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Empathic Rodents Get a Wee Bit More Protection—Sort Of

New guidelines recommend ridiculously small cages for families of mice and rats.

Tens of millions of rodents are used in all sorts of invasive research yet the United State's Federal Animal Welfare Act does not consider these empathic mammals to be animals. Indeed, about 99 percent of the animals used in research are not protected by federal legislation and are routinely subjected to horrific abuse. Here is a quote from the federal register: "We are amending the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to reflect an amendment to the Act's definition of the term animal. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 amended the definition of animal to specifically exclude birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research" (Vol. 69, no. 108, 4 June 2004).

Now, at last, there is some sort of good news for these rodents. New guidelines suggest that the cages for females and their babies should be larger than they currently are. And this has researchers in a tizzy because it will cost them more money to house them and they may not be able to breed as many as they currently do. The new guidelines suggest that a female mouse and her litter should get at least 51 square inches, while a female rat plus her litter should get at least 124 square inches. Do the math—it's recommened that a family of mice should be housed in about a 7 x 7 inch cage and a female rat and her family should be housed in a 12 x 12 inch cage. These are not exactly large areas. 

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It's important to recognize that the new recommendations are not hard-and-fast rules and there's no consequence for ignoring them. According to the NPR report, "The National Institutes of Health [NIH] is taking comments on the rodent housing issue until the end of the month. And research institutions have about a year to evaluate their program and decide whether they need to make changes to comply with the new guidelines."

Please take the time to comment on the above wishy-washy guidelines. You can contact members of Congress and also write to the NIH. You can directly contact Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, at 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892; email: francis.collins@nih.gov; telephone: 301-496-2433.

Let's make the lives of the tens of millions of captive rodents better as we also work to end research on them. Although the Animal Welfare Act does not consider them to be animals, they are, indeed, members of the animal kingdom, and are highly sentient, sentitive, and empathic beings at that. They deserve far more protection than they receive. 

 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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