BYU is home to reptiles, mice, rats, chickens, pigeons, and plenty of fish – and vet Sandy Garrett is responsible for making sure they’re all taken care of.
Almost all of BYU’s animals are used for research, with the exception of the reptiles in the Monte L. Bean Museum’s Live Animal Show. Each animal is checked daily by a student researcher and animal care technician. If they notice any problems, they let Garrett know.
Dr Garrett was a veterinarian in private practice for 10 years before coming to BYU. As a university veterinarian, she is responsible not only for treating animals on campus, but also for ensuring that they are handled and cared for correctly in accordance with Guide to the care and use of laboratory animals.
All animal research conducted at BYU must be reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). BYU psychology professor Harold Miller uses pigeons and rats in his research, so he’s quite familiar with the process.
“There are strict standards for the care of animal subjects to ensure their good health and safety,” he said.
In fact, Garrett said that’s what she spends most of her time doing – reviewing research proposals to ensure the methods comply with federal guidelines as defined by the IACUC. “There is something different every day. I can see all the new research that people come up with, ”she said.
IACUC Policy includes daily checking of each animal to ensure they have water, food, dry bedding and that they are healthy and free from other issues like overcrowding, aggressive cage mates or fingers or wings stuck in cages.
Miller uses pigeons and rats in his research and said that there are several reasons why non-human subjects can be used in laboratory research.
“Often they are cited in relation to comparable research with human participants,” he said. “Pigeons are a widely preferred research subject for several reasons, including their visual system, ease of maintenance and relatively long lifespan.”
Some people think animals used in research labs get tested, but that’s not true at BYU. “BYU research animals are used for teaching and research,” Garrett said. “Most animals have knock-in or knocked out genes. No animal has products tested on it. “
Not all BYU research animals are genetically modified, which is true of the animals in Miller’s lab, where he studies the economics of behavior.
“Our current research on pigeons involves a procedure in which they peck one or the other of two small, lighted plastic discs and sometimes are given a brief access to the grain,” he said. “This procedure is analogous to a computer game played by our human participants.”
Miller explained that, like the ticking of the pigeons on the discs, the mouse clicks of the human participants produce either a gain or a loss.
Miller uses animals to study how wins and losses affect choice. He said the similarities in performance between species provide evidence of a common way of thinking about behavior and the environment.
Garrett takes his responsibility to animals seriously and says it’s important that they are comfortable, healthy, and treated properly. Because of this, they cannot be hosted on their own, she said.
“If they are to be (alone) they need special arrangements,” she said. Pigeons are an example of a separately housed animal as they will fight if they are kept together, she said. “So we put them at least where they can see each other. “
The experience of each animal is something Garrett pays great attention to. Although the size of the pigeons’ cages meets the IACUC standards, she recently enlarged them in order to give the pigeons more room to roam. Garrett also gives the pigeons fake eggs to sit on, which she says they love.
“We are trying to create environments where animals can be active,” she said. “It’s not normal for an animal to have nothing to do.”
Most importantly, Garrett said she never wants animals to suffer and animals always receive pain relievers if they undergo a procedure that could be painful.
Sometimes Garrett repairs minor issues, such as overgrown teeth, but if the animal develops issues that cannot be resolved, she said the best solution is to euthanize the animal so that it does not have not to suffer.
There are currently no BYU research projects that are causing pain in animals that cannot be relieved with medication. However, some research projects require surgery, Garrett said. Animals are only allowed one major surgery and are treated as well as human patients.
Animals that are operated on are given preventative analgesics 24 to 48 hours before surgery and each procedure must have an appropriate approved anesthesia protocol. The animal is usually given pain relievers in the form of an injectable opioid during surgery, and then again every 12 hours for five to seven days after the operation.
“Animals are assessed for pain and pain relievers are tailored based on their daily needs,” Garrett said.
BYU animal research is not widely publicized as animal research labs across the country are targeted by animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
The University of Utah was the subject of a secret PETA investigation in 2009 that resulted in a lawsuit, according to The Daily Chronicle of Utah, the university’s student newspaper. PETA’s investigation has also caught the attention of federal entities, resulting in a warning letter to the University of the US Department of Agriculture stating that further violations could result in civil penalties or lawsuits. criminal, according to Salt Lake Tribune.
In 2004, BYU was vandalized, research animals were released, and a BYU facility was set on fire by individuals associated with ALF. In one incident, an 18-year-old caused $ 30,000 in damage to BYU’s animal husbandry facility, according to the News from Déseret. It was the third attack on the facility that year.
These incidents highlighted the need not to publicize animal research on campus, Garrett said. As a result of the incidents, the animals were moved from barns to indoor vivariums.
Beverly Roeder, associate university veterinarian and BYU biology professor, declined a request for an interview, acknowledging that information about BYU’s animal research studies and the location of its labs is considered sensitive and controversial.
Utah Valley University has not had any problems with animal rights activists according to Eric Domyan, president of the university’s IACUC.
UVU doesn’t do a lot of animal research, but they do use zebrafish and domestic pigeons in research labs, Domyan said. They also use mice, rats, and a variety of reptiles in the classroom to help students gain first-hand experience of the diversity of animal life.
The study of animals is essential for developing the knowledge necessary to protect human health, Domyan said. “If you think about the pandemic we are experiencing right now, many of the treatments and therapies that we are working to develop for it will have to first go through some kind of animal testing before we can try them. on humans.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not had a negative impact on animals on the BYU campus, Garrett said. Preparing to care for research animals has been Garrett’s top priority even before classes moved online as announced on March 12.
“I am happy to say that we are ready and that research should not be interrupted or affected,” she said.