Dog abuse arouses concern over lab animal welfare

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A recent set of online photographs depicting two mistreated laboratory dogs have prompted concerns over laboratory animal welfare in China.

The two dogs, skinny and scrawny, were found left with no water or food in a locked room at Nanchang University, with dozens of dead rats in cages as their only company, according to a netizen surnamed Yin who said she fed the dogs once in awhile after discovering them.

She said all the teeth of one dog had been pulled out, while the other dog was seriously injured after being tied up too tightly.

When the pictures surfaced on a popular online forum last Saturday, enraged netizens started to appeal for lab animal rights.

"We should respect life when striving for scientific advances," wrote netizen "yingyingata."

Netizen "baishenfuxue" said "laboratory animals have helped mankind a lot, so we should care for them in return. They deserve to live a cozy life."

Hong Yijiang, director of Nanchang University's Biological Sciences Department, said the department hasn't carried out experiments with dogs for years.

"They may be stray dogs that were seeking shelter," said Hong. He did admit that the room where the dogs were found used to be used to keep laboratory animals.

Zhang Beibei, director of the Nanchang Small Animal Protection Association (NSAPA), said that even if the two dogs were not kept for experiments, the public should still protect laboratory animals' welfare.

Although some people think animal experimentation is unethical, animal experiments cannot be completely abolished in biological science today, said Liao Kan, a researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences (SIBS).

He added that about 15 million animals are involved in scientific research in China each year.

Animal rights advocates are calling on scientists to observe ethical practices.

Wu Xiaohong, China PR & education manager at the Animals Asia Foundation, suggested that since animal experiments are inevitable, scientists should follow the "3 Rs" principle, which stands for reducing the number of animals used, refining their methodology and replacing animal experimentation with other methods.

"Scientists should protect laboratory animals' welfare, providing them with enough water, food, and a comfortable living environment. They should follow standard procedures if they carry out animal euthanasia after experiments," she said, emphasizing that animals, especially vertebrates, have feelings.

Many institutions and researchers do pay respect to their experimental animals.

At SIBS's laboratory animal center, researchers have set up a memorial to pay tribute to all the animals that have died for scientific research. Similarly, medical students at Xi'an Jiaotong University pay respect to experimental animals with bouquets of flowers every year.

The poor treatment of animals has provoked public uproar in recent years, resulting in an increase in the number of organizations like NSAPA.

The organizations collect donations, save stray dogs and cats and campaign for better animal protection.

A draft of China's first comprehensive animal welfare law -- the China Animal Protection Law -- was issued in September 2009. The draft has yet to become an actual law.

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