Bob Barker -- yes, Bob Barker -- is pressuring Washington University in St. Louis to end its controversial practice of using live cats in medical-school training classes.
"I love cats. I love all animals," the television host tells Daily RFT in a phone interview. "It's upsetting to me.... There's no reason for them to be doing this."
As part of his plea to Wash. U., he's offering $75,000 to fund an alternative method that uses simulation mannequins instead of cats, which animal rights activists say are tortured during the procedure.
Will that price be right?
Barker, who attended high school and college in Springfield, sent a letter to the chancellor of Wash. U. yesterday urging the university to end the practice of using live cats altogether.
His push comes less than a week after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released an undercover video inside the medical school's Pediatric Advanced Life Support course, which teaches medical procedures involving sick and injured infants and children.
Wash. U. uses live cats that PETA argues are not properly anesthetized (the video quotes one individual saying that the cat was waking up during the course). Part of the course involves intubation training -- sticking tubes down the cats' throats -- that PETA says is cruel and dangerous.
"I've worked on behalf of animals...all over the world," Barker tells us, "and I shall continue to do so, because they can't speak for themselves and need all the help I can give them."
PETA's argument, which Barker raises in his letter, on view below, is that the alternative training with simulators is proven to be more effective. And it seems Wash. U. is the only institution in the country that still uses the live-cat method. PETA has filed complaints with the Department of Agriculture and the American Heart Association, which sponsors the course.
"When you're the only one in the United States doing it, you must be making a mistake," says Barker, who hosted the game show The Price Is Right and has been a vocal animal-rights activist.
His letter begins on a personal note:
Having grown up in Missouri and having interrupted my wife's pre-med training at Washington University in St. Louis by proposing to her, I was deeply troubled to see PETA's new undercover video showing that Washington University--in conjunction with St. Louis Children's Hospital--continues to allow Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) course trainees to practice on animals. This crude training exercise consists of repeatedly forcing hard tubes down the cats' delicate throats, an extremely painful procedure that places these animals at risk for serious injuries--and for no good reason. Far superior teaching methods exist that can run circles around that old-fashioned cat lab. I would like to work with you to end this practice.
Continue for more of our interview with Bob Barker, for Wash. U.'s response and for PETA's video
In the letter, Barker makes a clear offer:
I would like to donate two ultra-realistic infant simulators to WUSTL to be used in place of the two cats intubated during each PALS course so as to facilitate the transition to an allsimulation PALS curriculum.
He says that he's done research on the best technologies and says he would be happy to pay the roughly $75,000 it would cost for the simulators that experts say are the best.
PETA's undercover video.
"In fact," he writes, "I would love to provide homes for the nine cats held at WUSTL for this training, too. I hope we can work together to protect animals and improve the training of those responsible for performing life-saving medical procedures on sick and injured children."
Barker, who called us from Los Angeles where he lives, says that this is a no-brainer and that he wanted to get involved after he learned more about the abuse.
"Their arguments just don't hold water. There's no reason for them to be doing this," he says.
Did the video persuade him?
"I'm going to tell you the truth: I don't look at that sort of thing. I don't need to," he responds. "I read the description.... I can't stand to look at it. It's too heart-rending."
As his letter notes, he has a personal connection to St. Louis (and he's a huge Cardinals fan, he tells us).
"I hope that Washington University will do the right thing and release those cats," he says. "We have to make people aware."
A spokeswoman for the medical school did not respond to a request to comment from us yesterday afternoon, but, in our coverage of the latest PETA video, she did offer us a lengthy response. Wash. U. has repeatedly defended its practice, arguing that mannequins are not as effective as live animals and that "even the most sophisticated simulator doesn't yet provide the same movements and reflexes of an infant."
The school says that the live cats offer irreplaceable training for students and that there is a need for better performance in this area. Further, Wash. U. officials say they have a spotless record with the cats, which they say feel no pain and are monitored closely by veterinarians. And the cats do ultimately get adopted. Read their full statement (and PETA's full complaints) in our previous coverage.
Here's Barker's letter.