By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Board upholds using cats for dissection

The six members present — Kathy Cabe was absent — said they believe using real animals is an important element of the class, an elective taken primarily by seniors interested in careers in human or animal medical care. Students can gain college credit by taking the class and passing an AP exam.

“Personally, I think there’s no alternative,” said Janis Braich, one of four medical professionals serving on the board.

Braich said her training as a nurse included both animal and human dissection, along with computerized simulations.

“There’s no comparison,” she said. “The tactile part is so important.”

In response to the Yamhill County Cat Coalition’s charges that the company from which the district currently buys cats has used inhumane practices, board members also said they support finding a different source for the preserved animals, if possible.

McMinnville educators already are looking into other sources for the five or fewer cats it uses each term, said Tony Vicknair, director of secondary programs.

The district has been buying animals from Carolina Biological, a major supplier of science supplies to schools. A company official said it sells animals that were euthanized by shelters following state law.

Science teacher Jared Larson said Mac High buys from Carolina Biological in part because the company does not use formaldehyde in its preparations. If they change sources, teachers want to make sure the new source doesn’t expose students to the carcinogen.

“I share your concern that (euthanizing animals) should be done as humanely as possible,” board member Scott Gibson told the cat coalition members Monday night. “The district should continue to investigate sources.”

Gibson, a physician, made the motion to continue dissection.

“It’s uniquely important in the study of anatomy,” he said. “It’s very important coming in direct contact with a subject. You can learn where a muscle is and what it does with a computer, but you won’t get the same appreciation for how it works.”

Last fall, Antoinette Marcel of the cat coalition filed a complaint asking the district to stop using cats for dissection in AP biology.

She said switching to computer simulations and other technology would be more humane and would stop sending the message that it’s OK to hurt cats.

When the curriculum committee refused, she appealed to the school board.

Marcel had planned to tout the benefits of teaching anatomy with technology, but ended up using most of her allotted 20 minutes Monday night focusing on inhumane methods sometimes used in the collecting of cats for specimens.

State law in North Carolina, the home state of Carolina Biological, allows euthanization by gassing.

North Carolina law states, “An animal shall only be put to death by a method and delivery of method approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States, or the American Humane Association … If the gas method of euthanasia is approved, rules shall require (i) that only commercially compressed carbon monoxide gas is approved for use, and (ii) that the gas must be delivered in a commercially manufactured chamber that allows for the individual separation of animals.”

Still, Marcel said, gassing is a slow, ineffective method that causes fright and pain.  

Vicknair said the district now is searching for a source from a state that limits euthanization to lethal injection.

Marcel also decried the way animals are treated prior to death, saying she’s seen reports that cats have been subjected to poor conditions and mistreatment. Many companies buy their cats from “bunchers” who steal animals, transport them long-distances and otherwise treat them cruelly, according to Marcel and fellow speaker Phil White.

White said many countries have outlawed cat dissection as a teaching tool.

Although some U.S. high schools, including those in Seattle, have dropped the practice in recent years, many still include cat dissection in their science curriculum. Students at Newberg High School and many other Oregon schools dissect cats, mostly in college-placement classes.

White and Marcel also distributed cat dissection photos they said had been posted on Facebook by Mac High students. They read aloud some of the offensive captions, such as “Mmmmm, chicken!” and “Our cat’s bigger than yours.”

Vicknair acknowledged some local students posted disrespectful photos on Facebook two years ago. After that, the biology teacher began forbidding cameras and photo cell phones in the classroom and increased pre-dissection training about proper laboratory behavior.

District policy and Oregon law allow students to opt out of dissection, or their parents to make that decision for them. Those opting out are given an assignment in another classroom during the dissection exercise.

Of the 64 students who’ve taken AP biology in the last three years, only two have chosen not to participate in dissection, Vicknair said.

Marcel said she doesn’t believe Mac High students are being fully informed about where the cats have been obtained. If they knew about the inhumanity of many biological supply companies, she said, more students would opt out.

She would prefer to see all cat dissection ended. Barring that, she said, it should be limited to dissection at the college level of pets that died of natural causes and were lovingly donated by their owners.

Some university veterinary programs are using such cats. No such donation program is available in Oregon, however.

Board member Stan Primozich said he would have gladly donated two feral cats that appeared on his porch recently. Instead, he spent more than $100 getting them fixed so they could be adopted out, he said.

“I hope you got that he wanted to donate his cats,” Marcel told a reporter afterward.


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