"I thought that it would be just really a good experience if they could see the digestive system in the living animal." - Biology teacher Doug Bierregaard
A BIOLOGY class lesson in at a school in Gunnison, Utah, involving the dissection of a live dog has caused outrage to parents, students, and animal lovers around the world.
Biology teacher Doug Bjerregaard, who is a substitute teacher at Gunnison Valley High School, wanted his students to see how the digestive system of a dog worked.
Bjerregaard made arrangements for his students to be a part of a dissection of a dog that was still alive. Although initial reports suggested that the dissection took place in the biology classroom at the school, it was, in fact, carried out at a local veterinary clinic.
The dog was still alive at the time, but the teacher said it was sedated before the dissection began. With the students watching, the sedated dog's digestive system was removed.
"It just makes me sick and I don't think this should go on anywhere and nobody's learning from it," student Sierra Sears told local media.
Bjerregaard said the lesson would allow students to see the organs actually working.
"I thought that it would be just really a good experience if they could see the digestive system in the living animal," Bierregaard said in his defence.
The school's principal, Kirk Anderson seemed bemused by the worldwide outrage at the dissection after the initial news story was posted on the Internet, leading to the school being inundated with angry telephone calls and e-mails of condemnation. Anderson said notifications went to parents explaining the dog was going to be destroyed in any event, and that the experiment would be done with the dog's organs still functioning.
However, in a hasty attempt to deflect criticism, an explanatory message was posted on Gunnison High School’s website, attempting to explain the reasoning behind the dissection. Interestingly, all links to enable the school to be contacted via the website had been removed or disabled.
The statement reads (all US spellings retained):
“We wish to clear up the misconception reported in the news. The dog in this incidence was found in our mountains, by a family who tried to give it a home. The dog was vicious and couldn't be kept, so it was taken to an animal clinic. The veterinarian kept the dog 14 days, but the dog was mean and not adoptable. It was determined that the dog would have to be euthanized.
“The advanced biology class consisting of 7 seniors and 1 junior traveled to the animal clinic, after each parent was contacted by phone for parental permission. One parent elected to not have her daughter attend. The animal was anesthetized under sterile conditions. Students observed the digestive system of the dog. There was no dissection, nor did the teacher or students have any contact with the animal. Both the teacher and veterinarian are kind, gentle people and advocates of animals. We apologize for anyone we have offended and wish to go on record as stating this practice will not be repeated in our school."
The whole issue has been a public relations disaster for the school and the town, especially when it later emerged that Bjerregaard is the Mayor of the neighbouring town of Maryfield.
Superintendent James R. Petersen of the South Sanpete School District tried to calm the furore surrounding the issue by stating that such practices would not be allowed in future. Mr Petersen commented,
“As a School District we understand that such practices are controversial and offensive to many people. We wish to apologize that the incident happened. Such procedures have not been a part of our curriculum in the past and will not be allowed in the future. We wish to assure the public that our instructional practices are intended to provide students with the highest levels of humane treatment and respect for all living things. All of our instructional staff will receive instruction on current Utah policy as outlined in the Utah Guidelines for Responsible Use of Animals in the Classroom.
‘The South Sanpete School Board and District administration deeply regret the situation that occurred and will carefully review the incident. Any disciplinary action taken will be in accordance with District and State guidelines and advice from our legal counsel.”
Meanwhile, in the face of criticism, Mayor Bjerregaard is standing by his decision and continues to call it "the ultimate educational experience."
A couple of days after the story broke, an un-named student joined an ongoing debate on ABC News network’s Message Forum, defending the school and Bjerregaard. The student explained that the dissection was carried out at the animal clinic and was performed by a vet.
The student also wrote, "I personally know Mr. Bjerregaard and can assure you that he is one of the best teachers that has ever taught in the state of Utah and I would dare say the whole of the U.S. He cares about the students and wants them to get the most out of any and every lesson plan that he does and also has animals of his own. As a dog owner and animal lover myself I cannot condone nor criticize what has happened but I agree with him when he says that it was the ultimate learning experience. This was posted on the high school website and I can verify that is correct.
"The dog in this incidence was found in our mountains, by a family who tried to give it a home. The dog was vicious and couldn't be kept, so it was taken to an animal clinic. The veterinarian kept the dog 14 days, but the dog was mean and not adoptable. It was determined that the dog would have to be euthanized."
Tellingly, many of the student’s words seem to echo exactly the statements made by Principle Anderson and the explanatory message on he school website, particularly when the student wrote: "…Students observed the digestive system of the dog. There was no dissection, nor did the teacher or students have any contact with the animal. Both the teacher and veterinarian are kind, gentle people and advocates of animals."
The indignant student-writer concluded with a swipe at the media, saying, "In all reality this was no different than surgery on a human, but as usual this is blown out of proportion in the media to get people to watch and sell commercial air time."
British dog owner Tony Foreman from Ashford, Middlesex, expressed his disgust for the whole ethos of the procedure and told OUR DOGS: "Are there still some States with the death penalty in America? If so, I’m surprised they didn’t suggest going to see a proper human digestive tract, after all, it’s okay, the prisoner’s going to be killed anyway."
HUMANE SOCIETY CONDEMNS DISSCETION
The Humane Society of the United States issued the following statement regarding the experiment:
"The Humane Society of the United States was outraged to learn that a dog was dissected in a high school biology exercise about digestion.
Utah is one of only five states that require animals from animal shelters to be made available for scientific experiments. Currently, 15 other states ban the use of animals from shelters for research purposes. We call for the Utah legislature to ban seizure of animals from shelters and humane societies for use in research.
Animal shelters should not be used as a cheap supply house for researchers, and we believe that the continued use of animals from shelters destroys the public confidence that they have worked so hard to build.
The surrender of impounded animals from shelters to research facilities that use animals for experimental teaching or testing purposes is unethical. Research conducted on shelter animals contributes to a breakdown of effective community animal-control programs and undermines public confidence in the ability of shelters to provide humane care for the animals entrusted to them."
* The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization representing more than nine million members and constituents. The non-profit organization is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals and equine protection, disaster preparedness and response, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animal welfare. The HSUS protects all animals through education, investigation, litigation, legislation, advocacy, and field work. The group is based in Washington and has numerous field representatives across the country.
* Website: www.hsus.org.