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back issues


December 1998
Editorial: Only Disconnect

By Martin Rowe


The advertisement looks straightforward enough. An adorable beagle stares out at you. His or her mouth is open, pink tongue obtruding, and the tail points up at a perky angle. The beagle is the image of health, and seems to confirm what the accompanying texts says is this dog’s “friendly disposition.” So what’s this advertisement for? Animal adoption? Rescue work? Companion animal lovers? If you said yes to any of the above, you would be wrong. The advertisement comes from Marshall Farms, suppliers of “the superior model” of dog for animal laboratories, and it is only one of many bizarre disconnects found in Lab Animal, the magazine which claims to offer “information, ideas, methods and materials for the animal research professional.”

I should come out and say now that I am an anti-vivisectionist, and I was given a subscription to Lab Animal by an unknown donor who clearly felt that it would be useful ammunition to skewer “the opposition” with. Having looked at three issues and read many articles from them, I have to admit to being quietly impressed by what this magazine does, and intrigued by the messages it sends out about our relationship toward animals in general, and animals in our care in particular.

The first thing that struck me about Lab Animal is that you rarely if ever see an animal actually being used in the experiments “it” was acquired for. The advertisement for the Marshall Beagle is not alone: there are pictures of cute dogs and cats, a perky black-footed ferret, inquisitive rats and mice, and in one ad virtually the entire animal kingdom. The same goes for the equipment. All is shiny and new, with rarely any animals actually inside the cages or on the necropsy tables, ventilated rack systems, inhalation anesthesia systems or transit kits so gushingly advertised.

The second impression is the insistence the magazine has on animal well-being. In one issue, for instance, (October 1998) the editorial—looking at careers in this burgeoning medical arena—talks of “one essential constant: a dedication to quality animal care and concern for animal well-being” and the two (female) editors quote Dr. Tom Wolfle on what type of person succeeds in this field: “Good people with a passion to achieve, good interpersonal skills, and kindness in their hearts for animals.” Dr. Wolfle, a veterinarian, interviews seven people who’ve made it. Surprisingly, he himself never mentions his love of animals as a reason he became a scientist—and only one of the profilees lists “most importantly, a love of animals” as the need for doing his or her job well. More common constants would appear to be management skills, knowledge of relevant regulations, ambition, a well-developed sense of humor, and lots of tolerance.

Clearly the magazine for all the businesses who make money from the exploitation of animals in laboratories (the magazine is almost 60 percent advertising), Lab Animal is upbeat and concerned to put a positive, welfarist spin on its use of animals. Dr. Wolfle himself recognizes “many would support the desire to replace animals with nonanimal systems” and suggests that the “dialogue” between animal protectionists and “scientists and animal care personnel” is “an important part of animal research and contributes to the strength of the enterprise and to the public’s understanding and support.” This emphasis on communication, on a positive, upbeat message I fancy is part and parcel of selling animal research to a squeamish public.

All of this is perhaps unsurprising: no magazine which provides the “resources” for the gruesome things inflicted upon science’s unwilling subjects would dare show what its smiling, clean and hygenic humans, animals and equipment are actually involved in. Nevertheless, Lab Animal fills me with unease—one more insidious and disturbing than even it perhaps imagined. By so ostentatiously playing on my concern for animals and the natural attraction I (along with most other human beings) have toward cute looking creatures, not only is Lab Animal effectively saying, “Don’t worry. The animals are in good hands. We love them”; it is also saying, “The same impulses you have to care for animals exist in those who are going to hurt and kill them on your behalf. Not only are we as ‘good’ as you, but you are as ‘bad’ as us.” I have no doubt that the people who are involved in these projects are “good” people—concerned, in their own perhaps blinkered way, as we all are, with balancing one’s need to get on in the world with one’s need to be a “good person,” that difficult, rare phenomenon. But in the perversion and inversion of concerns about animal welfare, in the “flattening out” of the “good” in the happy, hygenic world of Lab Animal, I cannot help but feel that something wicked this way comes.

Martin Rowe


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