Wrapped around the corner of a pharmaceutical company’s research facility is what looks like a dog run. The chain link pen is forty feet long and floored in gravel. The adjacent building once housed laboratories and animal subjects for experimentation, so coworkers agreed with me, it was a dog run. We never actually saw dogs in it, or poop in the gravel, but I assumed that among the company’s procedures were directions to let the dogs run and poop and then pick up the poop, probably while it was still warm. “We aren’t using dogs,” said one lab worker, “but they probably used them at one time.” It was comforting when weeds sprouted in the untrod gravel, testimony that we no longer used dogs. The company makes radioactive medical products that diagnose diseases. I mention this to make clear we weren’t using animals to test cosmetics or breakfast cereals or house paint. Lives were really being saved.
I was a librarian; I never saw any animals and I didn’t want to. I read about them in papers written by our scientists. We experimented on guinea pigs, mini-swine, rats, mice, and rabbits, all specifically bred for experimentation. They would typically be fed the notorious Western Diet to clog their arteries, then we tested how well our products imaged those clogs. These animals were all kept in a vivarium, a section of the building devoted to biological studies, with very limited access. Then I learned one day that we would, in fact, be using dogs when a scientist resigned to avoid a project that required dogs. Her fellows considered her a poor scientist for flinching at sacrificing canines, as if they weren’t also conflicted.
Sacrifice: that is the word science employs to make experimenting on, then killing, an animal more tolerable. The killing is necessary as much of the scientific data comes from detailed autopsy. Sacrificing certainly sounds nobler than killing, but it implies a conscious mind that can make a difficult decision. There is evidence that a dog will give its life to save a human. Perhaps it would be more tolerable if dogs understood the scientific method and could consent? The justification for animal experimentation is that we are living longer, thanks to sacrificed animals. That’s the trade-off. Most of us are uncomfortable with it, but most of us acquiesce.
So, the dog run. One day, more recently, I was talking to a long-time employee and I mentioned the dog run. “That’s not a dog run,” he said.
Remember, this company makes products from radioactive materials. The isotopes half-lives (their life span) was hours, not years, but they still could burn through a brick wall. Inside the building, in that corner, was a hot lab. If one stood outside in the dog run with a Geiger counter, it would be clicking. The dog run was actually an enclosed hot spot, and the chain link enclosure was to protect humans from radioactivity.
So, was that better? Where did the dogs run? Nowhere.