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Stop Cruel, Outdated Trainings On Cats

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Three cats, Alley, Fiddle, and Kiki, need our help. They have been used in cruel trainings for seven years. For the University of Virginia to be deliberately inflicting pain and suffering on defenseless animals in the name of medical education is inappropriate, unjustified, inhumane and archaic. As a practicing pediatrician with years of experience, I have profound concern for the health and well-being of all children, including the smallest premature infants. As a medical school faculty physician with many years experience in pediatric education and training, I have equal concern for the quality of training that aspiring pediatricians receive during their residency. One of the more challenging aspects of this training is acquiring skills and proficiency in performing procedures, especially in very small infants. The importance of perfecting tracheal intubation (passing a breathing tube into the windpipe) cannot be overly emphasized, as it is truly lifesaving.

Many years ago this procedure was taught by practicing on animals (cats, kittens, ferrets, rabbits) whose anatomy was very different from that of a human infant. This ineffective method of training has been replaced in modern times due to new technology in the form of human patient simulators. These simulators, including premature infant models are astonishingly realistic, anatomically correct, and can be used over and over again without causing harm to an animal or human baby. The infant simulators cry, breathe, and turn blue when their airway is blocked. In view of this I find it incomprehensible and disturbing to learn that the University of Virginia pediatric residency program still uses Alley, Fiddle, and Kiki to train pediatric residents.

The overwhelming majority of pediatric residency programs in the U.S. and Canada – 95% in fact – have ceased using animals for training. The path of modern training has moved from animals to more effective human-based medical simulation. Why is it that the University of Virginia refuses to make the change and continues to be in the extreme minority who are holding onto this outdated practice? During their training, residents in their program repeatedly force breathing tubes down the throats of cats, sometimes as many as 19 – 22 times in one day, This can cause bleeding, bruising, scarring, permanent injury and significant residual pain. At least two cats have had their teeth broken and another had adverse effects lasting days. Cats are used over and over again. People who have had a breathing tube inserted for anesthesia during surgery will often tell you that recovering from the tube was as bad as recovering from the surgery.

Please sign my petition encouraging UVA to do the right thing. I have over 25 years experience working in Pediatrics at Duke University, Marshall University, East Carolina University, and Carolinas Medical Center.  Based on my extensive knowledge in this field, I can confidently say that the University of Virginia does not need to continue to abuse Alley, Fiddle, and Kiki. By switching to medical simulation, not only will these cats be spared suffering but the resident training will be superior and their future pediatricians able to provide better care for their patients.

Roberta Gray, M.D., FAAP

(Photo: Washington Animal Rescue League)

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