog would not starve if left outside alone. She's a quite capable hunter, and that's not even a breed requirement. She's a herding dog. Human children have an extended period of dependency on adults, while both cats and dogs can care for themselves before 8 weeks.

Now, what do we do about research? In order for progress to be made, work must be done. And unfortunately, there are many failures, and large sample populations to ensure the accuracy and reproducibility of the data. This does mean that test subjects die. Sometimes naturally, sometimes by accident, and sometimes by euthenasia. Today, there are standards of care, protocols to be followed, and paperwork to be filed. Even where the test subjects come from is highly regulated. This hasn't always been the case. That link is the first of a five part series about the evolution of the laws on animal testing. It doesn't cover everything, but it does manage to highlight the difficulties of wanting to improve life (not just human), and the sacrifices that have been made to get it.

Would I use rats for research? If they were the appropriate model, yes. Would I use dogs or cats? I honestly don't know. I am a sentimental person. There's a high probability that I'd become attached to my test subjects. This could potentially introduce a bias in data collection, depending on the type of experiments being performed. Dogs in particular would be difficult for me, because they show basic emotion-anger, fear, happiness, sadness (and because I have one). I would hate to have the animals fear or hate me, because of a negative association with the experiment. So, if I had to use dogs as a model, I would work even harder to make the experiment valid, as painless as possible, and would, if I could, try to make the animals happy during off time. Or, I could simply avoid the type of science that would use large animal subjects. I could avoid all vertebrates, if I wanted to. That's the great thing about science. There's so much to do, that if you have a personal issue with something, it's not a huge deal. But, though I may choose to avoid such experiments, I would not shun others who would use large vertebrates for their research. Sociologically, that'd be wrong.

For an interesting (though not crazy sciency) read, try this-it's all about a potential history of domestication. All about dogs and cats.

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