Local activists prompt useful discussion about dissecting animals
Feb 08, 2015 • News Articles

Williamson, D. Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Feb. 8, 2015

While NEAVS has worked to make New England a 100% Dissection Choice zone in public schools, we are keeping an eye on private and charter school policies. If your private or charter school does not offer you the choice of alternatives to specimen dissection, call us at 617-523-6020 or email info@neavs.org for information on what you can do.

When I first heard of the petition to stop a local school from dissecting dead cats in science classes, I was underwhelmed. 

After all, cutting into the flesh of a frog or fetal pig has long been a staple in our nation's high schools, a grisly rite of passage along our educational path. Besides, these cats were already dead. What's the big deal? 

But education doesn't end in the classroom, and I've learned enough over the past week to believe that the controversy over dissection deserves attention and debate. I've also learned that the animal rights movement isn't dominated by extremists who throw fake blood on fur-wearing starlets and insist that snails have souls. 

Laurence Van Atten-Holyoak of Shrewsbury is program director of International Animal Rescue, an organization devoted to saving animals from suffering. The group's work includes freeing dancing bears in India and rescuing primates from captivity in Indonesia. 

Last year she was contacted by students at Abby Kelley Foster Charter School who were disturbed that they had to dissect dead cats in class. So Van Atten-Holyoak reached out to Principal Christopher Kursonis in the hopes of discussing alternatives to the practice. 

"I thought he'd be interested in his students having these concerns," she said. "Some of these kids are afraid of being bullied or singled out if they stood up and said they didn't want to do it." 

She wanted to tell Kursonis that more and more students prefer alternatives such as computer-based programs, 3-D models, and videos, which are less expensive and shown to be more effective. She wanted to argue that dissection of house pets sends the message that animals are expendable. She intended to raise concerns that the cats used in classrooms may be bred for that purpose or obtained through disreputable dealers. 

She never got the chance. For almost a year, phone calls, emails and even a certified letter to the principal went unanswered, she said. 

So she started a petition on change.org that has almost 3,000 signatures. 

"I never expected this issue to become as big as it is," she said. "All I wanted was a chance to talk to him." 

Me, too. But Kursonis didn't return my calls, either. 

Other local educators did. 

South High Principal Maureen Binienda said students have dissected cats, pigs and sharks in a "respectful manner" and she has no problem with the practice. Students may opt out if they wish, but she knows of no one who has. 

"They take it very seriously," she said. "We're hoping some of them go on to become doctors or veterinarians." 

At Worcester Academy, Derek Segesdy of the science department said some students have opted to do computer dissections rather than work on actual pigs and sharks. But he maintained that virtual dissections lack the "tactile experience" of the real thing. 

"Animal dissection has been used for years and years," he said. 

But activists contend the practice is outdated. Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, said students are increasingly troubled and "haunted' by dissections and that even medical schools are making them optional. 

"There's no need for it in 2015," she said. "Other methods are more humane and more cost effective."

These folks make compelling arguments, ones I've never considered. Like Van Atten-Holyoak, I would have liked the opportunity to talk to the principal of Abby Kelley and get his take on an issue at his school that has gone so public. 

After all, if we're going to cut up dead house pets, we should at least take part in the thoughtful debate that separates us from them in the first place. 

Read original article here.