SAEN LogoTear At The Jacket - Essays From SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

Tear At The Jacket
By Michael Budkie

I don’t want to write this. I’ve known about it for months. I’ve known that it had to be done. No one else can do this and it has to be done. No one else knows.

Finding the truth has a price. Knowledge can be power, but it can also be pain. But mainly knowledge carries with it responsibility. The responsibility can be shirked for awhile, but it can’t be escaped forever.

Sometimes there is a name; usually there is at least a number, or some identification. But sometimes all identity is lost.

The Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University (MCV) is one of many laboratories that use rhesus monkeys in drug addiction experiments. One of the projects at MCV is among the oldest in the U.S. – dragging on for 30 consecutive years and currently squanders over $400,000 per year.

According to USDA reports filed by MCV, the rhesus monkeys used in this experiment suffer from unrelieved pain and distress because they often experience the throes of drug withdrawal. Yet, this is not the only agony that they endure.

Internal documents from MCV reveal that these innocent animals experience such severe stress that they often become self-abusive. Rhesus monkey M1390 endured a lifetime of suffering at MCV:

Arrived years ago and from the beginning had difficulty adjusting to the lab. Throughout the years several attempts were made to address his behavior problems using enrichment and various experimental protocols. He would show improvement for a period but would return to bouts of stereotypic behavior including aggression and self injurious behavior. Due to recent indications that his behavior had worsened, the PI opted to remove the animal from study and request euthanasia.

Others have less detailed descriptions. Monkey 1463 died on December 28, 2007, “nose was pressed into his face may have died from suffocation.”

These two monkeys are not the only ones that suffered at this lab, but the others have been robbed of the minimal uniqueness of a name or number. In their quest for secrecy the officials of this lab removed many details from the documents which describe the animals whose lives play out inside MCV’s cages. I can tell you what happened, and even when, but I can’t say where or to whom. The statements which are scattered through the pages of these monkeys’ lives are unidentified and so apply to either none of these primates, or to all of them. I can’t say which.

The words used to describe one primate: “cage is covered, lots of banging, chewing on Jacket. Gums bleeding. Startles very easily.” Other phrases are no less disturbing: “took too much amphetamine agitated.” The seemingly endless days of addiction experimentation roll on for one monkey: “12/1 not working well, 12/3 not working well, 12/10 plucking on arm; 12/11 plucking on arm not working well; 12/12 pump malfunctioning dripping onto monkey; 12/18 not eating; 12/19 not eating; 12/20 not eating.” And the records for another animal are no less troubling: “12/3 threw up; 12/4 agitated during drug session; 12/6 loose in cage, zipper broken 12/7 loose in cage again no IV line sedated, throwing up post sedation; 12/10 plucking tail.”

These words do not fully describe the kind of life that primates should have. There are no trees. There is no sunshine. There is no play, no companionship, no real life. These things have been replaced by addiction and suffering. Intelligent, sensitive animals have been reduced to the status of laboratory apparatus. They have been made into devices to measure the effects of addictive drugs.

How do these animals react to this insanity that we have visited upon them? How do they respond to losing everything that is natural to them? What do they do when trees, leaves, and sunshine are replaced by stainless steel, fluorescent lights, and IV catheters? Natural plant foods are replaced by monkey chow. Natural sources of water like lakes and streams are replaced by automatic watering systems. And the most unnatural aspect of this environment is the jacket that these animals are forced to wear. This device is used to protect the apparatus that delivers the addictive drugs. How do they react?

“Hair plucked from side of head . . . again plucking hair on head . . . keeping head and side of neck plucked bald.” “Banging, shaking cage, tearing at jacket. . . . Ripping jacket.” The picture that these words conjure up is an animal that is raging against the cage, fighting the pain, not giving up. This monkey is still trying to end the suffering. This animal still has hope.

Not all are so lucky. Years of confinement can break the spirit of even the strongest. When addictive drugs like amphetamines are forced upon these victims, their minds are distorted beyond a point of no return. They lose their minds, their will to fight, they lose hope. They have nothing left. The words that describe these animals are quieter, less fierce, inactive. They have surrendered.

“Holding tail and lying down. . . . Holding tail and lying down. . . . Still holding tail. . . . Lying down. . . . Lying down. . . . Lying down.” There is no hope here, no will to live, no fierceness. Life continues without living. We have taught them despair, misery, desolation and hopelessness. We have shared our mental illnesses with them. The only thing that we haven’t taught them is suicide. I suppose that we want to ensure that their suffering is inescapable.

We have visited our self-abuse on them and now they return it to us. Their psyches are so deprived, their suffering is so absolute, their minds so tortured that we have even destroyed their ability to move. “Holding tail and lying down.” They try vainly to give themselves some comfort. They hold onto the only thing available to them that is not artificial – themselves. This is abject victimhood.

Now you know. This information, these horrible words, these terrifying facts all come from one lab in Virginia. This lab is not unique. Monkeys – rhesus, squirrel monkeys and others are subjected to the throes of these and other addictive drugs at Harvard, Wake Forest, McLean Hospital, University of Michigan, on and on and on. Tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of monkeys, decades of despair.

And now we have something in common – you and I. We have a choice to make. Which monkey will you be? Either choice could be justified. Action or desolation, anger or depression, giving up or fighting back. We can either lie on the floor or we can tear at the jacket.

Knowledge has a price. The choice is not easy. These words are painful. The images that they conjure can sap your will. They can bring up rivers of tears. They can drown your soul in waves of desolation. We can become another set of victims, shipwrecked in our pain for these animals. But desolation will not empty these cages. Despair will not lead to freedom. Anguish will not result in liberty.

But anger will. Tear at the jacket.

If you can only write, send letters to the people who visit this pain on these animals. You have a right to express your opinion, because your tax dollars pay for these experiments. Demand that the experiments end. Insist that the funding be directed to clinical research. If you need to do more – protest. Organize activists to take to the streets. The vivisectors that perpetrate these abuses do not enjoy seeing their names on picket signs. If you can do more, do so. Investigate labs, find the truth, and expose it. Speak up. Be a voice for the animals. Give voice to their suffering, and the pain that it brings to you.

The choice is yours. Cling to hope or give up. Fight for what is right, or allow the suffering to spread. Stand on the sidelines or take to the streets.

Lie down, or tear at the jacket.

Your donation will help us to continue fighting for the freedom of these animals!

If you want to help us save primates from this kind of torture, please join us as we fight for the freedom of all non-human primates, and all animals in laboratories. Write letters, send emails, organize protests – express your outrage in whatever way you can. All of us that care must act, for we are their only hope.

Read more Essays