By Dr. Robert G. W. Kirk
Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine
Simon Building 2nd Floor RM 2.71
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL U.K.
Q1. In an earlier interview with Hedy Litke, you explain that a dearth of any scientific understanding of (abnormal) animal behaviour within the veterinary profession during the 1960s led you to a research career. How would you explain the general veterinary disinterest in animal behaviour and the emotional live of animals at this time? What factors made you different?
“As a child during World War 2 I rescued and took home the occasional stray, abandoned and starving dog as well as playing with some neighbours’ dogs, taking them for off-leash explorations in the fields and ponds close to my home. In the process they taught me their body language/non-verbal communication. I began at around age 14 ‘seeing practice’ at a local veterinary practice that treated farm and companion animals. Once I was given the task of caring for a black Labrador dog who was simply kennelled there for boarding but became anorexic and was rapidly losing condition, obviously suffering from owner-separation anxiety/depression. The vets recognized this and it struck me then that addressing the emotional realm of animals was an important aspect of being a veterinarian. By the time I entered veterinary college and became more familiar with the literature on animal diseases and their prevention and treatments I was struck by the paucity of references to emotional parameters and abnormal behaviour other than being an indicator of physical injury or symptomatic of disease. Stress was recognized as an issue, but distress, with its emotional dimension, was often discounted by what I interpreted as a fear of ‘anthropomorphizing’ animals. Instead, I concluded, they were ‘mechanomorphized’, perceived as instinct-driven automata, and I sought to demonstrate otherwise. One of my first efforts, after seeing practice at Brian Singleton’s practice in Knightsbridge, London, described the phenomenon of ‘sympathy lameness’ that was confounding the recovery of some of his canine patients recovering from his pioneering cruciate ligament surgery.”
Q2. Was it unusual for a veterinarian to enter into a research career at this time in the UK? What risks/benefits were involved?
“Yes indeed, but it was sheer coincidence—as a House Surgeon at the Cambridge School of Veterinary Medicine (Jan-Sept 1962) I treated a dog with radial paralysis and another with congenital hydrocephalus which sparked interest in canine neurology so I studied the neurological development of puppies after locating people in the community with litters of puppies. My mentor was veterinary neurologist Dr. Tony Palmer. I luckily found an article on behavioural stages of development in puppies by psychologists Drs. J.P.Scott and J.L.Fuller from the Jackson Memorial Research Laboratory, Bar Harbor Maine, USA and share my neurological findings with them, and they offered me a postdoctoral fellowship. This enabled me to sign up for ‘external’ PhD degree with London University. I felt that I had to learn more about animal behaviour because that was a missing element in the veterinary teaching curriculum at that time, and that to have a greater understanding of animals would do much to improve their well-being and improve the human-non-human animal bond.”
Q3. You mentioned that one of your first papers addressed “sympathy lameness” in dogs, published c. 1962. This sounds am important early paper on animal cognition/emotion, could you provide further information to help me to locate it (and any responses to it)?
“See Fox, M.W., Observations on paw raising and sympathy lameness in the dog. The Veterinary Record 74: 895-896 1962).This was followed by observations of my own dog who developed a compulsive eating disorder—Psychogenic polyphagia (compulsive eating) in a dog. See The Veterinary Record 74: 938-939 1962.
I recall one letter published in the Vet. Rec. from a veterinary surgeon in response to these articles commenting that this was going too far and that practitioners would soon be psychoanalyzing pets on the couch! Regardless, a door was opened and there veterinary journals in the U.K, U.S. and Canada were receptive to publishing my studies on neurological and behavioural development of puppies, socialization and abnormal behaviour.”
Q4. Alastair Worden contributed a chapter to your edited collection Abnormal Behaviour in Animals (1968). Did you know Worden during your time at Cambridge? When did you first encounter his work? Was it an influence upon you?
“I recall meeting him briefly while I was working at the vet school at Cambridge at which time I was not involved with laboratory animal husbandry. I was most influenced initially by the writings of ethologist Prof. W. H. Thorpe (Learning and Instinct in Animals London: Methuen, 1956) which introduced me to ethology, and it was paediatric psychiatrist Dr John Bowlby of the Tavistock Clinic, London with whom I met to discuss going to the U.S and researching developmental psychobiology, and which he urged. This linked me with environmental and epigenetic influences on development.”
