Alternatives offered to animal euthanasia

Tomy Hillers

Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine was the target of controversy last month when students protested the lack of alternatives to animal dissection.

According to an article in the Daily Evergreeen, the university refused to offer alternatives to labs in which students have an ethical opposition to working on animals.

While the issue has been discussed at Iowa State as well, ISU faculty members said students have options when a moral question is raised by participating in the euthanization of healthy animals in the process of demonstrational surgical procedures.

Each year, one-third of approximately 30,000 stray or abandoned animals are adopted, but the remainder are euthanized, said Chris Brown, professor and chair of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

“The animals used in our classes are dogs which have been held for the appropriate time at a pound,” Brown said. “They are then scheduled to be euthanized by the pound at which time they are brought to ISU and provide a learning function in our surgery classes before they are euthanized.”

Brown said many are also used after surgery to teach first-year anatomy students.

Special care is taken to assure humaneness during the entire procedure.

“The animals are given a pre-anesthetic agent followed by an intravenous anesthetic agent,” Brown said. “Once anesthetized, they are connected to a gas anesthetic machine, which maintains the anesthesia for the duration of the procedure.”

The animal is then euthanized without regaining consciousness, Brown said.

Students who are ethically opposed to these procedures have the option of alternative classes in which hands-on surgery is still practiced, yet different surgical procedures are demonstrated.

“These are run at the same time as the regular classes, and involve spays and neuters on animals from humane societies,” Brown said. “The preparation and anesthetic procedures are similar to the regular classes, but the surgical procedures are limited to the reproductive tract.”

After their recovery, the animals are returned to the adoption agency, Brown said.

“Our fourth-year students spay and neuter over 400 dogs and cats for humane societies,” Brown said. “This program and the alternative surgery program further emphasize to our students the important aspects of population control in the pet population.”

Brown said the surgical experience is necessary to graduate because, unlike undergraduates in human medicine, veterinary students must be surgically competent upon graduation.

The faculty will work with those who have concerns to find an alternative program which meets the educational goals of the program, and does not compromise the student’s beliefs and values, Brown said.

“To date, all student concerns have been addressed by the alternative program,” Brown said.

Eric Olson, senior in veterinary medicine, said he has been enrolled in both types of courses.

Olson said becoming good at surgery takes time and the alternative courses show most of the basic techniques, while giving hands-on tissue handling experience needed in any type of surgery.

“My feeling is that the alternative courses offered are adequate in building a basic foundation of surgical techniques,” he said.

“Plus, it’s a good option for students who feel that they are not comfortable with the euthanization of healthy animals.”