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Of all the cruelties humans inflict on animals, vivisection is arguably one of the most insidious. The use of these victims as “test subjects” has a long and disgraceful history, made all the more shameful by the enduring myth that animals “sacrificed” for the good of science are soulless objects without interests of their own. That notion is slowly, if grudgingly, beginning to change, as institutions begin to acknowledge the self-awareness in some animals. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, recently announced plans to substantially reduce the number of chimpanzees used for government-funded biomedical research. The NIH will “retire” hundreds of these chimps and move them to sanctuaries over the next few years. (The NIH will retain up to 50 chimps, however, and their decision does not impact private institutions.)
While it’s wonderful to see anyone released from a laboratory, the tragedy is that thousands upon thousands of mice, dogs, rabbits, cats, pigs, fish, rats, and other species languish inside facilities where they are used to test drugs, household products, medical devices, surgical techniques, military weapons, and much more.
That’s why I was so heartened to learn about New Life Animal Sanctuary in southern California. New Life is the brainchild of longtime activist Gina Lynn, who started the rescue center a few years ago when she heard the psych program that used animals at California State University‒Northridge was closing down. “We were committed to rescuing all the animals they had there,” she says. “More than 300 small animals—rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice—including all the offspring of the animals who came to us pregnant. All of those animals, plus five rabbits and 50 more mice from two additional labs, were all adopted out into wonderful homes!”
New Life’s mission is to take animals from labs and place them into loving homes, and do so completely above-ground. “We make sure that every animal we take in is completely legal so as not to potentially risk the other animals we care for,” explains Gina. “We have a legal contract that we have a representative of the lab sign saying they are releasing the animals to our care and relinquishing all rights they have to the animals.”
Gina learned how to start a sanctuary through Best Friends, which offers a course that introduced her to the physical, administrative, and emotional elements of such an effort. “It was awesome,” she says. “I attended a week-long workshop at the sanctuary that covered every aspect of starting and running a sanctuary. We learned everything about animal care, raising money, recruiting volunteers, building and maintaining safe enclosures, etc. We got to see firsthand how a beautifully successful sanctuary is effectively run and were given lots of useful tools and materials to take home for future use.”
Of course, unlike most shelters, before an animal can be adopted from New Life, the traumatic experience of life in a lab means that she or he needs to be rehabilitated first. “We have to take every animal and situation on a case-by-case basis,” says Gina. “I believe that love can be very healing, and I have personally rehabilitated severely abused or otherwise traumatized dogs and cats. It is beautiful and amazing to see the transformation once an animal realizes that there is no longer anything to fear, that all of their needs will be met, and that they can trust in the love and affection of a human being.”
There is a concern, however, that rehoming animals from labs could provide research institutions with a convenient way to assuage their consciences regarding the future of animals they exploit, and it’s one Gina and her team are well aware of. “That has been a topic of conversation and will continue to be going forward. We are completely opposed to animal experimentation and must be careful not to sanction what they do in any way. One thing that was great about the Cal State Northridge rescue was that the entire animal department was shut down and the experiments were ended permanently!”
Keep an eye on New Life Animal Sanctuary’s Facebook page and new website for more details on their rescues and adoptable animals. They will soon be calling for volunteers and looking for donations so they can continue their rescue work.Follow @markhawthorne