Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Miss Conception

It's been a different kind of week at work. Before I get too far, I need to clarify a few things. I work for the veterinary school (Center for Veterinary Health Sciences) at Oklahoma State University. I am not a veterinary student, technician, orderly, assistant, nor doctor. I don't deal with the animals... at all. I fix computers and classroom equipment.

On Monday, a story was published in The Daily O'Collegian stating that the wife of billionaire OSU benefactor Boone Pickens was withdrawing a $5 million donation to the vet school. This money was being withdrawn because of "barbaric" practices at the school. I'll let you read what it said, then I'll be back to tell you the reality of the situation.
By Jaclyn Cosgrove

The wife of OSU alumnus and billionaire benefactor T. Boone Pickens plans to send a letter today to the OSU veterinary school dean to inform him she’s taking her money elsewhere.

Madeleine Pickens said in an exclusive interview with The Daily O’Collegian on Friday that she made the decision to move her $5 million donation from the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences after a veterinary student informed her of practices Pickens calls “barbaric.”

Pickens said she has learned the veterinary school buys dogs from breeders who have to follow less strict U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines; OSU then uses animals for surgical training procedures.

“Right now, when they buy these dogs, they bring them in, and they do a surgery, put them to sleep, do the surgery, wake them up, next day, put them to sleep again, maybe take out a kidney, wake them up again, put them to sleep again, maybe break a leg, fix it, wake them up again and then they kill them,” Pickens said. “That’s barbaric. That’s what you did years ago. Medicine has changed.”


“I’m very much focused on OSU changing its ways with the vet school, and I’m hoping that students get involved in this and say, ‘You know what? We have an opinion, too, and we don’t agree with this,’ she said.

And now, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story.

Point number one: There was never a donation from T. Boone Pickens or his wife that was slated specifically for the vet school. There can be no withdrawal of a donation when there is no donation to withdraw. My understanding is that the possibility of an unspecified donation has been mentioned to the vet school but any such donation would be contingent upon the dean supporting a political agenda, on behalf of the whole of CVHS, that Madeleine Pickens is strongly involved in. The dean has repeatedly declined to meet that requirement on the basis that the issue itself does not fit into the mission of the CVHS.

Point number two: The school buys dogs used for live surgery training from a USDA licensed broker. I do not know the licensing requirements for these brokers or those that specifically breed dogs for research purposes but I would imagine that any "les strict" guidelines, if there are any, would be because these brokers are not breeders. As such, any guidelines relating to the breeding of the animals would not apply to them. Again, I don't know the requirements and that is just speculation on my part. I do know, however, that the brokers are licensed by the USDA.

Point number three: If you know anything about research and the extremely strict guidelines that must be followed in regards to any live animal research (i.e. there are guidelines that specify how a mouse is and is not to be euthanized prior to feeding it to a snake), you know that the allegations Mrs. Pickens makes in the article are preposterous and, frankly, impossible. Before this article appeared, I didn't even know we had a live surgery training program much less how it functioned. I do know that if we operated it as she alleges, we would have been shut down a long time ago. I have been told that the procedures involve abdominal exploration, spay/neuter, and a couple of other similar and less-invasive procedures. No bones are broken. No organs are removed. As one state representative and OSU CVHS graduate said, "Our training is designed to prevent animal suffering, not create it." (Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing)

Point number four: "...all veterinary colleges are under strict guidelines regarding the use of animals in teaching and research. At OSU, our animal facilities and protocols are regularly reviewed by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), industrial partners, and the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association." (copied from a letter to constituents by Michael Lorenz)

Although the are some unattractive aspects to the surgery program at OSU CVHS, the students I have heard from have said the experience is invaluable, utilizing cadavers does not provide the same level of training, and even those who get emotionally involved agree that the unattractive aspects are a necessary part of the process.

If you have any questions about the story, the allegations, my comments or the program, please email me. If I cannot answer your question or address your concerns, I will find someone who can.

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