Washington University: PETA Goes Undercover to Expose the "Cruel Cat Lab" (VIDEO)

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Inside a Wash. U. training program. - VIA
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  • Inside a Wash. U. training program.

Is it necessary for Washington University to use live cats as part of a medical training program? That question was raised again last week when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released an "undercover video" that gives viewers a look inside the medical school's practice of intubating anesthetized cats. Full footage is below.

"It's incredibly painful," Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations with PETA, tells Daily RFT. "Unskilled trainees [shove] hard, plastic tubes down a cat's very delicate throat."

The video evidence, PETA says, reveals that some cats were not even properly anesthetized and began to wake up during the procedure. And the group says that's just one more reason that this practice must end at Wash. U., which may be the only institution that still uses cats for this training.

Wash. U., however, defends the procedure -- arguing that it is proven to be safe for the cats and is a very valuable training method.

Here's the full video from PETA.

See also: - Animal Rights Activists Want You to Know What Wash. U. Does to Kittens

The footage comes from a March training exercise at Wash. U.'s Pediatric Advanced Life Support, or PALS, course, which aims to teach participants about treatment for infants and children with impending respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest.

The course, Wash. U. says, is geared toward pediatricians, family physicians, paramedics, nurses, respiratory therapists and other practitioners. It involves intubation training through "simulation mannequins."

And anesthetized cats.

"It's always horrible to see animals suffering," Goodman says. "But it's especially egregious to watch a university torment animals when there are superior methods available to meet their training objectives."

PETA has filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging violations of the Animal Welfare Act as well as complaints with Wash. U. officials and the American Heart Association, which is the sponsor of the PALS course. The documents are on full view below.

A central argument of PETA, outlined in the USDA complaint, is that the American Heart Association makes clear that the practice of using cats is not necessary or preferred. The complaint includes an AHA statement saying, "The AHA does not require or endorse the use of live animals in any of its training courses." And in one e-mail exchange with PETA, an AHA official elaborates:

We do not endorse or require the use of animals during the AHA-PALS training because of advances and availability of simulation mannequins. These mannequins provide the opportunity to practice all the necessary skills required for successful completion of an AHA PALS course.

"If there's a superior method available," Goodman says, "it should be used.... It's a win-win."

Continue for more of PETA's complaints and a full response from Washington University.

On top of the argument about available alternatives, the footage reveals that sometimes the cats wake up during the procedure, which makes it all the more cruel, Goodman says. For example, the video catches this comment about one of the cats:

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Meanwhile, officials with Wash. U. tell Daily RFT that they do not believe mannequins are as effective as cats. A statement from the school of medicine, full version below, says:

Cats have upper airway anatomy and reflexes that closely resemble an infant's, and studies have demonstrated that using anesthetized cats helps improve technique and confidence.



Mannequins offer a wonderful training tool, but we don't believe mannequins are as effective as using mannequins and a live animal. Even the most sophisticated simulator doesn't yet provide the same movements and reflexes of an infant.

The life-like characteristics make a big difference for students and research shows that as low as 21-24 percent of infants in medical distress are successfully intubated on the first attempt by physician trainees, the statement points out.

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Further, Wash. U. says that in the more than twenty years that it has offered the course, no cat has died or been injured and veterinarians, who monitor and advocate for the cats, are present.

The school says, "The anesthetized cats feel no discomfort and at no time are they awake during the procedure. Anesthesia is continuously monitored and adjusted by veterinarians during intubation to provide optimal protection and comfort for the cat. As additional doses of anesthetic are required, intubation is stopped until the added anesthetic takes effect."

Additionally, each cat is involved only a few times a year over a three-year period before they are adopted, the statement says.

Goodman, however, says that the video makes it clearer than ever that the practice is cruel and that Wash. U. needs to adopt the alternative method like all other PALS programs around the country have.

"They shamefully continue to torment cats in the course," Goodman says. "Every other facility has made the transition."

Here's the full statement from Wash. U.

Statement from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Intubation involves threading a flexible plastic tube into the throat to help a baby breathe. It requires precision and speed and is a challenging skill to master. The need for competent and confident providers at a baby's bedside at the critical time of intubation cannot be overstated.

Research shows that as low as 21-24% of infants in medical distress are successfully intubated on the first attempt by pediatric physicain trainees, suggesting improvement in training is necessary. Therefore, in addition to initial training on mannequins, we provide training with anesthetized cats as a voluntary adjunct to our PALS course. We have enrollees who appreciate this additional training and travel long distances so they can attend our course.

To teach medical personnel how to do this procedure, we have them first practice on a mannequin and then on an anesthetized cat. The mannequin is ideal for learning basic techniques, but the cat provides a more realistic experience to what health care providers will encounter when intubating a baby.

Cats have upper airway anatomy and reflexes that closely resemble an infant's, and studies have demonstrated that using anesthetized cats helps improve technique and confidence.

Mannequins offer a wonderful training tool, but we don't believe mannequins are as effective as using mannequins and a live animal. Even the most sophisticated simulator doesn't yet provide the same movements and reflexes of an infant.

When we ask our students to evaluate the life-like characteristics of intubating anesthetized cats and mannequins, they overwhelmingly favor the learning experience with cats, saying it is more realistic. Students report a cat gives them a better opportunity to visualize vocal cords that are moving and to learn to coordinate intubation with breathing. They also report greater confidence to deal more adequately with infants and pediatric emergencies.

In the 20-plus years we have offered the course using both mannequins and cats, no cat has died or been injured. Veterinarians and vet technicians are present for the course. They monitor and advocate passionately for the cats.

The anesthetized cats feel no discomfort and at no time are they awake during the procedure. Anesthesia is continuously monitored and adjusted by veterinarians during intubation to provide optimal protection and comfort for the cat. As additional doses of anesthetic are required, intubation is stopped until the added anesthetic takes effect.

Each cat is involved only a few times a year over a three-year period before being adopted into loving families.

A statement in response from PETA.

Washington University in St. Louis is abusing its authority by baselessly claiming that having students crudely force a tube down a cat's throat in the Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) course makes them better at intubating human babies. Studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals have repeatedly shown that those trained on simulators that mimic human anatomy and physiology are better at intubating human babies than people who practice on cats. Don't just take PETA's word for it: The American Heart Association (AHA), which created the curriculum for and sponsors the PALS course, confirmed to PETA last month, "We do not endorse or require the use of animals during the AHA-PALS training because of advances and availability of simulation mannequins." This is precisely the reason why every other facility offering the PALS course has abandoned these cruel and archaic animal laboratories in favor of simulation to teach this life-saving skill.

And here are copies of the complaints and letters from PETA regarding the use of cats at Wash. U.'s medical school:

Usda Complaint Re Wustl (Usda Cert. No. 43-R-0008) - 4-17-13

Peta Letter to Wustl 4-18-13

Peta Letter to Aha Re Wustl 4-18-13

AHA Letter to PETA March 2013

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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