Q5. Your connection to John Bowlby is interesting. Bowlby was a British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who possessed a strong interest in ethology and remains known for the development of attachment theory. Could you say a little more on how and why you first met Bowlby? And why he thought the USA was the best place to follow up your interest in psychobiology?
“This question strikes at the core of my nascent vision of what I might do as a newly graduated veterinarian (with class medals in Animal Husbandry and Pathology and Fellowship of the Royal Veterinary College Medical Association for a thesis Diseases of the Sheep-dog in Relation to Management and Nutrition)—to essentially, if not naively, find ways to heal the human-animal bond which I felt was in dire need of repair. Finding that my own small study of neurological development in puppies had parallels with their early social development reported by Scott & Fuller through a fortuitous library research discovery of their work, which included reference to the human socialization/attachment studies and theories of Bowlby, I wrote to him he kindly invited me to meet with him and discuss my career plans after Scott and Fuller had offered me a research grant fellowship to continue studies in puppy development and socialization. He did not feel that there were any significant opportunities in the UK for me at that time.”
Q6. From the mid-1950s Bowlby developed his interest in ethology through regular exchanges with R. A. Hinde who, along with W. H. Thorpe, helped establish ethology at Cambridge University (UK). Was there any connection between yourself and Hinde (or Thorpe) beyond familiarity with their publications? Put another way; could you describe what if any relations there were between the Cambridge ethology group and the Cambridge School of Veterinary Medicine?
“To answer your last question, absolutely none, to my knowledge, at that time. I did visit their animal research facility and was unimpressed with the primate enclosures, and with the main focus of the research which seemed to me more to collect and quantify data to test various hypotheses and establish ‘ethograms’ (codified behavioural repertoires), and they had some researchers in-field, whose work I could not of course see. All of this, with my clinical leanings, did not seem relevant to what interested me—animal welfare, optimal environments for their well-being, and recognition, analysis and treatment/prevention of abnormal behaviours.
I did meet one graduate student from there, very briefly at that time when she was visiting the Cambridge vet School for some reason, whose in-field work was being highlighted in the popular press, and I met her again some three decades later while I was with the Humane Society of the US. This was Jane Goodall. At the time of our encounter at the HSUS circa 1980 I confronted her contention that one way to protect chimpanzees in the wild was to maintain captive breeding colonies, a position I argued was unethical, because there was no intrinsic difference between wild and captive-born chimps. She later changed her views, having, in my opinion, perhaps transcended the need to maintain her credibility within the scientific community.”
Q7. What brought you to Thudichum Psychiatric Research Institute (Galesburg IL)? What did you work on here? Who did you work with?
“Again it was pure chance after 2 –years at Bar Harbor Jackson Lab. I was offered a post doc at the Canadian vet College in Ontario to research dermatomes in dogs, but Wilhelmina Himwich, PhD,wife of Harold Himwich MD, director of the Thudichum animal research facility ( no primates!) which was located in a wing of the Illinois State Psychiatric Hospital. She had read some of my dog development research papers and offered me a research associate position which I held for 3 years. This enabled me to complete my PhD dissertation Integrative Development of Brain and behaviour in the Dog, subsequently published by the Univ. of Chicago Press in 1971.”
Q8. What factors motivated your interest in of laboratory animal care? Do you recall when and why this became important to you?
“On my first day on a tour with an animal caretaker at the Jackson Lab in Sept 1962 I saw a very sick 7-8 week old beagle puppy with a massive eyeball infection and evident neurological complications. The pup was in a nice, clean large, sawdust/wood-shaving bedded enclosure with littermates. I euthanized the pup after evaluating her condition—and was later mildly rebuked by my sponsor Dr. John Paul Scott because the pup was part of a research study on distress vocalizations. I responded that there were humane standards for animals in research and that to not give the animal any treatment because it might interfere with the study, and allow the animal to suffer, was unethical and totally unacceptable. This was my first lesson about the lack of empathy, objectification and rationalizations some people involved with animals in the laboratory setting could manifest—what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton MD called splitting and doubling.
On reflection, working with animals for whom one cares deeply, be they animal patients or research subjects, some degree of separation or disconnection can take place as a form of distancing to reduce the burden of empathy for their suffering. Ultimately this may lead to a shutting down of empathetic sensitivity which can impair ethical sensibility and affect perception, cognitive processing and how one relates to and treats animals. So one might then do to a dog, the object of one’s research or clinical investigation in the laboratory environment what one would never do to one’s own dog, the subject of one’s affection, in the home environment.
