One definition of Animal Testing describes it as “the use of non-human animals in scientific experimentation”. Every year millions of animals including, dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep, monkeys, chimpanzees, rats, mice, ferrets and hamsters are subjected to both physical and mental torture in the name of science. While some believe this experimentation is necessary on the grounds that it advances medicine, others believe that operating on a living animal for the purpose of experimentation rather than healing as cruel, unethical, barbaric and outdated.
Since the beginning of time, animals have always appeared alongside man. Empathy for the rights of animals have been recognised in the writings of the Roman philosopher Seneca, in first century and King Asoka, Emperor of India, a Buddhist and vegetarian, In the third century BCE, promoted the abstinence of the slaughter or offering of animals for sacrifice in his realm.
The Ancient Egyptians were especially dedicated to animals as they believed that certain gods and goddesses manifested themselves on earth as an animal. The cat held particularly high regard with the ancient Egyptians, representing the Goddess Bastet (depicted as a woman with a cat’s head she is the Goddess of fire, cats, the home and pregnant women). The male cat too was greatly respected, believing it had religious connections with Ra. However, this adulation of the cat held by the ancient Egyptians gave rise to their exploitation and resulted in what has been identified by scientists as the unnatural and premature deaths of millions of cats. Today, estimates of 100 million animals are used in testing worldwide.
Writings of Greek philosophers and doctors in the third and fourth centuries indicate the first references to animal experimentation, with the first recorded dissection leading to the revelation of the internal differences of animals going to Aristotle’s (384-322 BC). It is most likely Erasistratus (304-258 BC) who performed the first experiments on living animals.
The prevention of cruelty to animals became an important movement in England in the early 19th century. The first anti-cruelty bill intended to stop bull-baiting (a particularly vicious form of entertainment whereby a bull was pinned to an iron stake allowing it only 30 feet of movement, which dogs were encouraged to immobilise it) was passed in parliament in 1800. The animal rights activist Richard Martin M.P introduced the bill known as “Martins Act” in 1822, which addressed the rights of larger animals making it an offence for any person or persons to “wantonly and cruelly beat, abuse, or ill-treat any Horse, Mare, Gelding, Mule, Ass, Ox, Cow, Heifer, Steer, Sheep, or other Cattle”.
It was in 1824 that the face of humanity and its attitude to animals would be changed when a group of prominent men including Richard Martin and William Wilberforce gathered together to ensure that the clauses of the Martin Act were put into effect and out of this historic assembly, The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals was established. In the late 1860’s a concern about enforcing the anti-cruelty laws in the United States, saw the first SPCA’s and Humane Societies opened in San Francisco, Massachusetts and Philadelphia.