Veterinary Medical Science, 1995 – 2000
Moscow State Veterinary Academy, Russia

I think since I was born I have been dreaming of becoming a veterinarian in order to treat animals, to save lives. But I could not have imagined that in order to be able to do this it is necessary to take part in killing - the killing of laboratory animals on which students carry out experiments. Such experiments destroy the feeling of compassion in a human - the feeling which is so important for a vet or a human doctor.

I could see this process happening with my own eyes. I have just graduated and I could see the changes in students' attitudes towards animals: in the 1st year of studying many of them couldn't even watch how frog was being killed. Three years later, they found the experiment amusing. Some from other institutes in Moscow even go out into the street to catch cats and stray dogs - and perform experiments such as unsupervised castrations and dissection on these animals. Mostly this change has happened because of the influence of our professors who argue strongly that it is impossible to become a vet student without performing animal experiments. I don't believe that this is true, and moreover, most of the experiments are primitive ones such as putting frogs into scalding water or pouring an acid solution on to them. All the experiments are carried out on non-anaesthetised animals which sometimes scream because of the pain.

I have been lucky that I have had the opportunity not to take part in all this cruelty. The financial situation of universities means that they can buy only a small amount of animals for experiments. For physiology just one frog or mouse was used for the whole class, or we had to watch the professor performing the experiment. And we used no animals for surgery. Personally I took stray cats to a clinic and paid for neutering operations which I performed myself under the supervision of the vet. About 20 years ago, when the financial situation of universities was good, each student had their own animal for each experiment, and at that time students were given rabbits, cats and dogs. But if today's financial situation improves there is the risk that many more animals will be bought and used.

If I hadn't learned about InterNICHE during its outreach trip to Moscow in Spring 1995, maybe I would have got used to animal experiments too. For most of the teachers, hearing criticism of animal experiments and showing alternatives was a new and strange thing - and to some seemed ridiculous. But for students like me it was exactly what we needed to hear. Several of us formed the small Russian-NICHE group at this time. The main direction of the group today is spreading the ideas of humane education. We talk to students, give out leaflets and speak on the radio and TV. We think there is no point replacing animal experiments if we are not changing the way students think.

We also supported the Centre for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (CETA) in getting the curricula of veterinary, medical and biological institutes to include the subject of bio-ethics, the aim being to explain to students that animals are creatures with feelings and needs like us, and that they are able to suffer. The CETA's newly written book on bio-ethics includes, of course, the subject of the use of laboratory animals, and describes the world movement for humane education. Probably this is our greatest success so far: the Ministry of Education in Russia agreed to include it in the curricula of the institutes, and in 1998 it was first introduced. I myself intend to read lectures in bio-ethics to the students now that I have graduated. The CETA also successfully encouraged the Ministry to order the institutes to use anaesthesia, but as there are no penalties if this is not done, the animals are rarely narcotised.

We managed to get our first alternative to animal experiments, a donated SimNerve computer simulation, which is now used in the institute by the teachers, and will hopefully be used later by the students. A number of other institutes are ready for the introduction of alternatives too, but they cannot afford most of the products. We might in the future try to distribute video films of experiments as alternatives, as these are most suitable for Russia's financial situation.

So I am happy to say that during my course I didn't kill one animal in an experiment. I believe that no-one gave us the right to decide who will live and who will die. I will do everything in my power to stop cruelty, not only to laboratory animals but to all animals. Because the question is not if they can think or if they can speak, but if they can suffer.