Under Scrutiny: Georgia Regents University's Use of Dogs in Its Dental Care Program
Other than the masochist character in Little Shop of Horrors, there aren't many stories of people who love to go to the dentist. Most people probably identify more with the portrayal in the 1976 film Marathon Man, where Lawrence Olivier plays a Nazi war criminal/dentist who interrogates Dustin Hoffman by drilling into his teeth.
But when you get down to it, we might sympathize with the character in Little Shop of Horrors because we've gone to considerable trouble to be in that chair, including paying a hefty chunk of money. Not so for the dogs at the dental school at Georgia Regents University. On Sunday, animal rights activists held a demonstration against the school's use of dogs as experimental subjects for dental implant techniques.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, GRU removes healthy teeth from the dogs so that implants can be put in. The dogs are then killed so that a small section of jawbone can be removed and studied. The group also claims that the school's provider of dogs is highly questionable. In a press release issued last month, the society claimed that GRU gets its dogs from a random-source dealer who has been charged with violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Random-source dealers collect dogs and cats from places such as shelters, pounds, auctions, and Craigslist, then resell them for biomedical research.
The issue of GRU's treatment of dogs in its dental research program first came to light in November, when the Humane Society released a highly graphic video of footage made inside the labs. (This one is not for the squeamish, so consider that before you click.) The video shows the dogs being operated on and then dissected.
When the video came out, the Humane Society called for GRU's federal funding to be pulled because of animal cruelty, a demand that was repeated yesterday. Kathleen Conlee, the group's Vice President of Animal Research, said at Sunday's demonstration that the Humane Society wants the university to adhere to some basic standards: "We want them to stop these dental experiments on dogs, we want them to stop buying these dogs from what are known as random source dealers, and we want them to be more transparent with the community and what's happening."
A former GRU employee named Julie LaPierre believes that the treatment of the dogs might affect how the dental school's students treat their human patients as well. She herself had received implants at the dental school, and she said that when she saw the video, she wanted to "spit them out."
"I saw a direct correlation with how the dogs were treated and how I was treated, and I felt that maybe they weren't teaching empathy," she said.
The university wouldn't make any statements to the press during the demonstration, but in response to the Humane Society's charges in November, it issued a statement from Dr. Mark Hamrick, senior vice president for research that said in part, "The video that was released shows surgical procedures performed under anesthesia, in sterile, aseptic conditions and followed with appropriate clinical management and pain control if necessary.
"The images showing open wounds in the neck were taken from the autopsy room, after the animal had already been euthanized. The research being done with dogs is neither frivolous nor unnecessary, as alleged by the investigation, and is performed in order to develop safe, effective dental procedures for people."
We think the cost is too high.