President of NEAVS
Attendees at MRFRS Annual Meeting
By Kathleen Downey
“It takes a lot of compassion and soul to see suffering. And it takes commitment and strength to do something about it.” These eloquent words belong to Dr. Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Antivivisection Society (NEAVS). Capaldo was the guest speaker at the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society (MRFRS) 2011 annual meeting, held last month at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
A psychologist, Capaldo addressed the roomful of “cat people” with her message of compassion and humane science. Explaining that a reverence for life underlies NEAVS’s philosophy, Capaldo educated, captivated, and inspired attendees through her persuasive presentation. She clearly affirmed NEAVS’s dedication to “ending the egregious suffering that animals go through” as research subjects. Replacing the dubious scientific practice of vivisection with superior science will spare the lives of animals—and save the lives of people, Capaldo asserted. “We are often asked why we are so committed to getting animals out of laboratories . . . when we should be caring about people,” Capaldo shared. “But in addition to our ethical and humane reasons for helping animals, compelling scientific reasons tell us that animal experimentation is not necessary and is counterproductive to the benefit of human health.”
Capaldo outlined NEAVS’s strategy for dismantling the bad science of vivisection. In order to create recognition for animals as sentient beings, “We must first overcome the species barrier,” Capaldo told attendees. Like humans, she said, “Animals also deserve legal and ethical protection.”
Mandating non-animal alternatives would ban inferior, inhumane tests such as the LD50 (for which, Capaldo said, superior humane alternatives already exist). The LD50, Capaldo explained, is intended to reveal a chemical’s toxicity levels through which 50 percent of the animals will die as the result of the applied or ingested lethal dosage. She instructed her audience to think of a popular brand of insect repellant. When half the animal test subjects die from ingesting the insect repellant, Capaldo explained, its toxicity level will have been determined and will be reflected through product labeling. One audience member quipped, “Can’t we just tell people, “Don’t eat [insect repellant]?” Capaldo told audience members to “Look for the leaping bunny logo on products to know which are cruelty-free.”
Capaldo highlighted NEAVS’s Ethical Science and Education Coalition (ESEC), established to cultivate young scientists for whom humane science and sound science are intertwined. “Students shouldn’t be forced to harm animals as a rite of passage to enter veterinary or medical schools,” she stated. Finally, Capaldo reaffirmed NEAVS’s commitment to “fight science with science”—stressing that there is “no truth” in the claim put forth by the Foundation of Biomedical Research that “Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century . . .” Capaldo used her point of contention to focus on the species who are most like us.
Chimpanzees, Capaldo said, are the victims of “inhumane and bad science.” She told her audience that because chimpanzees are 98 percent genetically like humans, they have made attractive test subjects, particularly for HIV/AIDS research. “But,” Capaldo attested, “their 2 percent genetic difference has a lot to do with how their immune system differs from ours. The result is that of the 85 vaccines developed—none work on people.” She used this distinction as a segue to introduce her audience to an important piece of legislation.
The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R.1513/S.810) (GAPCSA) would end the use of chimpanzees (members of the Great Ape family) in invasive biomedical research. This legislation would also prohibit federal funding for such research, and it would rescue the remaining 1065 chimpanzees languishing in U.S. laboratories and retire them to permanent sanctuaries.
Housing chimpanzees in sanctuaries costs significantly less than keeping them locked in laboratories, Capaldo stated. (To help provide these rescued chimps with lifelong care, NEAVS has created a Sanctuary Fund.) In a twist of irony, an act of legislation called the CHIMP Act prohibits euthanasia of chimpanzees when they are “spent” as research subjects. Capaldo explained that rather than acknowledge the sentient nature of chimpanzees, an inherent but overlooked facet of this legislation, more often scientists choose to keep these great apes locked up. She explained that scientists receive lucrative grant monies toward the chimpanzees’ “housing”: one reason that these scientists are reluctant to release chimpanzees to sanctuaries. But scientists are permitted to use 50 percent of this governmental funding for projects that have nothing to do with the chimpanzees’ care, Capaldo said. “It could be used for painting a hallway,” she offered as an example.
“Ninety percent of the chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories are no longer being used,” Capaldo stated. Science has abandoned them, she said, and these chimpanzees remain confined inside cages, typically 5’X5’x7’—too small for them to fully stretch. In describing the chimpanzees’ solitary, grim living conditions, Capaldo told her audience about one chimpanzee who had been locked inside a cage for 52 years. An audible gasp filled the room. “Yes, everyone reacts that way,” Capaldo answered.
Because chimpanzees are such social creatures, Capaldo said, they suffer depression and anxiety disorders from the abuse they suffer as research subjects. Capaldo offered several stories of chimpanzee individuals. She described the effects of research and confinement upon Jeannie, a chimpanzee who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder because of what she endured as a research subject. And she told the audience about Tom, a chimpanzee who had been subjected to 387 “knock downs”; that is, Tom had been knocked unconscious through use of a dart gun so he could not protest the experiments conducted upon his body. And she talked about the severe damage to psyche for Billy Jo, who had endured 40 punch liver biopsies, 3 open wedge liver biopsies, and other invasive experimentation.
Through its campaign “Project R&R” (Release and Restitution in U.S. Laboratories), Capaldo said that NEAVS is focused on bringing attention, compassion, and empathy to chimpanzees who are still locked inside laboratories and committed to releasing them to sanctuaries through the landmark legislation of GAPA. In the meantime, NEAVS is one of several animal protection organizations (that include The Humane Society of the United States) that have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “uplist” the status of captive chimpanzees from threatened to endangered. Capaldo explained, “Captive chimpanzees who are only listed as threatened [through the Endangered Species Act] are deprived of protections afforded their free-living kin, who are listed as endangered.” The petition decries the exploitation of chimpanzees used for biomedical research and calls their lesser protection “scientifically unjustifiable.” NEAVS’s ultimate goal, however, is the passage of GAPSCA.
Stressing the importance of GAPA, Capaldo said that passage of this act would signify “the first time in history that a species other than humans are free from being used for science.” And, she added, “The species barrier will have been broken.”
Dr. Capaldo will be speaking at the 10:30 a.m. service at the First Religious Society (Unitarian Universalist Church) on Sunday, October 30, 2011.
MRFRS president Stacy LeBaron gave the evening’s opening remarks. LeBaron highlighted the feline organization’s contribution to the Newburyport community since its founding in 1992. Having successfully stabilized the city’s feral cat population, MRFRS has become a role model in helping other communities to do the same. And with the 2008 launching of its mobile veterinary clinic, The Catmobile, MRFRS has sterilized more than 15,000 shelter cats, along with cats belonging to private citizens, throughout the Merrimack Valley communities. A second Catmobile will soon launch and service the Worcester/Metrowest area. This announcement led to LeBaron’s big news of the evening: MRFRS’s upcoming merger with two Metrowest-based companion animal rescue groups: Feline Adoption Rescue Society (FARS) and Second Chance Fund for Animal Welfare (SCFAW).
MRFRS will hold its annual FurBall Fundraiser at the Blue Ocean on Salisbury Beach, Saturday, October 22, 2011, from 6:00 to 10:00 pm.
Kathleen Downey is the Features Editor for Newburyport Today. If you have an idea for a local story, send Kathleen an email at Kathleen@Newburyport-Today.com.
Photo credit: Tom © Fauna Foundation