Since the early days of the school, Tufts pioneered non-terminal use of animals in DVM education and remains a leader in this area.
All dogs used for anatomy training have been obtained through the client donation program since 1998. In 2009, Cummings School expanded its animal donation program to include horses.
In the early 1980s, Tufts’ students, like students at all veterinary schools at the time, learned surgery using purpose-bred live dogs that were euthanized at the completion of the laboratory. In 1989, as a student-led initiative, the school began to offer an alternative laboratory in which students practiced on client-donated cadavers instead of live dogs. Due to its success, the terminal laboratory was eliminated from the curriculum in 1994. In 1994, the school initiated a spay program in which all students perform two spay surgeries as third-year students on female dogs. These procedures are performed in the Luke and Lily Lerner Spay/Neuter Clinic at Cummings School under supervision of Cummings School faculty. The Lerner Clinic serves dogs and cats from shelter, rescue and animal control facilities, students, and employees of Tufts University, as well as from qualified low-income pet owners in greater Worcester County.
All use of animals in pre-clinical teaching is under the oversight of the Tufts University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Our animal care and use program is fully accredited by AAALAC. The school endorses the AVMA Policy on the Use of Animals in Research, Testing, and Education.
Formal anatomy training at Cummings School involves dissection of the common veterinary species — dogs, cats, horses, and ruminants—in the first year. Informal opportunities exist throughout the curriculum to observe and study normal as well as abnormal anatomy during treatment and examination of patients in the hospitals and clinics as well as in pathology.
Cadavers for the first-year anatomy laboratories originate from a client donation program that allows teaching hospital clients to donate their pets’ bodies after death or euthanasia for veterinary student training. This groundbreaking program benefits clients as well as students. Students receive the animals’ case record, which allows for learning both pathologic and normal anatomy, and they begin to integrate clinical material with didactic learning at the earliest possible time in their training. They are reminded, through use of a loved, client-donated pet, of the importance and strength of the human-animal bond. Clients who choose to participate in the donation program have the satisfaction of knowing that their thoughtfulness will help train a future generation of caregivers. All dogs and cats used for anatomy training have been obtained through the client donation program since 1998.
Client Donation Program for Acquiring Dogs and Cats to Teach Veterinary Gross Anatomy; Kumar, Murtaugh, Brown, Ballas, Clancy, Patronek; J Vet Med Educ. Summer 2001;28(2):73-7.
In 2009, the school expanded its animal donation program to include horses, and one or two horse cadavers are dissected each year for the first-year students to study. Horses used in the anatomy laboratory are donated by clients or equine rescue groups that are faced with euthanizing their horses for medical reasons and referred to Tufts by their veterinarian. A large animal veterinarian performs the sedation and euthanasia of the horses prior to embalming for the laboratory. Over the last few years, all horses used to teach large animal anatomy have come from this program.
Small numbers of other species used for anatomy training are acquired from a variety of sources. They are all destined for euthanasia or slaughter locally. A veterinarian performs the sedation and euthanasia prior to embalming for the laboratory. Currently, one cow and one pig are prepared as prosections for all students to study; goats are dissected by small groups of students.
Prior to 1989, the foundation of surgery training at Cummings School was a required small-animal surgical procedures laboratory for third year students, in which students performed a wide variety of surgical procedures using purpose-bred live dogs that were euthanized at the completion of the laboratory. In 1989, in response to a request from 12 members of the class of 1990, the school began to offer an alternative laboratory in which students practiced on client-donated cadavers instead of live dogs. From 1993 through 1995, the school offered an elective course in which students spayed or neutered feral cats provided by a Boston humane organization.
Based in part on the success of that program, it was decided in 1994 to substitute the sterilization of female dogs waiting for adoption at local humane organizations for the non-survival core surgery lab. These procedures are performed in the Luke and Lily Lerner Spay/Neuter Clinic at Cummings School under supervision of Cummings School faculty. A large animal surgery elective uses heifers obtained from a local dairy herd. The heifers undergo a prophylactic omentopexy to prevent displaced abomasum. Following recovery, the heifers are artificially inseminated and returned to a production setting.
At present, no animals are sacrificed for core surgery training of DVM students at Cummings School. New learning opportunities, designed to strengthen hands-on surgical experience are being developed. A suturing laboratory has been added to the second year Principles of Surgery course, and efforts are underway to increase the number of dogs each student spays in the third year surgery course. An elective orthopedic surgery laboratory, using either cadavers from client-donated pets euthanized for medical reasons or bone models, is available in the third year.
Clinical skills laboratories occur throughout the preclinical curriculum. Working with school-owned and privately-owned animals, students observe and learn to perform a wide variety of procedures essential for normal animal husbandry, or to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease in a wide variety of domestic, farm, and wildlife species.
The school’s teaching dog colony comprises former research dogs, which remain in the teaching program until adoption to “forever homes.” The dogs are housed socially, and they engage in group play several hours a day. Students and staff take the dogs on regular leash walks and train the dogs in obedience and other essential skills.
Donated cadaver specimens or simulators are used to teach invasive procedures such as dentistry, equine nerve blocks, bone marrow aspiration, chest tube placement, thoracocentesis, and transtracheal aspiration. These skills are reinforced during the clinical years when students assist with or perform procedures under close veterinary supervision. An example of this stepwise approach is our dentistry training curriculum. Students learn basic skills on a donated skull, then they perform simple cleanings on the teaching beagles as part of the beagle’s health maintenance program and, finally, they perform dental cleanings and procedures on clinical patients at Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic.