Opinion: Veterinarians ensure lab animals are treated humanely in research
I was recently made aware of a letter to the editor (“U-M should be ashamed,” 9/26/10) from Joseph Varilone regarding my role as a veterinarian at the University of Michigan. Mr. Varilone’s attack on my personal integrity was hurtful, to say the least. He states that I should feel shame for what I do, questions my sense of ethics and conscience, and implies that I am cruel toward animals. His comments in his letter demonstrate his ignorance of the veterinary profession and the varied settings in which veterinarians work.
First and foremost, veterinarians believe in the responsible use of animals for human purposes. The most common uses are for food, to produce clothing, and as pets. Animals are also used in education, to perform various types of work for humans (e.g., seeing-eye dogs), and in research.
Not surprisingly then, veterinarians work in all industries in which animals are used. With specific regard to biomedical research, veterinarians have a long history of participation as scientists and as laboratory animal specialists.
By training, I am a laboratory animal veterinarian. Laboratory animal medicine is a specialty area of veterinary medicine and was the third specialty recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the national professional association of veterinarians.
Approximately 1,000 of the 90,000 veterinarians in the United States are engaged in the practice of laboratory animal medicine. Our role in biomedical research is to ensure the humane care, health, and well-being of animals used in research. In essence, we serve as the animals’ advocates within the research enterprise.
Institutions must comply with federal regulations and national standards if they are going to conduct research using animals. Indeed, these regulations and standards require institutions to have veterinarians knowledgeable in laboratory animal medicine and science directing their animal care and use programs. Our activities are wide ranging and include such things as providing clinical veterinary medical care, overseeing animal husbandry programs, serving on institutional committees that review and approve animal use, training research and husbandry personnel, and ensuring institutional compliance with the laws and standards that govern the use of animals in research.
The program at U-M is well developed, with more than twenty veterinarians participating in various capacities. They are joined by dozens of animal technicians, veterinary technicians, and support personnel who provide for the day-to-day needs of animals under our care.
When I took the Veterinarian’s Oath, I swore “to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.” I have dedicated my professional life to meeting those commitments to humans and animals.
As a laboratory animal veterinarian, I not only work to improve animal health and welfare but I am also able to contribute to advances in medicine and science that improve human health and welfare. I am extremely proud of the animal care and use program that our department has implemented at the University. It is precisely because of the dedication and commitment of the animal care professionals with whom I work that the care and welfare of animals used in research has improved so dramatically in the 35 years that I have practiced as a laboratory animal veterinarian.
Howard G. Rush, DVM Ann Arbor