I guess it was only a matter of time.
http://www.sacbee.com/content/lifest...-7267568c.htmlThey are furry poster children for a controversial cause, and their faces are appearing at a shopping mall near you.
Pookie the diabetic gray cat. Maggie the golden retriever and breast cancer survivor. Buddy the bulldog, healthy after heart surgery. Lucy the orange and white tabby, recipient of a kidney transplant.
These cuddly creatures, declares a national advertising campaign, are alive and well because of drugs, techniques and procedures developed and refined through experiments on cats, dogs and other critters. "Animal Research Saves Animals," concludes the campaign, which is making appearances in Northern California and across the nation in pamphlets, posters, public service announcements and mall exhibits.
The "Survivors" campaign, billed as a public education effort by the Foundation for Biomedical Research, is drawing fire from animal welfare groups that label it misleading and manipulative. Fearing reprisals, a handful of malls around the country, including one in Santa Rosa, have refused the advertisements. Most, including the Galleria in Roseville, have welcomed them, the organization's president said, though the Roseville mall pulled the displays this week without explanation.
"This is a very important message," said Frankie Trull, president of the foundation, which is based in Washington, D.C. "Most people know about the human benefits of animal research but have not thought about the veterinary benefits derived from it. That's what we are communicating.
"But animal activism has been so aggressive in recent years that some malls are refusing to use the displays. It's astounding, really. It's very concerning." Trull said four malls so far have rejected the ads, citing potential controversy around animal rights.
Alan Berger, director of the Animal Protection Institute, a national group based in Sacramento, called the "Survivors" campaign deceptive.
"This foundation is a lobbying and public relations group for companies that engage in animal research," he said of the biomedical group. "They promote the use of animals in medical research, but the truth is that many of the breakthroughs that they are talking about could have been accomplished without the use of animals."
The foundation, in its Web site, describes itself as "the leading voice of scientific reason and medical progress in the ongoing, sometimes violent debate" surrounding animal research. The chairman of its board of directors is Michael DeBakey, a renowned heart surgeon and chancellor of the Baylor University College of Medicine.
The organization touts the progress made in veterinary medicine as a result of animal research, including treatments for hip dysplasia in dogs, the development of drugs to treat feline diabetes and better diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in animals.
Donald Klingborg, associate dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, said it is "absolutely, uncategorically" true that animal research has led to important advances in veterinary medicine. For example, he said, research done on animals at Davis uncovered the cause of a once-fatal heart condition in cats known as cardiomyopathy.
"I was in private practice for 20 years in Merced County, and I saw this condition almost weekly," he said. "We could really do nothing to stop the progress of the disease, and the animals simply weakened and died."
Veterinary scientists at Davis discovered that the cause was an amino acid deficiency that could be eliminated by adding the chemical to commercial pet food. The disease has virtually disappeared, said Klingborg. But to accomplish the breakthrough, researchers had to induce the terrible condition in cats. Dogs, and even humans, may ultimately benefit.
Veterinary researchers at the school now are using former shelter dogs to test a potential vaccine for sterilizing canines, said Klingborg. That research might lead to fewer unwanted dogs and cats, about 20,000 of which are put to death in Sacramento County alone each year.
Klingborg said he was unfamiliar with the "Survivors" campaign. "But if it's factual, and it sounds like it is, I believe it could be an effective educational tool."
Berger disagreed, arguing that the foundation overstates the benefits of animal research. Tens of thousands of animals are used in medical research every year in the United States, in some cases subjected to "torturous" procedures, he said, yet few of these experiments lead directly to important advances.
"I couldn't tell you that no medical progress has ever been made from using animals in research," he said. "But I have real doubts as to whether researchers really need to use them. I believe that if we really made an effort to develop different testing protocols, we could completely eliminate the use of animals." Many procedures can be just as effectively tested on human tissues and in computer models, he said.
While that is true in some cases, Klingborg responded, live animals will always be necessary in medical research.
"We at UC Davis are the world leaders in developing alternatives to the use of animals in research," he said. "But even the most sophisticated computer model cannot mimic" all of the body's complex movements and actions.
On a recent afternoon at the Galleria in Roseville, one of dozens of malls that has featured the research foundation's advertisements in recent weeks, many shoppers breezed past the "Survivors" display without a second glance, drawn instead to the silk teddies and free bra fittings at Victoria's Secret and the cropped jean jackets at Abercrombie & Fitch. Those who took the time to consider the ads had mixed feelings.
"My impression is they are trying to make it seem OK to do research on animals," said Kristen Branton, 30, of Granite Bay, as he studied the display. "But how do we really know that these animals were sick in the first place? I'm not sure I trust it. I would need more hard facts."
Branton and his friend Sam Viele, 24, of Roseville, said they would support using animals in research if the critters were unwanted and otherwise would have been condemned to death at shelters.
"If it's going to die anyway, why not use it to help people and other animals?" Viele asked.
Renee Nichols, 35, visiting from Las Vegas, and Jeanette Page, 35, of Reno, said the campaign intrigued them. But they, too, wanted more information.
"My first reaction is that I don't like the idea of using animals in research, especially stray animals," said Nichols. "But what if it really is saving animal and human lives? What if it's used for the greater good? It does make you think.
"It would be nice if scientists could find other ways to get the answers," said Nichols. "But it's not a perfect world."
The debate will rage no longer at the Galleria. The mall's spokeswoman, Stephanie Ringey, said the "Survivors" posters have been removed after two weeks of display at the mall.
Ringey offered no explanation for the action. The display was not scheduled to be scuttled so soon, she said. But she insisted its disappearance has nothing to do with controversy about animal research.
"This was not in response to anything in particular," said Ringey. "We just made a decision to take it down."