Let me start out by saying that I am not a fan of animal research, particularly in vanity industries like the cosmetics business. But at this point, animal research is a reality — and you’ve got to admit that organizations like the Winn Feline Foundation pretty much have to use cats in order to develop treatments and cures for illnesses that affect our feline companions.
Even though animal research is a reality, scientists do have choices about where they get the cats used for their studies. To the delight of animal activists everywhere, beginning in October 2012, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health will no longer be allowed to acquire cats from Class B dealers.
Let me explain how the animal dealer business works. Class A dealers are individuals who breed animals specifically for research, while Class B dealers are licensed by the US Department of Agriculture to resell animals they didn’t breed themselves. That means they can buy animals from municipal pounds, hobby breeders, or other licensed dealers, and “condition” them (whatever that means) before they sell them to researchers.
Animal rights activists have complained for years that some unscrupulous Class B dealers have abused animals by providing inadequate housing and veterinary care.
Although cats account for an infinitesimal percentage of animals used in biomedical research in the U.S. — about 0.08 percent in 2010 — and cats procured from Class B dealers accounted for about 1 percent of those, that’s still about 1 percent too much if the animals are neglected and abused before they get to the research labs.
The National Institutes for Health prohibition only applies to researchers who receive grants from that organization, but I hope that decision moves other granting agencies to take similar measures.