Dogs, Mice, Cats, Rats


Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Do dogs understand their suffering and pain more acutely than mice? Do cats grieve over forced isolation and cruel treatment more than rats?

Does it matter?

Yes, it matters, because how we view an animal can have a big effect on how we treat it.

Which brings me to my real question:

In framing the law that was passed in 1966 on the treatment and care of laboratory animals in this country, were the policy makers  influenced by their belief in the presence or absence of an animal’s capacity for subjective feeling and experience, its sentient abilities?

If the provisions of the Law, the United States Federal Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (AWA), and its amendment of 2002 are to be taken at face value, then the answer to that question is yes.

In both the AWA and its amendment, mice and rats, along with birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, are explicitly excluded from federal protection against abuse during scientific research. In fact, it appears that they were considered non-animals, not even worthy of consideration. Those animals specified for protection in the AWA are dogs, cats, monkeys, non-human primates, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits.  In other words, cuddly pets and cousins.

According the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), ninety-nine percent of the millions of animals currently undergoing laboratory study in this country are those that have been excluded from protection under the AWA. It seems that this could only have come about if laws were written with the assumption that these animals do not have the capacity to suffer, or at least cannot grasp what is happening to them.

We need to take the pain and suffering of ‘less intelligent’ animals very seriously, wrote Marc Bekoff , co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As a cognitive ethologist, Bekoff studies the influence of conscious awareness on an animal’s behavior in its natural environment. It is possible that some animals experience pain and suffering in ways that we cannot yet imagine, Bekoff stated. They may act differently than we do, but still can feel pain.


I’m including here some links that might be of interest to readers:  Details about alternatives to animal testing.  Interesting article refuting alternatives to animal testing.    This is Marc Beckoff’s Op-Ed Piece


3 thoughts on “Dogs, Mice, Cats, Rats”

  1. As always, thought provoking. I firmly believe all sentient beings should be treated with compassion.
    And, this leaves the dilemma of how to accomplish the research we NEED compassionately???

    1. There are many research facilities that do treat their animal subjects compassionately. As a matter of fact, I’ve been reading about research animal caregivers in compassionate laboratories who bond with their animals and suffer a kind of PTSD when they die or are in pain. The dilemma you talk about is at the bottom of the controversy around the whole topic of using animals in research. There are those who contend that the research findings on animals do not translate to humans, so it shouldn’t be done. There are those who contend that other methods can be used to conduct the research, so using animals is not necessary. And all of the anti-animal research positions are refuted by those who support animal research. The issue goes beyond healthcare and involves politics, economics, and ethics.

  2. Do animals feel pain? Of course they do. Is compassion a universally accepted moral value? Unfortunately it is not. ( The ultimate and earnest wish, manifest in the Buddha, both as archetype and as historical entity, is to relieve the suffering of all living beings everywhere.)
    The practice of animal testing is, as you state, a controversial one with good points on both sides of the issue. Does inflicting pain on “dumb” animals justify the end of finding cures for human conditions? Many say it does and quote a number of serious conditions that have been resolved as a result of animal testing. However many recent experiments have and continue to discover some amazing facts about non-human sentient beings. Several years ago a controversial book suggested that Elephants cry emotional tears. Studies suggest that the family groups formed by Elephants are close knit-protective-and responded in an emotional fashion to loss. Gorillas, our very close genetic cousins, have close knit family groups and act in very humane ways among family groups showing strong emotions when confronted by a family loss. Dolphin and whale studies have strongly suggested that not only are mother/child bonding’s very strong but fairly sophisticated verbal communications do exist. Hell, recent studies even suggest plants communicate among themselves. So much to be learned.
    Where I am going with this is we are not the only sentient beings that have feelings and emotions. Should this be ignored when designing animal testing protocols? In my opinion NO.
    I believe there are very possibly ways of designing non-human testing procedures that minimize pain and those should be explored. More to the point there should be testing procedures that avoid use of living beings entirely. Considering the advances science has made in recent years these should be encouraged and, again in my opinion, will possibly yield positive results.
    I am not a scientist and opinions shared here are just that, my opinions, and not presented here as factual.

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