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University addresses recent concerns over veterinary surgical practices

March 26, 2018

Contact: Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

In recent days, the surgical policies and practices employed by Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in teaching its students have come under scrutiny by members of the animal-rights community. It has been reported by some animal-rights advocates that the university is in the habit of purchasing or self-selecting adoptable dogs from local animal pounds for terminal experimentation.

These statements, however, contain several inaccuracies or misperceptions. The practices for which the university is being criticized are legal, state- and federally-regulated and common practices utilized by veterinary medical schools across the country.

On occasion, the college partners with area impound facilities to euthanize stray, abandoned and runaway animals that have exceeded the holding periods these facilities provide for owners to claim these animals. Alabama Code 3-7A-8 authorizes these facilities to destroy or dispose of these impounded animals when not claimed by their owners within seven days. When these animal-holding facilities find it necessary to euthanize its unclaimed, impounded animals, they contact the college, which in turn carries out the scheduled euthanasia at no charge to the facility or compensation to the university. These facilities attest to making every effort to connect these animals with their owners, which includes scanning for microchips (if present) or any identifying tattoos or marks.

The unfortunate fact is that every year in the U.S., there are over 6.5 million dogs and cats in animal shelters. Of this number, over 65 percent are euthanized after being held for seven to 10 days without being adopted or finding a new owner.

As part of the college’s agreements with animal-holding facilities, veterinary medicine students and faculty socialize, feed and care for these animals prior to their scheduled euthanasia. Animals are fully anesthetized for any teaching procedure that is part of the students’ clinical experience — all the while under the direct supervision of the college’s surgical faculty.

“Our use of animals to prepare the next generation of veterinary practitioners is endorsed by many professional and industry groups that regulate our use of animals as part of our teaching efforts,” said Dr. Ruby Perry, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, who also holds the Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Radiology credential. “These groups, as well as schools of veterinary medicine across the country, regard this type of surgical experience essential to preparing skilled, future veterinarians.”

Among those professional and industry groups is the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), which provides guidance to educational institutions, research facilities, the military and private industries that use animals in research, testing or education. This industry-endorsed guidance recognizes “that animals have an important role in research, testing, and education for continued improvement of human and animal health and welfare,” as well as “that humane care of animals used in research, testing, and education is an integral part of those activities.” To that end, the AVMA endorses the following three principles, to which the College of Veterinary Medicine prescribes:

  • "Replacement of animals with non-animal methods wherever feasible." Although the sources of surgical animals vary from university to university, very few veterinary medicine schools rely solely or chiefly on synthetic or robotic simulation models. For the past two years, College of Veterinary Medicine leaders have sought guidance from peers on non-animal alternatives for its teaching and clinical experiences.
  • "Reduction of the number of animals consistent with sound experimental design." The college’s surgical policies dictate that the animals turned over for euthanasia be operated on in ways that minimize the number of animals required to provide students with the maximum surgical experience they will need as practicing veterinarians.
  • "Refinement of experimental methods to eliminate or reduce animal pain and distress." The college provides each animal with appropriate shelter, food and socialization prior to its scheduled euthanasia. This includes care by trained students, shelter technicians and faculty. Existing medical issues that may affect the comfort of the animal at the time of its acceptance are treated to minimize any pain and distress.

The AVMA also notes that “the judicious use of animals in meaningful research, testing, and education programs” requires proper care and stewardship of all animals and carries with it “unique professional, scientific, and moral obligations, and ethical responsibilities.” As part of those obligations and responsibilities, AVMA policies call for third-party review of the welfare of all animals that are part of a facility’s programs.

The college is guided in these efforts by the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Each university using animals in its teaching, testing demonstration and research is required by federal regulation to have such a committee, which is comprised of faculty, outside industry professionals and laypeople — all deemed qualified by their experience and expertise — to inspect and oversee the institution’s animal program, facilities, procedures and policies. This committee provides regular updates on its practices and procedures to federal agencies that include the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS).

Finally, the AVMA condemns all acts of violence, vandalism or intimidation directed toward individuals, facilities or tertiary organizations affiliated with the use of animals in their research, testing or education efforts.

For more information on the AVMA’s policies on the use of animals in research, testing and education, visit https://www.avma.org/KB/policies/pages/use-of-animals-in-research-testing-and-education.aspx.

The future of animal research at Tuskegee
College leadership already has scheduled a review and discussion of its clinical practices this summer as part of its ongoing discussion. As noted previously by Dean Perry, the college continues to evaluate its use of animals in its veterinary medicine teaching efforts. Converting to a fully synthetic teaching approach would come with its own concerns. First and foremost, veterinary medicine students’ real-world experience would be severely limited, perhaps making them less-prepared for their future post-graduate care of their sick animal patients. Second, it can be costly, with each synthetic model ranging in cost from $25,000 and $50,000. Limited financial resources may restrict access by a class of 20-plus students to one synthetic model — again, impeding the experience these students will require for real-life practice. Finally, the animal-holding facilities that look to the university for its no-cost euthanasia services will become even further plagued by overcrowding and the constraints that will place on their own operations and budgets.

About the College of Veterinary Medicine
As the nation’s only HBCU-based veterinary medical professional program, Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is committed to providing its students and professional partners with an environment that fosters a spirit of active, independent and self-directed learning, intellectual curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, ethics and leadership; and to promoting teaching, research and service in veterinary medicine and related disciplines. The college has educated more than 70 percent of the nation’s African-American veterinarians and is recognized as the most diverse of all 30 schools/colleges of veterinary medicine in the U.S.

© 2018, Tuskegee University