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Tag: biomedical

Utah labs cease use of shelter animals

The University of Utah has announced that it will no longer purchase dogs and cats from North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) — or any other animal shelter — for use in medical experiments.

The decision was praised by PETA, which has waged a lengthy campaign against the practice.

“PETA is thrilled for the dogs, cats and people of Utah now that the University of Utah has stopped using animal shelters as dirt-cheap sources of living lab equipment, marking the complete end of pound seizure in the state,’’ said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president for laboratory investigations.

Until last year, animal shelters in Utah were required to sell cats and dogs in their custody to the university under a practice known as pound seizure. A change in state law made it voluntary for shelters to participate. The North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, however, continued to supply animals for research in the belief that it was helping to ease human suffering and advance medical knowledge.

NUVAS sold the university about 100 dogs and cats a year, Director Tug Gettling told the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The practice, over the years, saw hundreds of former pets and strays sacrificed for purposes of medical experimentation — though not all that were used in experiments were killed.  Last year, a pet owner who turned her dog, Sheena (above) over to the shelter was shocked to learn — when she called to see if she had been adopted — that the dog had been sold to the university for experimentation. Later, with help from PETA, she launched a successful campaign to get the dog back from the university and into an adoptive home.

According to the Tribune, the decades-old practice of buying animals from shelters was halted by the university in mid-January.

Thomas Parks, the university’s vice president for research, said the decision was aimed at bringing an end to the campaign against the shelter by animal welfare advocates. Parks said the university will instead obtain dogs bred for laboratory use by certified breeders — a costlier but less controversial method.

PETA’s Guillermo said she hoped the added cost of specially bred animals would lead the university to seek alternatives to using live animals in its experiments.

Parks said employees at the non-profit municipal shelter “have been suffering a lot of harassment” and that the shelter has received thousands of hostile emails and phone calls, several bomb threats and at least three public protests.

A Salt Lake Tribune investigation a year ago found that about 60 percent of all shelter animals the shelter provided to the university between 2007 and 2009 were killed after being experimented on, while the rest entered an adoption program.

Cruella’s cruel fate

When a German shepherd mix was found wandering in Carson City, Michigan, it was clear form the purple collar and chain she wore that she was somebody’s pet.

But before the year was out, she was a laboratory animal — getting probed, operated on and tested at the University of Florida.

According to the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which documented the dog’s case as part of its recent investigation into use of dogs and cats at American colleges and universities, what happened to her happens hundreds of times a year.

When she was picked up, she had no ID tags. She was deemed a stray and taken to Montcalm County Animal Control. There, she resided in pen No. 20, unclaimed by owners, unadopted by a new family.

Then R&R Research stopped by. A class B animal dealer, R&R purchased the dog and others, nmed her E6993, and ensured she would never be anybody’s pet again. The process is known as “pound seizure and it is banned in 13 states, including Maryland.

She remained at R&R for 6 months, likely spending most of her time in a cage with little or no human companionship. Her next stop was the University of Florida, which bought the dog from R&R.

Class B dealers are licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to buy animals from “random sources” and sell them to animal research facilities for biomedical research, testing, and educational purposes. “Random sources” include auctions, flea markets, animal shelters, or pretty much anywhere else that agrees to deal with them. Their numbers have dwindled in the face of criticism and new laws, but as of this year, there are still 11 Class B dealers selling dogs and cats to research institutions in the United States.

After traveling more than 1,000 miles with 13 other dogs, E6993 was named Cruella by veterinary students at the University of Florida. During her seven months there, she was sedated or anesthetized 7 times, often for hours at a time, and used in medical training procedures, including endoscopy, abdominal surgery, and ultrasound exercises, by both veterinary students and veterinarians.

Cruella also underwent surgery with the intention to spay her, but it was discovered, after her abdominal cavity was opened, that she was already spayed, further pointing to the fact that she was once someone’s pet.

After that, Cruella began experiencing a loss of appetite. It’s unclear whether her problem was kennel stress, the continued isolation, or the many procedures and probes she underwent.

On July 23, 2008, 195 days after her arrival at the University of Florida and over a year after she was found in Michigan, Cruella was killed by lethal injection.

(Illustration — not Cruella — courtesy of Last Chance for Animals)

Will service robots replace service dogs?

It’s not exactly huggable, but researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have engineered a robot that they say can perform all the duties of service dogs, and more.

“Service dogs have a great history of helping people, but there’s a multi-year waiting list. It’s a very expensive thing to have. We think robots will eventually help to meet those needs,” said Professor Charlie Kemp, of the Georgia Tech Department of Biomedical Engineering.

They could also be cheaper, Kemp says, costing a fraction of the $16,000 it takes, on average, to breed and train a service dog.

And, even better, it can do all that without getting distracted by food, seeking affection or relieving itself.

At 5 feet, 7 inches, with wheels and prongs instead of paws and a tail, “El-E” (pronounced “Ellie”) doesn’t look anything like a real dog, smell anything like a real dog, or act anything like a real dog.

But the focus of the project is to duplicate the helpful physical actions of service dogs, such as opening doors, drawers and retrieving medication — not the emotional support they bring (at no added charge) to their owners.

Kemp presented his findings this week at the second IEEE/RAS-EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics – BioRob 2008 – in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The robot service dog responds to verbal commands, issued in conjunction with use of a laser pointer. If a person needs an item fetched, that individual would issue a command and aim a laser pointer at the desired item.

Kemp and graduate student Hai Nguyen worked closely with the team of trainers at Georgia Canines for Independence (GCI) in Acworth, Ga. to research the interaction between individuals and service dogs, according to a report in Science Daily.

“The waiting list for dogs can be five to seven years,” said Ramona Nichols, executive director of Georgia Canines for Independence. “It’s neat to see science happening but with a bigger cause; applying the knowledge and experience we have and really making a difference. I’m so impressed. It’s going to revolutionize our industry in helping people with disabilities.”

In total, the robot was able to replicate 10 tasks and commands taught to service dogs at GCI – including opening drawers and doors, according to the Science Daily article. Other successes included opening a microwave oven, delivering an object and placing an item on a table.

“As robotic researchers we shouldn’t just be looking at the human as an example,” Kemp said. “Dogs are very capable at what they do. They have helped thousands of people throughout the years. I believe we’re going to be able to achieve the capabilities of a service dog sooner than those of a human caregiver.”

Kemp got started on the project after his wife brought home an energetic goldendoodle named Daisy about a year and a half ago.

Ultimately, Kemp and co-researchers plan to train El-E to do things not even highly skilled service dogs can do, such as dial a cellphone for help or relay information about its companion’s condition to a doctor.

“A lot of people have looked at robot dogs for entertainment and companionship,” Kemp said. “But we said, ‘Hey, what about looking at this in terms of physical assistance?'”