Anyone who's ever owned a pet knows animals have an entire range of human-like emotions.
Dog breeds like the Border Collie and German Shepherd require lots of play time, attention and exercise, and when they don't get it, their frustration manifests in destructive ways. House cats have the emotional intelligence of human toddlers: Although their tails reveal a wealth of information about their moods, their meows are attempts at conversing with us humans since they know we're verbal creatures. Adult cats don't meow at each other, and cat owners quickly learn to distinguish between the insistent meows of "I'm hungry!" to the plaintive cries of a frustrated or injured cat.
Lots of people make the claim that animals aren't sentient, but that's a misconception based on a misunderstanding of the word itself and ignorance of the thousands of animal cognition studies that have proved the world's intelligent animals are capable of things like abstract thought, rudimentary language, and sense of self. Animals may not be sapient, but sentience by definition is the ability to feel.
As sites like YouTube prove, Americans are appalled at the way cats and dogs are treated in countries like Korea and Vietnam, where the former appear on restaurant menus as "little tiger" and the latter are served up in annual dog meat festivals.
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But it's not just our furry friends who can feel pain, which is why we need to say no to invasive animal testing that subjects thinking, feeling creatures to horrible pain and miserable lives -- lives that often end the moment they're no longer useful to research scientists.
Those facts were illustrated on Jan. 24, when scientists in Tokyo revealed they'd successfully grown a "human ear" on the back of a laboratory rat, Discovery reported. The scientists, from Tokyo and Kyoto universities, used stem cells to create cartilage, which was then molded into the shape of a human ear on the back of the unfortunate rat.
The researchers said they hope the breakthrough will allow them to produce ears "grown to order" within half a decade, the Daily Mail notes. Those ears would replace the exterior parts of ears lost or mangled in car accidents and combat, as well as disease. They said the ears can also help children born with facial abnormalities.
There are, however, two crucial points to consider.
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The first is that the scientists aren't actually growing ears. The "replacement" ears are simply stem cells converted into cartilage and molded into the shape of an ear. There are no replacements for the functional elements of human ears, meaning the "ears" produced by Japanese scientists are cosmetic only.
Secondly, while it's admittedly difficult to drum up sympathy for animals typically classified as pests, the fact is that they're thinking, feeling creatures. Their similarity to humans is why scientists choose them as research subjects in the first place.
Noting that "almost all human genes known to be associated with diseases have counterparts in the rat genome," the National Human Genome Research Institute makes the case for using rats as research subjects. The fact that humans, mice and rats share DNA sequences is the very reason mice and rats are staples of lab research.
Seeing images of our furry friends in laboratories pulls at the heartstrings, which is why so many people object to the estimated 20,000 cats and 65,000 dogs used as research subjects every year in the U.S. It's an emotional reaction. But as the dominant species on this planet, the animals with the most evolved brains, our logical side should tell us that it's wrong to experiment on any feeling animal, regardless of whether they're cute or not. That means objecting to the more than 70,000 primates, 50,000 pigs and the innumerable mice and rats whose lives begin and end in laboratories across the country.
Being the dominant species on the planet also means we're the Earth's caretakers. Responsibility for protecting the powerless falls on us. That's why it's imperative that we, as a species, pursue methods of research that don't involve destroying the lives of innocent creatures.