Activists + > AL Hall of Fame > Inductees

Notmilkman: From Vivisectionist to Activist

I was once a research scientist, performing surgery on laboratory animals.

When cyproterone acetate reduced the size of the prostate gland without affecting their sexual performance in my experimental lab rats, I was thrilled.

After legating the renal arteries which supplied blood to the kidneys of a group of male rats, I discovered that reduced blood supply to the kidney created a state of hypertension. I found the profound.

When parachloraphenylalanine (PCPA) induced male rats to mount other male rats, I was knew that I was on the brink of a major finding.

When we injected female rats with a radioactive substance (triturated estradiol benzoate) and then measured uptake in various tissues with a scintillation spectrometer, I recognized that I was discovering things that no other researcher had previously known.

When I implanted an electrode to the median forebrain bundle of a rat's hypothalamus and taught that animal to press a bar to get food, then to get electrical stimulation to that area of his brain, and when he continuously pressed that bar, electing a mild electric surge over food, I knew that I had found the addiction center of his brain...or, the pleasure center.

When I injected gold thioglucose into the lateral artery of a rat's brain, and created an animal that would never stop eating, I knew that upon autopsy, I would find the brain's central neural eating center. Indeed I had. That was the ventro-medial nucleus.

After removing the ovaries and uteri from a group of female rats, I learned to control their sexual cycles and urges by injecting them with estrogen and then some days thereafter, progesterone. Four hours after the second injection, they would come into estrus. Truly amazing.

After injecting testosterone into the area of a male rat's brain that had previously been identified as that area controlling sexual function, the males did something strange. They built nests. I had induced maternal behavior. After injecting that same hormone into female rats, they mounted males and performed pelvic thrusting, much as a male rat would do. Quite unladylike. Quite fascinating.

I was learning so very much about humans by experimenting upon rats. Or was I?

A photo of me at age 21, performing rat surgery:

"I don't think one can articulate a satisfaction with harming another being whether it's human or nonhuman." - Henry Spira Henry Spira was a man who turned compassion into action. Many people honor Spira by referring to him as the founding father of the animal rights movement.

Spira was mentor and friend to many of the people who are at the forefront of today's AR movement. He began fighting for animals in the mid-1970s by calling attention to surgical experiments being conducted on cats at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

A few years later, Spira was to draw attention to Revlon's practice of testing cosmetics by blinding rabbits. Spira took out a full page ad in the April 15, 1980 issue of the New York Times. Without Spira's passion, the world would have known little of what goes on in research labs, and Spira's revelations resulted in a geometric increase in the number of animal rights activists.

I never met Spira. We did, however, cross paths, and that is meant literally...with sprinkles of pre-destined irony and providence.

You see, I was inside the Museum of Natural History witnessing that cat surgery while Spira and others were outside protesting. Our Museum of Natural History cat had an electrode implanted in the medial forebrain bundle of her brain's hypothalamus.

Why would anybody protest that, I wondered at the time? We were scientists, seeking to expand the horizons of mankind's understanding of brain mechanisms. In the long run, we would cure human diseases by experimenting on animals. The protestors lacked understanding.

I remember going outside to get a hot dog from a vendor in front of the museum, facing Central Park. I walked among the protestors to try and understand their position. I recall no individual faces, just a mindless passion that seemed at the time to be misdirected.

Three decades later, I am haunted by the fact that I was the clueless one. I do not remember Spira. I could not pick him out of a crowd. The man was a visionary. At that time, I lacked the vision to see the truths I now see. Henry Spira died of cancer on September 12th, 1997 at the age of 71. At about that same time, I was beginning to learn the many different ways that people abused animals. At about that same time, I came to the realization that animal research accomplished nothing for humans. I observed how animals suffered in rodeos and circuses. I learned that meat eating was responsible for damage to the bodies of meat eaters. I was taught that there were alternatives to wearing their skins, fur, and eating their flesh. I never again could be entertained by their pain.

Robert Cohen