SAEN LogoTolerance - Essays From SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

By Michael Budkie

Please contact the USDA to demand action against
University of Kansas Medical Center.:

Dr. Robert Gibbens,
Director USDA/APHIS/AC 2150 Centre Avenue
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
[email protected] 
(970) 494-7478

According to the annual report filed with the USDA by the University of Kansas Medical Center, this facility experiments on and/or holds captive about 130 primates per year, a relatively small amount. The report which contains this statistic is a bland one page document which belies the cruel reality that it represents.

A cross-section of the lives of these animals is represented by a stack of documents which is just over a foot tall. The existence of these highly intelligent animals has been reduced to so much paper and ink. Their identities represented only by numbers, their passing marked only by the word “euthanized.”

The University of Kansas Medical Center has become known for violating the Animal Welfare Act. In fact, recent inspections for the period from September 2007 to June of 2009 catalogue 58 pages of violations, many of which involve primates and their deaths. The USDA inspectors who wrote these documents uncovered heinous acts of cruelty which prolonged the pain these animals endured. One monkey was allowed to deteriorate so severely that his/her weight dropped by 26.8%, or just over ¼. Another primate, whose skull had been opened to have a recording chamber put into place, did not receive anything close to adequate treatment. These recording chambers can harbor serious bacterial infections which can lead to brain abscesses, and so they are supposed to be cleaned regularly. The chamber of one animal at this facility had not been cleaned for three weeks. It is amazing that s/he was still alive.

Another monkey who died during 2008, #0A0, lost 22% of his body weight, which should have been sufficient to qualify for euthanasia. However, the suffering of this animal was allowed to continue. The USDA report states: “He was sitting curled up on his perch while I was hosing his cage and would make a screeching sound. I gave him a cereal bar, but he was having difficulty picking it up. ...

He is very feeble, he can’t stand on his legs; he scoots. His hand-eye coordination is very bad; he has a pronounced tremble in his hands and has to try several times to grab things. He is doing a lot of grimacing and makes a horrible screeching/chirping noise. ... I know he is scheduled for tomorrow, but I am not sure he will make it that long.”

It is hard to believe that after being cited for such a cruel death that this facility would not alter protocols and procedures to prevent further deaths of this nature from taking place. Apparently this is not the case. Two other primates suffered fates very similar to #0A0 one year later.

Internal records from the University of Kansas Medical Center reveal that a rhesus monkey, #3A5, endured terrible pain on 8/4/2009: “increased agitation and stress from morphine withdrawal.” Other observations from the same day reveal continued agony: “Patient is agitated and vocalizing more. Appears to be more aggressive and keeps moving from perch to floor and back. ... Patient is screeching very loudly when moving and grimacing a lot. Muscle tremors noted along with lying down in cage. ... P.M. (8:00): Severe muscle tremors noted to the point that animal could not control his right leg and started to bite it; no lacerations or punctures noted.”

On the next day he is described as: “... similar to last night, severe muscle tremors when moving, a little ataxia with grimacing and screeching. ... Noon: Patient is doing better, significant tremors still noted, but screeching has decreased, appetite and fluid consumption is good. Face is a little flushed as well as mildly swollen on the right side. Afternoon/evening: Patient is very aggressive. ... Only about 20% of the Gatorade is gone from the a.m. Face is still flushed with possible hives.” On the following day, his torture continues unabated: “P.M. observation: Patient is having increased muscle tremors of legs and arms, will try and bite at feet if a large tremor occurs. No puncture wounds or lacerations noted on feet or legs.”

His record for 8/21/2009 shows that the monkey’s ordeal has continued for seventeen days: “patient with vomit in cage yesterday afternoon and this a.m.” On 8/25/2009, his record states, “Vomit all over cage and floor in front of cage. Food left in cage. ... Right testicle is enlarged and left testicle is very small. Monkey is reserved today and will get up on perch only when approached.” On the next day: “his testicles are swollen, enlarged and scrotum has purplish hue. His eyes are sunken area around eyes are puffy and his pupils are dilated. He appears to be in pain from swollen scrotum. He will only move off of floor of cage with a lot of stimulation. ... PI is consulting ... about options.” By the 27th of August he has deteriorated even further: “Monkey is very subdued and curled up on perch—will only move when stimulated a lot. Eyes are shrunken and dilated. Hair coat is spiked. Testicles are swollen, hard, and scrotum has purplish hue. Monkey did eat his biscuits, but it appeared that he vomited overnight.” #3A5 was apparently killed that day because a necropsy was performed.

Unbelievably, the life of #3A5 was not unique. Another male rhesus monkey, #84Z, suffered in a very similar fate, at about the same time. On 8/4/2009 primate 84Z is: “... screeching a lot, grimacing noted as well. Patient is lying [sic] down in the bottom of the cage and will only move when stimulated. Muscle tremors noted. Appetite is decreased—no biscuits eaten, but has eaten fruit. ... Evening obs (8P.M.): Patient is down in the bottom of the cage laying [sic] on his side, will move when stimulated, but very reluctant. Screeching is excessive and grimacing noted whenever moving; mild muscle tremors noted. Appetite is still decreased, has eaten some of the fruit provided, but no biscuits. He has not touched the Gatorade.”

His misery continues the next day: “A.M. observations: patient is very reluctant to move on stimulation. Once he got up, he screeched once and then fell back over. Moderate muscle tremors noted. Appetite is severely decreased; a couple of biscuits eaten and some fruit. P.M. observation: Patient is sitting up on the floor, but reluctant to move, even when squeeze was used. No screeching noted, but muscle tremors are present and significant.”

On the third day, his nightmare ends: “A.M. Observation: Patient is sitting up this a.m., but still reluctant to move. Face is very red, but screeching was not noted this a.m. Appetite is still decreased with only a small amount of fruit eaten; no biscuits. Noon: Patient is down in cage and not responding to stimulation. Notify PI and continue supportive care. After­noon: PI gave one does of morphine to try and offset withdrawal signs; no progress. Patient is down and only minimally responsive. 10:00 p.m.: Patient is euthanized per PI protocol.”

The symptoms described in these animals are at least partially due to withdrawal from morphine. They may have been subjected to other procedures which could have added to the seriousness of their condition. However, the issue here—the problem—is tolerance. During the process of addicting these animals to morphine, they develop a tolerance to the drug, just as humans do. And so, when their bodies tolerate the drug, when they have developed a physical addiction to the drug, when we have forced morphine to become one of the defining characteristics of their existence, we take it away from them, precipitated crash withdrawal - which can be fatal.

The animals whom have been discussed here are not the only ones who suffer inside the University of Kansas Medical Center. The majority of these captives are described during at least one point of time as losing hair, due to over-grooming. They also often exhibit other abnormal behavior such as circling, pacing, etc. They were not designed to tolerate living in stainless steel cages. Several animals are listed as dying of dehydration.

As I read these documents, I also reach a point of tolerance. I can only psychologically handle so much. Monkeys vomiting all over their cages, too weak to move off the floor onto their perches, suffering from such severe tremors that they can only respond by attacking their own limbs.

It all becomes too much to bear, and I have to walk away. But the real question is, why do we, as a society, tolerate this? Even if we put aside the idea of how difficult it is to generalize from highly stressed psychologically abnormal macaque monkeys to human beings, even if there was some wonder cure to be found, don’t we reach a point, isn’t there a level at which it is just plain wrong? How much suffering are we willing to inflict on other animals, in the quest for a drug, vaccine, or treatment that might work? How utterly self-important are we?

Isn’t there a point where the potential benefits become irrelevant? Can’t we agree that some things are just too wrong, too painful, too difficult even to read—let alone experience—that they should never ever be allowed to happen? The question is, how can we, as a supposedly enlightened society, tolerate this?

If we will not say that some things—no matter what they might bring, are wrong—then we should be honest with ourselves and abolish all laws governing the way that animals are treated in labs. If anything goes, then we should remove the restrictions that we have put in place solely to give our consciences ground upon which to stand. Remove the smoke and mirrors we have put in place to assuage our guilt. Rip away the curtain. Take a good hard look at what we are willing to do. These are the facts and we had better be able to live with ourselves.

But, and I sincerely hope that this is true, if we as a species are willing to say that there are limits which should never ever be crossed, then we must go down a different road. If we actually believe that some things are simply wrong and can never be right, no matter what, then we must make radical changes about the way animals are treated in laboratories.

Some things simply should not be tolerated. Human beings should not perform them, animals should not endure them, and people who care deeply about animals should not have to read them.

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