Queen’s likes to talk about the “Queen’s Community”, a grouping which invariably includes students, faculty, and administrators. In more expansive moments, it might include alumni; or the employees who do maintenance work, food services, and a host of other tasks essential to running a small city within a city; or even the larger Kingston community living on the borders of campus, or interacting with and supporting Queen’s in a variety of ways.
But what about the animals? They are the invisible members of the Queen’s Community, all around us, but never seen. Some are hiding in plain sight — like the squirrels, crows, and sparrows who call the campus home. Some require a more observant eye. Consider the chimney swifts. These endangered birds like to roost in abandoned chimneys — like the one rising above Fleming Hall. Swifts inhabited the chimney for many years until the opening was screened off to exclude them in 1993. Then along came some Queen’s scientists (from PEARL, the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab). After cleaning out the chimney (to study the guano, and to learn about the impact of pesticides on swifts), the group reopened the chimney, and the swifts took up residence again after their next spring migration from the Amazon Basin.
Then there are the campus bats — the focus of a recent campus security alert about contracting rabies from bites and scratches. (The warning used a scary font to emphasize the threat, although there have only been 3 cases of bat-contracted rabies in Canada in the last dozen years. One should be prudent around bats, as with all wild animals, but they are delightful, not to mention vital, members of the community.) And we mustn’t forget the Queen’s Biological Field Station north of Kingston, 3000 hectares of Frontenac Axis habitat that is home to a wide variety of wild animals and the Queen’s scientists who observe them.
Other animals on campus are invisible because they have been transformed beyond recognition – into food, or fur and leather clothing and accessories. This orgy of animal consumption goes on with barely a thought given to the animals robbed of life, liberty, and even a little chance for happiness.
And finally we come to the animals who are truly most invisible on Queen’s campus – those who are hidden away in laboratory cages: dogs, rhesus monkeys, birds, rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats and many others. Some of these animals have been kidnapped from the wild; others are seized from pounds, or ‘purpose-bred’ like the rats and mice sourced from Charles Rivers Labs in Montreal, or beagles sourced from Summit Ridge Farms in Pennsylvania. Some animals are killed for dissection practice in biology classes, despite the availability of high quality alternatives to this useless waste of lives. Others animals are used in medical research experiments, a travesty of both ethics and science. For example, there is a colony of haemophilia dogs at Queen’s, ‘living’ their lives in sterile cages, desperate for love and companionship. They have been purpose-bred to be sick, to bleed again and again while subjected to regimes of testing, and anti-coagulant drug trials. Other dogs are used for heart & circulatory system research. Some monkeys have spent 10 years in Queen’s labs, starved, drugged and subject to invasive surgeries (like ablation of the uterus, removal of ovaries) in order to study their hormonal systems; others are strapped into chairs to spend their days doing repetitive eye movement tests. Guinea pigs and rats are given high doses of alcohol, cocaine, or amphetamine.
These are living, breathing creatures spending their lives in sterile and barren environments; without friends, family or social networks; without meaningful activity and purpose in their lives; subject to painful, harmful, nonconsensual experiments for no defensible purpose. The vast majority of these animals are killed upon completion of an experiment (or ongoing series of experiments for the really unlucky ones).
They are members of the “Queen’s Community”, and they are our responsibility. The researchers who harm them do so with our tacit consent, and in most cases with the use of our public funds and charitable donations. For years animal users have insisted that we can and should trust them to police themselves. This is unacceptable, and there are some encouraging signs of change. Recently, the Toronto city council insisted that the three elephants at the Toronto Zoo — Iringa, Thika and Toka — be retired to the PAWS sanctuary in California, over objections of the Zoo industry, exercising democratic responsibility in place of industry self-regulation. The City of Toronto tacitly recognized the elephants as members of the Toronto community, falling under the responsibility of elected representatives. It was their duty to represent the best interests of the animals — not to abandon them to regulation by the very institutions which profit from abusing them. We need to make a similar shift in our thinking about animals used on Queen’s campus. Their interests cannot be represented by the people who use them. We, the larger Queen’s Community, must step up and take responsibility for the terrible harms committed in our name. We must ally ourselves with the animal members of the Queen’s Community, and stop deferring to those who would keep them locked out of sight.
Post written by Sue