My eyes move from the massive close-up of a rabbit cornea projected on a screen to the middle age man sitting at my table hacking at the chicken breast on the plate before him. He looks up and I attempt a polite close-lipped smile that most likely presents as a smirk. Averting my eyes I find myself staring at my plate of beige food. Fried Tofu, brown rice and three breaded disc-like objects that, at one time, may have lain claim to being a vegetable of some sort. I’d recently given up meat as everytime someone mentioned pork or lamb I envisioned my chunky wide-eyed cat Petie.
The man of my dreams?
The night had seemed promising at first. As we all took our seats in the banquet hall, the lights were dimmed and Doctor Palmer, a clean-cut boyish looking man in his late 30s took the stage. I found him attractive in that New England kind of way – pressed khakis, light pink shirt, and navy tie – we were in Boston after all. I’d craned my neck in an effort to check out his ring finger but I was too far away and he too fidgety so I couldn’t call it.
Not fifteen minutes later my ex-potential-future-husband is enlightening us about exciting medical advances in the field of Childhood Glaucoma …over dinner. Clinical trials only made possible thanks to donations from the generous patrons gathered here this evening (minus me, I’m just the+1).
How’d I get here?
Children’s Glaucoma is a disease of which I was completely unaware. Weeks earlier, half listening, I’d agreed to join my friend Jen and her extended family at a fundraiser for which they had an extra ticket – something to do with children and vision and a niece who suffered from a disorder. I heard “something to do other than another night drinking copious amounts of red wine with my girlfriends (or alone) and the potential to meet guys.” I was in.
Back to reality…
And here I am all dolled up, in a Boston banquet hall listening to Dr Palmer carefully explain that lab rabbits, induced with glaucoma, are given cell grafts in hopes of regenerating healthy corneas. If successful, millions of children born with the disease – some in attendance – could hope for improved sight or regain their vision altogether. And future generations would be spared the 20-30 surgeries needed to save their eyesight within the first weeks of birth.
I’d only recently begun processing the realities of the farming industry and now this? I hadn’t considered lab animals before. I grew up with a hamster and couldn’t imagine hurting him in anyway – not even in the name of science. What was the difference between my hamster and a cute lab mouse? I mean my cat Petie is only two floppy ears away from rabbit, pink nose and all. In fact it’s his resemblance to small farm animals that contributed to my vegetarianism in the first place.
Whenever I saw lamb, pig or rabbit on a menu his chunky face flashed before my eyes. I mean a pig knows its name at three weeks of age and I’m not sure Petie can make that claim. But the truth of the matter is that cats aren’t even safe from this fate (dogs neither) and are sold from shelters to labs and university biology classes with the rational they’ll be put down anyway – may as well make a buck and put ‘em to use (While not legal in all states, Utah and Minnesota mandate pound seizures and Oklahoma requires them but has opt-out concessions).
Back at the table, my mind is racing. I go to nudge my friend Jen (a newly turned vegan and fellow animal lover) but thankfully I intercept the reflex. As I look at the faces crowding the hall I know I have to keep my feelings about the atrocities of animal testing to myself – at least for tonight. Suddenly the enormity of the issue dawns on me. By speaking out against animal testing am I in essence telling a mother her daughter’s sight (or life) is no more important than that of a rabbit? Is it? Where is the line? At what point, if any, is it okay to harm another creature for your benefit? Some will argue we have the right because we have the intellect and physical might to subjugate other species.
Dr Palmer continues, going into great depth around the steps involved in having this procedure approved for use in humans. And at that moment – perhaps in his excitement – he slips and uses the word “bunny” in referencing a research subject. There were children present!
I kick Jen under the table and scan the room to see if anyone else had noticed. If they had it wasn’t stopping them from greedily chomping away at cooked flesh. I’m reminded of an episode of “House” where a female patient who blogs and is vegetarian (not me, she was blond and married) needs a valve replacement. She had the choice between a pig valve – the recommended choice from a medical outcome perspective – or plastic one. After some guilt and fear of reader backlash, she decides to go through with a pig valve replacement. Perhaps it’s easy to be idealistic as long as it’s theoretical.
Thanks to the Doctor I’m starting to relate to the “crazies” who are adamant about only using products not tested on animals. But to avoid all medicines or medical procedures that exist today because of animal testing seems impossible.
What I can say with all certainty is that I will keep doing what I can to save as many rescue animals as I can, continue to flirt with vegan and be sure to ask any prospective date if they conduct research on bunnies.