Dog housing was excellent at this Jackson Lab. facility, and I made improvements when I went to the Galesburg Thudichum facility, establishing group housing for rabbits, cats and dogs. I also set up a dog-walking/environmental enrichment and socialization programme with some adolescent patients from the psychiatric hospital which was one of the first reported animal-facilitated co- therapy initiatives.”
Q9. John P. Scott with John L. Fuller conducted extensive studies of how genetics and development shaped social behaviour in dogs. Could you describe the key differences and similarities in how John Paul Scott, John L. Fuller and yourself understood, related to, and worked with dogs at the Jackson Laboratory? And how this shaped your respective conclusions?
“They were both very gentle men, Scott extremely shy, Fuller the more outspoken, both very thoughtful, scholarly and deliberate in their approach to non-invasive studies involving not only socialization, social deprivation ( pups having limited or no human contact), different rearing and handling regimens (with graduate student Daniel X. Freedman), and to determining learning/training abilities. They combined the skills of ethology and experimental psychology. They were very supportive in my developing the basic tools of observation, experimental design and appreciation for the objective, non-invasive study of animals. I was eager to publish some of their findings that were at that were buried in research journal publications to reach a wider audience, and published a small monograph entitled Canine Behavior (C.C. Thomas, Springfield Illinois, 1965).. In the Foreword, J.P.Scott wrote: “There is room for a specialty in veterinary medicine dealing with abnormal behaviour in animals corresponding somewhat to the practice of psychiatry in the human field.”
Q10. Returning to laboratory animal care, during the 1960s and 1970s, do you recall any key differences between the UK and USA veterinary profession AND/OR the laboratory animal technicians?
“I had little contact with what was going on in the U.K. at that time, but agree with your impression that the veterinary profession was less involved in the U.K than in the U.S.—and also Canada, with lab animal care”
Q11. How did you become involved with the National Academy of Science (NAS) Committee on Laboratory Animal Ethology?
“After visiting Harlow’s primate facility in Madison Wisconsin and discussing the relevance of his maternal deprivation studies in monkeys to the kinds of social and environmental deprivations experienced by various species kept under standard laboratory environments, he invited me to join this committee.”
Q12. Could you say a little more about why you visited Harry Harlow’s laboratory and how the visit was intended to shape your scientific research at the time?
“I believe that it was in the late 1960s that I visited his primate research facility to see first hand what I had been reading about in the science journals. He had invited me after brief correspondence concerning my interest in the dynamics of emotional attachment in non-human animals. The visit did not shape my scientific research at that time because I was already seriously questioning the justification of continuing any animal studies that caused physical pain or emotional distress, especially after initial studies had been completed, repetition and manipulation of variables being a process to continue with funding from government and private industry grants and to spawn a new generation of doctoral candidates.”
Q13. Harry Harlow has become a somewhat divisive figure within animal advocacy communities due in large part to his scientific research practices. Could you describe how Harlow and his research contributed to the development of ethology and animal welfare science?
“The contribution was indirect, the means whereby the knowledge was gained being ethically questionable, and certainly should not to be wasted or ignored from my perspective: But never repeated. It was of great value in demonstrating that young primates, like human infants, can suffer from socio-emotional, maternal deprivation which can have long –lasting adverse consequences. I acknowledge the slippery-slope of means and ends, but again, my clinical bias seeking the benefit of greater understanding to help animals, rather than generating pure knowledge for knowledge’s sake, found some practical application and evidence of a high degree of sentience which supported my animal welfare agenda and rights advocacy, —essentially applied ethology, which I found lacking in the writings of most animal rights philosophers and animal rights advocates who had little or no knowledge of animal behaviour and emotionality beyond perhaps reading Darwin’s The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animal. “
Q14. Why was the Committee for Laboratory Animal Ethology established? What activities did it perform? Do you remember if it kept records of activities or published reports?
“I do not recall having any records or reports. The only significant contribution was their recommendation to consider and detail lab animals’ environmental history. I think the main contribution of this not very formal, but well intended committee was to get the research community thinking about animals’ behavioural and socio-emotional needs, and indeed some research along these lines began to be initiated, also for zoo animals and captive wildlife.
