The mission statement for the University of Illinois's vet school begins with a call to "benefit the animals, people, and environment" through "the promotion of animal health" and the "alleviation of animal suffering." Linnaea Stull, a second-year student, believed that the school's "dog labs" compromised this mission.

So Stull circulated a petition that called for an end to the labs, which taught physiology by, among other things, killing dogs. This year, the petition stressed the many alternative ways to teach the same information. When that didn't work, Stull went to the press. That did work.

Beliefnet's Michael Kress spoke with Stull about her successful campaign.

Michael Kress: Students have submitted the same petition to the school every year for the past five years, at least. What changed this year?

Linnaea Stull: This year, a group of students--eight different veterinary students from three different classes--got together and said, "We know other veterinary schools don't use these dog labs to teach physiology. We know there's another way."

We came up with over 200 alternative labs to fulfill the same learning objectives as these six physiology labs, and we presented them to the faculty. And at the same time, we also presented them with 28 different research studies on alternatives, showing their scientific validity, their educational value, and their cost-effectiveness. We just put together a huge packet of information for these people, who kept telling us, "Alternatives are not the way--we have to teach this with live animals."

They've never ever offered any alternative teaching methods for those students who had decided not to participate. The students would just not show up, and there was no other way for them to learn the material other than out of a book.

MK: Can you describe alternate ways that this material can be taught?

LS: There are thousands of different ways to teach physiology and to learn something from animals without killing them. You can learn it purely out of a book. There are videos, virtual-reality simulations that are used in different medical schools right now.

You can do an ultrasound of a dog's heart and watch the live pumping action of the heart, and when you're done the animal gets up and walks away. Some people are opposed that, too, but it's really not an invasive thing. It doesn't hurt them at all, and there are no lasting effects. We tried to use examples that are used at other veterinary schools, as far as some of the computer programs that are used.

MK: The petition dealt with six teaching labs. Would you be against using animals for experiments that could further veterinary medicine and in the long run help large numbers of animals?

LS: Nothing new was learned from these labs. I had a real objection to that because lives were being lost and nothing at all was being learned. My ethical perspective on, for example, medical research, still isn't formed. I haven't faced that very much in my own experiences. I haven't ever worked in a laboratory. I haven't seen how these animals are treated, if they actually suffer or anything like that. So, I really haven't formed a decision on that one yet.

MK: Why was this so important?

LS: Different people definitely have different perspectives on this. One of my good friends in this class was Buddhist. Literally, it was against her religion to do this. Myself, I'm an atheist. I didn't have a religious objection to this. For me, it was ethical. It was wrong for me to be learning something that can be learned without the loss of an animal's life. It seemed extremely wasteful and disrespectful of animals' lives.

MK: Where are the limits, if there are any, of respect for an animal's life? Would you equate an animal's life with a human's?

LS: I try to as much as possible. They are living creatures. I didn't see that same respect for life at my own veterinary college.

I think part of it is the farming mentality of most people here being from the Midwest. I hope I don't sound condescending, but there are different perspectives on respect for life. You grow up in a community where people slaughter pigs every day, people who grew up on pig farms, on chicken farms.

I'm a vegetarian. For me to be in the same classroom as people who have had those experiences is definitely new. You can't be judgmental and say, "These people don't know anything." You have to respect that they just come from a different way of respecting life. Myself, that's where I stand: I don't eat them, I don't wear them, I don't want to experiment on them. It goes all the way. And certainly I don't want to get any part of my education having to give harm to them.

MK: Would your attitude be different if the issue was research for human medication?

LS: Most medical schools phased out the dog labs a lot sooner than the veterinary schools. To them it was like, why the heck are we killing a dog when we're going to practice on people? So the medical schools, most of them are quite advanced compared to us as far as finding alternative ways to teach physiology, cardiology, etc.

The veterinary schools are still working on this. They think that by killing this dog they really are going to learn something to help heal other dogs. I would have thought the veterinary schools would have phased this out decades ago. The first school to really start phasing things out was Tufts University, back in 1989. And here we are a decade later, and we're still working on this in many veterinary colleges around the world. It's very odd how we're taking longer than the medical schools on this.

MK: Do you have other plans for campaigns to change school policies?

LS: The third-year curriculum has some terminal surgeries. The second semester is large-animal surgery. They have surgery for goats, and they have terminal surgery for ponies. They have something like 30 goats and 12 ponies die every single year, so that students can learn how to do surgery on large animals. I don't want to learn how to do surgery that way. That's against the law in England. So that's the next step, finding alternatives for those terminal surgeries. Not necessarily taking them all away, because that won't happen in the next 10 years, but at least finding alternatives for students who don't want to do this.

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