Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University has moved away from conventional protocols in the use of animals in our veterinary student teaching program (in anatomy, surgery and clinical skills courses), to alternative ones. We have eliminated terminal procedures for our core surgery teaching laboratories and implemented client donation or willed body program for anatomy and some surgical and clinical skills training. We have completed a transition of our veterinary medical curriculum to one that strongly encourages that healthy animals involved in the teaching program not be subjected to invasive or terminal procedures. This program was a first for a US veterinary school.
There are some exceptions to this guideline. Healthy animals are used for teaching examination, restraint and medication techniques. An elective bovine surgery course is conducted on owner-leased animals with the owner's consent and approval. The surgery performed (omentopexy) helps prevent future digestive problems; this surgery is not commonly performed as a preventive measure in most practices. Students also are taught to perform common animal husbandry procedures, some of which are invasive. There are occasional training laboratories in which animals destined for euthanasia after being in a research project undergo procedures under anesthesia, after which they are euthanized and do not regain consciousness. In addition, as described below, some large animals selected for cull and slaughter are anesthetized and euthanized for preparation as anatomy specimens.
Formal anatomy training at Cummings School involves dissecting several species of animals—dogs, horses and cattle—in the first year. Informal opportunities exist throughout all four years to observe and study normal as well as abnormal anatomy during treatment and examination of patients in the hospital and wildlife clinic, and in pathology.
In order to supply cadavers for the anatomy laboratories in the first year, Cummings School has established a client donation program whereby clients of the teaching hospital who are faced with euthanizing their dogs for medical reasons may elect to donate their pet for veterinary student training. This groundbreaking program benefits clients as well as students. Students are provided with the case record, so they can 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 used for anatomy training have been obtained through the client donation program since 1998.
Horses used in the anatomy laboratory are purchased from a local dealer, in lieu of being shipped many hundreds of miles to slaughter. A board-certified anesthesiologist performs the sedation and euthanasia of the horses prior to embalming for the laboratory.
In 2009, Cummings School expanded its animal donation program to include large animals. Horses and other species that meet specific requirements for size and need to be euthanized for medical reasons may be referred by their veterinarians for inclusion. Up to 40 percent of the 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 board-certified anesthesiologist 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 are held in the first and second years of the Cummings School DVM curriculum, and clinical procedures laboratories are conducted in the third year. During these laboratories, students observe and learn to perform a wide variety of procedures that are either part of normal animal husbandry, or are necessary to prevent, diagnose and treat disease in a wide variety of domestic, farm and wildlife species.
In some cases, the procedures are part of the normal physical exam, palpation and restraint of the species. For farm animal species, whenever possible, preventive medicine techniques such as intravenous, subcutaneous, and intramuscular injections, passage of a stomach tube, and artificial insemination are coordinated with regularly scheduled herd-health visits. In no case are healthy animals sacrificed or subject to major invasive techniques to teach these procedures. Cadavers from animals that died or were euthanized for medical reasons are used for any procedures that are highly invasive—dentistry, equine nerve blocks, bone marrow aspiration, chest tube placement, thoracocentesis and transtracheal aspiration.