Veterinarian Dr. Bernard Trum, director of the New England Regional Primate Center was initially involved with the Committee and ridiculed the concept of considering animals’ emotional needs [see Michael W. Fox Laboratory Animal Husbandry State University of New York Press, 1986 p xi].”
Q15. The NAS Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources (ILAR) had several committees to develop standards for laboratory animal care. Do you have a sense for how seriously ethology was taken by ILAR and the research community during the 1970s? What might explain their interest or relative disinterest?
“Interest was a matter of conscience and basic existential phenomenology and empathy seeing animals alone in cages, especially contact-seeking cats and dogs, and arboreal primates engaging in stereotypic ,’neurotic’ behaviours and self-mutilating. Discussion included random-source animals versus purpose-bred from ethical and scientific perspectives, the scientific issue being genetic uniformity, as with purpose-bred Beagles, the use of animals for teaching purposes—(which continues as per Washington Univ. Medical School in St Louis still using cats to train med students in pediatrics how to intubate—much local opposition ) being essentially avoided, ditto the ethics of taking animals from municipal shelters, so called ‘pound seizure’ and from animal dealers.
The practicality of species-appropriate group housing, environmental enrichment etc were embraced by some Committee members but discounted by others because of projected costs, risks ( fighting and injuries and disease control concerns) and the lack of scientific evidence of the need. So I pushed on researching myself and writing Laboratory Animal Husbandry.”
Q16. Why did you leave the Committee c.1971? Would you know why the Committee itself ceased to exist c.1973?
“I felt at that time that to be reasonable was to be unreasonably radical and blindly idealistic and unrealistic to many sides and that the consensus was in favour of protecting the status quo of animal use in biomedical research, commercial testing labs and for teaching purposes, giving lip service to bioethics and humane standards, and countering with monetary concerns/costs of alternative housing and the kind of attention and expertise needed to care for animals no longer kept in solitary confinement.
I also became involved in another issue at this time based on my earlier research on puppy stress, environmental enrichment, and developed the Superdog project with the US Army Veterinary Corps at the canine facility at Aberdeen Proving Grounds to help war dogs cope better with the stress and perform better under the horrendous combat conditions of the ridiculous war in Vietnam.”
Q.17 What led you to write Laboratory Animal Husbandry in 1986? How was this book received by the research community?
“A lot of existing literature from diverse sources supported my contention that the standard lab animal environments introduced uncontrolled experimental variables, which undermined the validity of much animal research and conclusions drawn there from. It was received with a mixture of praise and avoidance, acceptance as a significant issue and rejection as a non-issue, not worth the effort/expense for the kinds of experiments being done (such as product testing). But some Animal Welfare oversight committees did begin to address cage enrichment, group housing where feasible, and volunteers socializing and taking dogs for walks—also in municipal animal shelters, some resisting because of legal risk liability issues.”
Q18. During the 1960s and 1970s, as you began to write about the importance of ethology in laboratory animal care, were you influenced by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare? If so, how did you encounter UFAW?
No, I was not influenced much but more by Russell & Burch’s The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, and by M.R.A. Chance’s work on variance control and Lane Petter’s raising the issue of behavioural requirements/needs.”
Q19. Could you say something more on William Lane-Petter? Did you know him personally? Were there specific publications that influenced you? What was your sense of where Lane-Petter positioned himself on the issue of laboratory animal welfare?
“Dr. Lane Petter, whom I never met, impressed me with his writings because of his outspoken critique of the narrow regard for the animals’ physical and social environments evident in the minimal husbandry standards of care at that time, and in the scope of concern evident in the biomedical /scientific community using animals in the laboratory setting.”
Q20. During the 1960s and 1970s in the USA were you (or your colleagues) aware of the 3Rs as set out by W. M. S. Rusell and Rex Burch in The Principles of Humane Experimental Research (1959)?
“Yes. This book set me on the path of bioethical questioning and toward the unpopular position within the circles of lab animal research and use for teaching purposes (notably in veterinary colleges) of advocating animals’ rights, seeking non-animal alternatives etc.”
Q21. Did you work with or encounter the Animal Welfare Institute in regard to your 1960s/70s interest in applied ethology in laboratory animal care?
“Yes, I worked closely with Christine Stephens and helped her put together her photo-documented report of alternative housing for research animals—also helped her on factory farming issues which I also investigated and photographed.”
