August 10, 2009

Ethics and Use Of Animals In Research, Testing & Teaching

Each year we teach around 120 students about animal care and veterinary nursing.  This picture is taken in our main teaching classroom, of Steph, our past student and current vet nurse technician,  in charge of running classes and maintaining the welfare of all the animals in our care. Her lovely dog, Milly, is a regular attendee at our classes. I don't suppose most people think about it much, but ensuring the well being of the animals we care for during the training is an issue we have to be transparent about all the time.

The Animal Welfare Act of 1999 governs how we use animals for research, testing and teaching (RTT) in New Zealand. The passing of this law marked a major milestone in the development of New Zealand's animal welfare system and apparently includes some of the world's most progressive and comprehensive animal welfare law. It took effect from 1 January 2000.

The main reason for the Act is the obligation to care for animals. Although it outlines penalties for ill-treatment of animals, there is greater emphasis on prevention by clearly establishing the obligations of those responsible for the care of animals. The needs of animals take note of the internationally recognised five freedoms:
  • proper and sufficient food and water
  • adequate shelter
  • the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • physical handling in a way which minimises the likelihood of unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
  • protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, any significant injury or disease.
As well, there is an explicit reference to promoting efforts to reduce the number of animals used, refine techniques, and where possible replace animals with non-living alternatives. In teaching and research, this is known as “the 3 Rs”.
 It is an offence to use live animals in research, testing and teaching unless:

    • a person (including an organisation) has an approved code of ethical conduct (CEC) or works for a person who holds an approved CEC and
    • individual projects are approved by an Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) and carried out in accordance with any conditions imposed
  • The term “research, testing and teaching” covers any research, testing or teaching that involves the “manipulation” of any animal.
As a training provider, we consider any animals in our care as pets, and do no research or testing, but a manipulation can be as simple as asking students to bring their own pets to the classroom, particularly cats, as it involves a level of stress. We have strict guidelines to demonstrate how we will minimise their stress and avoid individual overhandling of any of the animals.

What we can do is to make use of replacement methods.

So we use stuffed toys to start their skills:

"Dog bandaging practice"

A fake breathing cat fits the bill for an expo on pet products :)
We use models for anatomy training - 
Plastic models that come to pieces like a 3d jigsaw... expensive but durable, 
 or moulded rubber 
 A real cat that is freeze dried ( yes, you can buy them...) 
I guess better to use one for hundreds of students than a real cat.
We can also use online demonstrations...
Sometimes we run carefully supervised teaching sessions with our own pets...Jess and Saffy loved these sessions, but I haven't used Saff since she was so ill.

Sometimes we have trouble telling which is the dog and which is the student :)

One are of concern has always been how often can you examine an animal, and obviously, it can vary with their temperament.... but we know that our students need to improve and learn their practical skills.

So we work out alternatives. The latest one we want to try is a technique for taking cat and dog rectal temperatures!Apparently, when placed in warm water, these "water wigglers" make perfect substitutes for the real thing!!!
  Water wigglers.....

Finally, I had to share this twitter from Stephen Fry today - doing his bit for ethics and animal on it to see the original and read the fine print.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic


  1. I admire you, it makes me sick just looking at plastic and or frozen cats!
    I adore Stephen Fry, His big cock thing too!!!! XXX

  2. I love the skinless cat - it reminds me of a fascinating exhibition I saw by Gunther von Hagens! :-)

  3. I wish the rest of the world would follow your lead!

    As for how often one can examine an animal, I have a problem when we take Bacchus to WSU. While it is a teaching institution and I understand the need for students to get first hand experience, there is only so much an old, sick dog wants to tolerate. Fortunately for all, he is a Saint!

  4. Ro... check out my friend Antler's blog...

    and poor Bacchus...
    we hear about dogs being examined by 15 students in some places... too much usually. Hopefully minus the thermometer!

  5. As the owner of ex-racing greyhounds this is a subject dear to my heart. As you will probably know, these beautiful (but sadly overproduced and 'disposable') dogs were used extensively to teach anatomy in veterinary schools - at least, they were over here. Killed, dissected, disposed of. Hundred and hundreds of them. They still use greys as live examination models and blood donors, for which they are well suited. The donors are adopted out after a period of service these days, and greyhounds are well used to being examined and prodded during their racing days.

    So it's very good to see the alternatives now being used to - if not dispense with the need for live animals, at least vastly reduce the numbers.

    Thanks for that!

  6. I saw the stuffed animal with all the bandages and I thought "Oh, poor dog!" and then I realized it was stuffed. I'm such a dope.

  7. I absolutely love the skinless model of the to view mazing muscles etc. Caitlin loves those sorts of diagrams and models.
    I enjoyed this post Fi....thoughtful.
    I guess not 'overhandling' is the key..........i even noticed that when shifting and flying the cats. They came to us for cuddles when ready....they seemed to need time to themselves.
    Some people are very good at reading an animals behaviour and body language..i think little Molly is very good at this. she has natural empathy for our pussy cats. Recognises their needs and moods well before the rest of us often.
    Hey i even think babies respond to a certain amount of handling but very soon make it clear when enough is enough.

  8. Thanks everyone

    Jay - sadly that attitude is voiced here too... and although we have an excellent Hounds for Homes programme,
    who meet very near our home, and that I featured on tv when I had a local slot on a show last year, I have also heard about some of them being put to sleep so that procedures can be performed.
    I guess some have problems that make rehoming a challenge... but I can't bring myself to use them in our teaching!!

    Jaz - we have a cow too - and they all pull apart and you can put the innards back in place... super cool. The cat cost is NZ$700... no idea what the cow cost, but it has been up there since before I started 11 years ago so they are a great investment.
    My next big purchase is a great new vet programme
    See it at


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