Bodies of US Dogs Sold to UK Universities Raises Ethical Questions

Cruelty Free International recently discovered that three UK veterinary medical colleges -the universities of Cambridge and Nottingham and the Royal Veterinary College - are using dead US dogs supplied by a commercial US company to teach dissection.

This is strange and troubling.

While using the bodies of deceased dogs (known as cadavers) in veterinary training is not uncommon, it is possible for universities to ensure that they only use the bodies of dogs who have died of natural causes, or were euthanized to prevent suffering. However, such assurances are difficult if not impossible to obtain, if universities are importing dogs from halfway around the world and dealing with US commercial biological supply companies that in turn are dealing with multiple animal shelters throughout the United States (and possibly Mexico) to obtain dogs and cats for their commercially sold cadavers.

In the US, stray, lost and abandoned dogs from municipal animal shelters can be supplied alive or dead to laboratories and universities for experiments and teaching purposes. Some states now prohibit the transfer of live animals for experiments and testing but the sale of dead animals for such purposes is not typically regulated at the state or local level. While the number of days an animal must be held prior to being killed varies, a 5-day holding period is standard and it is regrettably not uncommon for dogs to be killed for "resource or space" reasons.

Biological supply companies in the United States are regulated by the USDA as "class B" dealers, but the shelters that supply animals to biological supply dealers are not. Municipal shelters are regulated by state and local laws that can differ widely in quality, scope, and enforcement.

Profiting from the sale of animal bodies can create a conflict of interest that can detract from the life-saving mission of the shelter. The economic conflict of interest goes beyond the price paid for the animal bodies, it also includes in the cost savings that may be realized by killing a dog rather than providing housing and any veterinary care or behavioral training that may be needed.

Many reputable animal shelters choose not to sell the bodies of euthanized animals to biological supply dealers even though it is typically legal to do so. Those that do, usually keep this fact hidden from the public and, for good reason; Class B dealers have notoriously shady reputations. Shelters that do business with such dealers risk losing the public trust.

Cruelty Free International has called on Cambridge University, the University of Nottingham and the Royal Veterinary College to stop using imported US dogs as cadavers and instead join other veterinary schools by adopting an ethical policy.

There are many veterinary schools throughout the world including those in the UK, Canada, and United States that employ a combination of highly effective inanimate alternatives, including simulations, models and actual animal patients in a clinical setting with beneficial sterilization surgery on live dogs who are then adopted into permanent homes.

Even when real dog cadavers are used they can be ethically sourced as many well-respected veterinary schools around the world do. For a cadaver to be considered ethically sourced, the dog must have died naturally or if killed, the dog must have been euthanized to prevent suffering from a terminal or intractable illness or injury.

Ensuring that cadavers are ethically sourced requires a transparent and close working relationship between the university and the primary source of the animals prior to their death. It is counter intuitive to think that such a relationship could possibly exist between a university and a supplier in a different country, especially when no direct line of communication or accountability exists between the university and the municipal animal shelters which are the primary source of the dogs. After all, should there not be a fostering of reverence for life in those aspiring to be veterinarians. It is, therefore, inconsistent that veterinary medical schools are importing the bodies of shelter dogs who have been killed possibly for no reason other than that their five days are up and no-one has come forward to adopt them.

Please send an email to the University of Cambridge, urging them to stop the import of US shelter dogs.