Q.22. Most histories of Environmental Enrichment cite Hebb (1949) and the work of Rosenzweig (1960- ), both of whom certainly provided hard evidence for environmental effects upon brain development. I, however, trace a slightly different, though complementary, historical trajectory, from Heini Hediger through UFAW and Michael Chance. This latter history is somewhat lighter on scientific ‘experimental evidence’; emerging partly through experience with animal husbandry. It is also more explicitly concerned with improving animal welfare. My sense is that Hebb/ Rosenzweig were much less concerned with the welfare implications of their work (or even the consequences for experimental design). I would be very interested in your recollections on the relationship between environmental enrichment and animal welfare; how, when and the two came together for instance?
“You are correct that many researchers like Hebb and Rosenzweig did not make the animal welfare and health connection like some of these other more husbandry-oriented persons. Victor Denenberg was one developmental psychobiologist who did make a connection, at least with his discoveries of how pre and postnatal handling can affect behaviour, and raised the possibility of establishing ‘programmed life histories’ for improving the husbandry and reducing some variables in research animals. This neo-Lamarkianism opened the door for me to epigenetics, which was the closing point of my PhD dissertation.”
Q23. You will have encountered a range of animal experimental work through the 1960s, whilst at the Jackson Memorial Research Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME) and the Thudichum Psychiatric Research Institute (Galesburg IL). You were also a prominent voice for the improvement of the conditions of laboratory animals through the NAS and your own publications. What factors led you to renounce animal experimentation and more toward an ‘antivivisectionist’ position?
“Quite simply, I felt that whilst there were improving standards of housing and care, and increasing focus on laboratory animals’ health, behavioural and socio-emotional and environmental needs—i.e. overall welfare and well-being were becoming ethically and scientifically valid, there were insufficient constraints on what kinds of experiments were permissible. While progress was indeed beginning improving on overseeing lab animal care, researchers generally had a virtual carte blanche in terms of what kinds of experiments were acceptable, such as military weapons testing and for trauma surgeon training, irradiation studies, cosmetics and other product testing as well as the use of animals for teaching purposes, notably repeated surgeries on pound-seized dogs in veterinary schools. As an early advocate of One Health, One Medicine, I contended that with a better integration of veterinary and human medicine, generating data from already ill/injured animal patients, the need to make healthy animals ill or injure them to find better treatments and surgical innovations for the primary benefit of humans would be negated. The high incidence of diseases of genetic/hereditary origin in canine patients would negate the need to deliberately breed such ‘models’ of human disease. I was one of the early opponents of creating transgenic mice and other animals, but was assured by key advocates that with such ‘high fidelity’ models, the numbers of animals used in research would decline. But on the contrary, there was a ‘bioexplosion’ in this domain.”
Q24. Your Laboratory Animal Husbandry (1976) cites several ‘animal rights’ philosophers, including Tom Regan and Peter Singer. How did you encounter their work and to what extent did they influence your thought on laboratory animal welfare?
“The U.K’s Richard Ryder was another influential animal rights advocate. I was not particularly impressed or influenced by Singer or Regan, but was more in-line collaboratively with Prof Bernard Rollin who made inroads at Colorado State Univ. at Fort Collins, including the veterinary school’s use of animals for teaching purposes. I embraced and advocated animal rights as an ethical code to help insure that their basic needs under our care are provided for—i.e. humane treatment, but did not accept the narrow animal welfarist position that it is acceptable to use animals for any purpose if it is done humanely. I advocated focus on both means and ends, and to some extent advocated an animal liberation world view from an empathy-based bioethics as per my book Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society [State Univ. of NY Press, 2001] and also articulated in the popular press book Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals [St Martin’s Press, 1990].”
Q25. How and why did you come to work for the Humane Society? How did you come to know Andrew Rowan?
“I was studying wolves and other wild canids in captivity at Washington Univ. St Louis—behavioural development and communication, and the dhole, Asiatic wild dog in the jungles of S. India—and was concerned about wolf hunting in Alaska and other states and wildlife trapping, and at a wolf conservation conference I met John Hoyt, President of the HSUS who invited me to head up their newly funded Institute for the Study of Animal Problems, which I did, giving up my tenured associate professorship to devote my full time to advancing the science and ethics of animal welfare and rights advocacy. Andrew Rowan joined me for a few productive years as a research associate and co-editor of ISAP’s International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, along with Ms. Linda Mickley. At the beginning of that stage in my career I was awarded the DSc in ethology/animal behaviour from the Univ. of London for my research on wild canids.”
