For decades, veterinary students at the University of Missouri operated on live dogs. Then they euthanized them.
That will end this summer.
Now it’s the pigs’ turn.
The MU College of Veterinary Medicine is phasing out the use of live dogs to teach surgeries such as spaying and neutering. The change, the school says, is intended to acknowledge that people look at farm animals differently from Fido.
It’s because, a university spokeswoman said, “of the sensitivity.”
“People perceive that surgeries being done on companion animals are worse than on other animals like swine,” said Mary Jo Banken, university spokeswoman.
It doesn’t hurt, she added, that pigs are cheaper.
Banken said she suspects that MU has used live dogs to teach surgeries — it’s perfectly legal — ever since the vet school existed on the Columbia campus.
“It’s been a practice for as long as there have been veterinary colleges,” she said.
Officials at the university’s veterinary college declined to discuss the practice, referring all calls to Banken.
An official at the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges declined to comment on this issue. Instead, he referred to the association’s policy on the use of animals in training.
The policy of AAVMC, which includes MU, says live animals should be used for instructional purposes that result in their death only “at the minimum level necessary to meet the educational objectives. … Using live animals should be critical to the training program, and only when no reasonable alternatives to live animal use exist.”
The use of live animals in science has made some colleges and universities the subjects of protests from animal-rights organizations.
Other vet schools in the region, including Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said they do not use live dogs in training that ultimately leads to euthanizing the animals.
The dogs MU has purchased for surgeries were raised “specifically for this purpose,” Banken said. She said 117 dogs were put down after student-performed surgeries at MU last school year. The pigs the school will buy also will have been raised for teaching purposes at vet schools.
Banken said the school has been in the process of phasing out the practice for nearly three years.
“But it takes a while,” she said. “We have to buy new lab equipment,” arrange shipping and designate a place to keep the pigs before the surgeries begin.
The third-year students in the school’s surgery and anesthesiology lab class, where the surgeries are done, are not forced to operate on live animals that they know will be killed afterward, Banken said. They have the option of using cadavers instead. But, she said, operating on live animals is “just more realistic.”
This year, as a new training effort, MU partnered with the Central Missouri Humane Society to give students practice in spaying and neutering dogs and cats.
Those operations are done free for the Humane Society in Columbia. That frees up money for other community animal services, and it’s easier to find adoptive homes for spayed and neutered dogs, said Humane Society shelter coordinator Colin LaVaute.
LaVaute said the Humane Society “honestly did not know” about the school’s live-dog surgeries and euthanasia practice before entering into the spay/neuter partnership.
“Our partnership has nothing to do with the university’s other practice,” LaVaute said.
But he said the Humane Society does consider it “necessary for veterinary school students to get hands-on experience using live animals.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we are really happy about the opportunity for the shelter and the university to be able to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship.”