JoAnna Lou
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The Dog Who Sparked an Animal Rights Movement
Slate.com explores the history of protecting animals in medical research.
Arthur and Helena Nersesian sold dogs to medical research in the 1960s.

Today, Slate.com begins a five-part history of animal rights in regards to laboratory testing. The series begins with the heartbreaking story of Pepper, a Dalmation who forever changed the way American science obtains and uses research animals. Pepper sparked a national movement in 1965, when she was stolen from her loving home in Pennsylvania and sold to a New York hospital for cardiology research.

It was extremely difficult to read the article’s descriptions of gruesome animal testing (the opening part in particular made my stomach turn). However, it’s amazing to learn about the humble Pennsylvania farm dog's impact. Many of the politicians and lobbyists involved in Pepper’s story went on to introduce and support the nation’s first animal welfare laws.

Slate.com will publish a new chapter in its series each day through the end of the week. The online magazine is also hosting discussions on their Facebook and Twitter pages that will be periodically visited by the author, Daniel Engber, who will respond to readers.

More than 40 years later, it’s horrifying that dogs continue to be stolen for medical research. While it’s technically illegal for stolen animals to be sold or used in research, it is legal for Class B Dealers to take stray animals from the street. HBO’s Dealing Dogs documents the modern illegal dog trade.

I’m not a proponent of animal testing, but it’s hard to deny that many of today’s medical advances are due in part to thousands of canine martyrs. Pepper herself was a part of a crucial development in cardiology research.

How do you feel about this controversial ethical debate?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo from FindAGrave.com, used with permission from Slate.com.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Kathy Konetzka-Close | June 2 2009 |

The thing with any debate that’s ethical in origin is that the line for what’s okay and what’s not okay needs to be continually revisited and revised. Animal medical research has allowed for nearly every breakthrough in treatment for disease of the human body and continues to do so. Do you know someone who’s diabetic? You can thank animal research for insulin. Pepper, the Dalmation mentioned in the article, is but one of many animals who have given their lives to find treatments/cures for cardiac disease. The list of animals who have died for the cause is long. All of us who love animals as our four legged family members want to believe in a day when animal research will no longer be necessary. As that’s a given, I think the debate comes down to what research is necessary now and how we can assure that the animals who are being used are treated humanely. Also, the medical/scientific community needs to be actively engaged in questioning the necessity of each and every experiment; to investigate if other means of research using computer models and the like might be as equally effective, and to be open to the findings of animal ethicists who tell us that animals have much more capacity for intelligence and emotion than the scientific community at large has ever acknowledged. Animal medical research may still be a necessary evil in our time, but there can be no excuse for the barbarity of the past. We know better; we should certainly do better.

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