Q26. What was the work of the Institute for the Study of Animal Problems and what happened to it?
“Encouraging the scientific community to address animal health and welfare issues from an ethical as well as ethological and holistic well-being perspectives, publish original reports, comments and abstracts in our journal, and conduct seminars and conferences ranging from laboratory animal care and alternatives to using animals in biomed. research & testing, to companion animal euthanasia, farmed animal humane slaughter and husbandry practices, environmental impacts of factory farming and ranching, dietary choices and human health. After some 5-6 years of significant progress in terms of international outreach and giving animal welfare science and ethics a firm foundation, HSUS president John Hoyt, and vice president and treasurer Paul Irwin, seeing the financial endowment for ISAP dwindling, and contending that the scientific community had not made significant enough strides in our direction, (which I felt to be an incorrect assessment) they decided that it was time to end the Institute. Andrew Rowan then went to Tuft’s Univ. school of veterinary medicine and I continued at the HSUS as Vice president for farm animals and bioethics, a title I held in addition to being director of ISAP. Subsequently I essentially worked double-time as director of the Center for Respect for Life & Environment, linking with philosophers, theologians, native American Indian leaders and others, and addressing the emerging genetic engineering biotechnology being applied to food plants and farmed and laboratory animals.”
Q27. Given your established expertise and contacts with laboratory animal researchers, why focus on farm animal welfare as opposed to laboratory animal welfare?
“Numbers: in terms of quantum suffering, the plight of farmed animals, including the billions in the third world, their environmental impact, effects on biodiversity, climate change and public health, became a greater concern along with advocating alternative humane sustainable & organic agriculture and aquaculture—I considered a more vital issue than lab animal welfare which was being addressed by many, but still not the real relevance to public health and preventive medicine.
I started an Eating With Conscience campaign at the HSUS to inform and inspire public support of more humane methods of farmed animal production and organic agriculture. But when I sought to apply this to what people were feeding their dogs and cats and endorsed a book critical of most manufactured pet foods in 1997, the new president, Paul Irwin, on receiving a letter of complaint from the pet food industry, from whom he was hoping to get funding, froze my salary and demoted me to ‘scientific scholar’. He had my former research assistant Andrew Rowan, who had just returned to the HSUS from Tufts Univ., supervise me in terms of having to approve all my writings and speaking engagements.”
Q28. How did your scientific colleagues, particularly at the NAS ILAR, view your involvement with the Humane Society?
“To be reasonable is to be radical to all sides. Some wondered why I gave up a career as an ethologist—this was not too difficult since the last International Ethological Conference that I attended had no reference to applying this science to improving the care and well-being of laboratory, farmed and captive wild animals. I voiced my concerns at this gathering in Portland OR circa 1978, and appealed for humane standards in their studies. But I was always heartened by the fact that a core of concerned veterinarians and animal scientists had established the Society for Veterinary Ethology in 1966, of which I was a founding member, and saw the organization evolve into the International Society for Applied Animal Ethology.
I did not so much give up a particular career/speciality but rather, sought to cross various related disciplines and bring them together under the umbrella of animal welfare science, bioethics, and One Health. I was not alone, a few other scientists, human and animal doctors and academicians from various disciplines becoming more interdisciplinary and advocacy-oriented e.g. R.Sharpe, MD, The Cruel Deception: The Use of Animals in Medical Research 1988 and other citations in my book Inhumane Society, notably the Carpenter Committee Bill of Rights for Animal Experimentation.
It is worth noting that the then Dean of the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Robert Marshak, DVM, as a board member of the HSUS sought to get me fired as a ‘dangerous cult figure’ in the early 1980s. This was because of the media attention and public support that I was generating with regard to the treatment of laboratory and farmed animals, and advocating animal rights/liberation rather than the welfare position that he and others involved in the various animal industries were amenable to considering. While the HSUS sought a middle-ground and preferred a more conservative position, the surge in membership support and media attention helped secure my position, and Marshak resigned from the Board after having called a meeting with top HSUS officials and University livestock and poultry experts at the University where I was interrogated and defended my report on factory farming welfare and health issues. This report was subsequently awarded the International Felix Wankel Prize, 1982 for Research in Animal Welfare.”
Q29. During the early 1980s animal advocacy was catalysed by PETA’s infiltration of Edward Taub’s laboratory. You were one of the main expert witnesses testifying against the way Taub treated his research animals. How did you come to be involved in this case?
