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Friday, May 31, 2013

Washington University Stops Using Live Cats in Training Class After Years of PETA Protests

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Inside Wash. U.'s PALS course earlier this year. - VIA PETA
  • via PETA
  • Inside Wash. U.'s PALS course earlier this year.

Washington University is permanently ending its controversial practice of using live cats in a medical training course.

Since 2008, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been pressuring Washington University and St. Louis Children's Hospital to disband what PETA has labeled the "cat lab." Animal-rights activists say the method is cruel and unnecessary. PETA increased pressure last month with an undercover video inside the class -- and in this week's course, Wash. U. officials reportedly told students that they would no longer be using cats as part of the training.

An official with St. Louis Children's Hospital, the university's partner in this course, confirms to Daily RFT today that the pediatric advanced life-support class "does not include live-animal training."

St. Louis Children's Hospital spokeswoman Jackie Ferman tells us in an e-mail, "This is a permanent change to the course."

We've asked her and a spokeswoman from Wash. U. if they want to comment further on the change, and we'll update if we hear more.

See also: - Washington University: PETA Goes Undercover to Expose the "Cat Lab" (VIDEO) - Bob Barker Writes to Washington University: I'll Pay You to Stop Abusing Cats - PETA Attacks Wash. U.'s Use of Live Cats With "False Advertising" Complaint

In the meantime, PETA is celebrating this decision -- after many years of protests and legal complaints.

"This change is long overdue, and we've fought hard to make it happen," Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations with PETA, tells Daily RFT. "It was especially egregious that Wash. U. continued to torment animals in this course despite the availability of superior alternatives."

Wash. U.'s "undercover video."

A central argument of PETA and other critics has been that Wash. U. may be the only institution in the country still using live cats for this specific practice. The class in question is called the pediatric advanced life support, or PALS course, which teaches participants about treatment for infants and children with impending respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest. It's a joint class of St. Louis Children's Hospital and Wash. U.'s medical school.

PETA has written in formal complaints that experts agree that using cats is not necessary or preferred and that "simulation mannequins" are a better technique that is not cruel to animals. The American Heart Association, the sponsor of the PALS class, "does not require or endorse the use of live animals in any of its training courses," PETA has noted.

Wash. U.'s course, however, had used both mannequins and live anesthetized cats. (Its website, as of this writing, still describes the class this way.)

Protest at Wash. U. last year. - PHOTO BY LEAH GREENBAUM FOR RFT
  • Photo by Leah Greenbaum for RFT
  • Protest at Wash. U. last year.

"We're pleased that Washington University has finally decided to spare cats from painful and crude training drills and is joining the hundreds of other facilities across the country that teach people...[how to] save babies' lives using only sophisticated simulators," Goodman says.

Continue for more on the change at Washington University.

Wash. U. faced further pressure last month when Bob Barker of The Price Is Right fame slammed the school for using cats and even offered to donate tens of thousands of dollars to pay for simulator alternatives. PETA has filed numerous complaints including with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and most recently with the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

click to enlarge VIA PETA VIDEO.
  • via PETA video.

Through its undercover work, PETA has argued that it's painful for the cats to have tubes shoved down their throats -- and that they sometimes even wake up during the procedure.

Wash. U., however, has repeatedly stood by its practice saying that it is very safe for the cats, that none have ever been injured or killed, and that it's an important training tool for its students. The cats, the school has said, are also used for a limited time only and are all eventually adopted.

Goodman says he first got wind of this change when some students who were taking the class this week told protesters from a group called the Alliance for Medical Progress outside Wash. U. that the class no longer involved cats.

St. Louis Children's Hospital. - VIA WUSTL.EDU
  • via wustl.edu
  • St. Louis Children's Hospital.

This week's class is the first PALS course Wash. U. has offered since PETA released its undercover video.

"We hope the cats...will all be adopted into loving homes immediately," Goodman adds.

PETA first learned of the practice in 2007 and began its protests against the school in 2008.

"We are happy about this decision," Goodman says, "but wish it didn't take five years of PETA campaigning for them to do the right thing."

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

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