“PETA called me in to go undercover and inspect the Taub primate facility and condition of the animals, which were appalling. I have an old VCR national TV interview with Dr. Taub.”
Q30. Did your involvement distance you from the scientific research community?
“I was no more distanced than the community was from its experimental animals—a kind of ambivalence that I interpreted as a mixture of respect and denial, concern and avoidance: knowing there were serious scientifically and ethically valid concerns, but not really knowing how to address and rectify them collectively.
This all came to a head again in 1992 when reference to past cruel experiments on dogs in my DOG entry for the revised 1991 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It evoked a nation-wide outcry from the scientific/biomedical research community (Los Angeles Times, Jan 23, 1992). The editors of this Encyclopaedia, in spite of accurate fact-checks, backed down and edited out in later editions what this community found offensive. Ironically, in recent times some editors of this prestigious publication have established the Encyclopaedia Britannica Advocacy for Animals website.”
Q31. How about the existing animal advocacy community, how did they respond to PETA and the rise of direct activism? You have mentioned existing tensions within HSUS, for example, with regard to conservative or radical approaches to animal advocacy?
“The response was mixed, confounded by the Animal Liberation Front (which PETA supported) that sometimes engaged in activities that put animals at grave risk, and which I vehemently opposed, such as freeing them from their cages, and sending death threats to selected individuals. I still contended that the voice of reason, backed by sound documentation, objective scientific data and the philosophy of bioethics (as an antidote to anthropocentrism), should prevail, and that appropriate activism—demonstrations for better environments for primates at the US National Institutes of Health for example, engagement with corporations using animals for cosmetic testing or for hamburgers, as per the initiatives of the late Henry Spira, and undercover investigations were all part of the movement to improve the care of animals, wild and domesticated, and to reduce their suffering as well as the numbers being used for various human purposes.”
Q31. Reflecting on the Taub case; could you comment on how you feel it impacted upon laboratory animal welfare?
“This “Silver Spring Monkey Trial” in 1981 involving researcher Edward Taub (67 professional societies came out in his defense) was a wake-up and a shake-up, my fury being directed also at the worthless USDA inspections of his animal research facility and condition of the animals. There was much closing of the ranks but also calls for better inspections and enforcement of existing standards of animal care. Yet today, any undercover investigations can be prosecuted under the anti-terrorism statutes of the US Homeland Security Administration, (for details see article on my website www.drfoxvet.com).
Taub lost his funding from the National Institutes of Health, where his monkeys were taken. His animal cruelty conviction, at which I testified, was dropped on a technicality.
In 1976 I was involved in the first instance of an animal researcher being publicly called to question by the animal rights movement, namely Dr. Lester Aronson, Director of the American Museum of Natural History. The initiative, sparked by Henry Spira, was directed at his cat sexual behaviour research, the validity and humanness I questioned in a face-to face meeting alone with Dr. Aronson. He refused to stop his experiments, which I strongly urged, because he felt they were valid “for knowledge sake”. Subsequently, after nation-wide media exposure which threatened the reputation of this august institution, Aronson stopped his cat sex studies, which included surgery-induced nerve damage and paralysis.
I was also involved in investigating and assessing the use of animals in high school science fairs circa 1976-1986, and helped set humane standards, non-invasive studies and non-animal alternatives.”
Q32. Is there anything else you would like to add?
“I was also involved in the 1989 exposure of the cruel and worthless cat experiments which I witnessed with a Ms. Melody Macdonald, being conducted at the UK’s National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, London, being performed by Dr. W.S. Feldberg, CBE, FRS, helping instigate his long overdue retirement. This was an embarrassing exposure for the British animal research community and an unfortunate career-ending for Dr. Feldberg, who in my mind was indeed a mad scientist and should have been forcibly retired long before his cat and rabbit experiments were made public.
I know of no person(s) to whom I might refer you since I have not stayed in contact over the past decade or so, except Drs Bernard Rollin (moral philosopher) and Temple Grandin (animal scientist) at Colorado State University at Fort Collins.
It is true that when we forget our history we repeat it, but many people do seem to prefer to stay in a secure bubble and fear change. I was shocked visiting my alma mater, the Jackson Memorial Research Laboratory in Bar Harbor Maine after some 20 years, and then going to the International Ethological Conference in Portland Oregon a decade after I had left that sphere, and seeing how the focus of research and attitude of most involved, including the next generation, was in a bubble, mirroring the self-cloistering of many university academicians whose ‘purity’ of study meant disconnecting from the real world—which in my agenda included animal suffering and environmental desecration and the politics of public health, conservation and disease prevention, or extinction!
I consider myself fortunate during the early years of my career in animal behaviour research and animal welfare science, and subsequently as an animal welfare and rights advocate, not to have been stuck behind a desk or in a research laboratory .On the contrary, I had access to and evaluated the condition of animals and attitude of caretakers and supervisors in government and private research facilities, research animal breeding facilities, puppy mills, livestock and poultry factory farms, feedlots and slaughter houses, zoos and circuses, animal shelters, sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers in several countries. My nationally syndicated newspaper column “Animal Doctor” which I have been writing for over 40 years, has given me a wide-angle lens on not only companion animal health issues, but on the human-animal bond, changing attitudes in the veterinary profession especially toward the practice of alternative, integrative ‘holistic’ and preventive medicine, which I have long advocated, and to the status of animals in society. ( But regrettably at this time of writing, May 2013, the Texas supreme court overruled a lower court decision that pet owners can sue for emotional loss, an overruling advocated by various veterinary organizations, while in the U.K. some veterinary groups opposed the proposed ban on animals in circuses calling for more “scientific proof.” ( Veterinary Record May 4th p.479, 2013). In my opinion, when economic considerations are set aside, animal welfare science without ethics is blind, and without sound science animal ethics is lame.
As an afterthought, I must add that it is a curious irony that it takes autistic person, namely Dr. Temple Grandin, to inform people about the welfare and needs of animals. I am glad that she has become a major spokesperson for animal welfare in the US through her lectures and books, and that I was able to help her gain her PhD under a professor who was going to fail her for not being highly competent in statistics. This was the late Stanley Curtis, a professor of animal science, who was with me on many occasions, once at a national pork producers conference where I asked him if pigs had feelings, and then at a Senate hearing where he was asked if veal calves in narrow crates need to turn around. He gave the same answer: “We need to do more research before we can really know.”
Rob Kirk is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), University of Manchester (UK). He is interested in the role of non-human animals in the history of science, technology and medicine, as well as the place of nonhuman animals in historical writing. Rob’s current research investigates how, why, and to what consequence, animal welfare became increasingly integrated within the material cultures of the biomedical sciences in the post Second World War period. By reconstructing the historical formation of new expertise focused about the care and management of laboratory animals, this work critically contextualizes the now dominant science of animal welfare and its specific form of ethical reasoning within which moral concerns for, and instrumental uses of, nonhuman animals has become inseparable. He is also beginning a new project, examining how human-animal relations shaped twentieth-century psychobiology, psychopharmacology, behavioural science and medicine.
During my early years in animal research in the 1960’s the ‘mission’ of scientific investigation was all. Such externalities as to where the dogs and other animals came from and how they had and were being cared for were of no concern or relevance so long as they were healthy enough to provide experimental data. Yet these externalities, I soon realized, could not be ignored because they could introduce variables that influenced experimental results and conclusions drawn from same. This lead to many debates, one being the value of ‘purpose-bred’ dogs ( Beagles in particular) versus ‘random source’ dogs from animal shelters and dog auction dealers across the country. During that time the U.S. Government set up primate breeding facilities, in part because wild populations were dwindling and some countries refused to export such animals if they were designated not for zoos but for experimentation. Then came the new age of genetic engineering biotechnology and a ‘bioexplosion’ of transgenic and cloned mice being created in the 1980s and on to serve as ‘high fidelity’ models of various human diseases, primarily to develop new drugs and profits. I was not alone in predicting that ever more animals would be used in biomedical research, and that the possibility of a close collaboration between veterinarians in practice treating animals suffering from spontaneous diseases with veterinary colleges and the human biomedical research field to forge a One Health approach to human and animal disease research would be subverted, and lost. Now some thirty years later this is beginning, especially in the genomics of cancer treatments, the dog sharing many kinds of cancer seen in humans. The broad scope of the One Health paradigm and nascent movement, and consideration of the environmental, nutritional, epigenetic and other co-factors in the genesis of disease are currently at risk of being sacrificed by over-emphasis on new emerging diseases and zoonoses—diseases communicable between animals and humans.