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March 14, 2005

Anatomy and physiology classes dissect furry felines

by Kiran Bhat, Print Managing Opinions Editor
Underneath Anatomy and Physiology teacher John Haigh's glistening scalpel lies a dead creature, one eye ajar, tongue sticking out and front legs stretched next to its face. Haigh's students squirm, smile and giggle nervously as he begins demonstrating the day's lesson: identifying various muscles in a dissected cat.

For almost the entire third quarter, students in Anatomy and Physiology classes will gain invaluable hands-on experience by painstakingly analyzing the insides of cats. During fourth period on Feb. 11, Haigh's students continue their dissections with varying degrees of enthusiasm, attempting to ignore the nauseating smell of preservative and diving headfirst into the intriguing world of feline analysis.

Gross…Awesome!
Anatomy students dissect their cat. Adam Schuyler
Anatomy students dissect their cat.

As Haigh demonstrates, senior Alyssa Marzullo and her group members don aprons, gloves and protective goggles. They remove their cat from a tightly secured bag and place it on their workbench. Nearby is a case of tools - assorted sharp, curved and oddly shaped devices straight out of a torture scene in a Bond movie. Before Marzullo has a chance to use the dissection gear, she shudders in disgust. "I already got cat stuff on my hands!" she says.

In the back corner, seniors Melissa Michel and Lane Alvarez are diligently removing tissue from their cat's lower torso to expose its muscles. Michel reluctantly cuts with scissors while Alvarez holds the cat in place. "I try to look at its body - I try not to look at its face," Michel says, snipping a flap of skin.

Alvarez deals with what he calls the "trauma" of cutting open a dead cat by cracking jokes. "This cat looks like my aunt's cat, and that one died. Maybe it's the same cat," he says with a wry smile. While Michel is taking a break, Alvarez toys with the cat's tongue. "It feels cool," he says.

Anatomy and Physiology teacher Leslie Van sees cat dissection humor like Alvarez's all the time - one of her groups named their cat Simba (after the Lion King character). Another student held his cat's front legs and performed an impromptu waltz as Chamber Choir singers serenaded a classmate on Valentine's Day.

Some students, like Michel and Alvarez's group mate, senior Meena Singh, prefer to stand back and observe the procedure. Although she cringes at the sight of the cat's exposed innards, she acknowledges the educational value of the dissection. "We're trying to find out something about cats," she says. "I know more than before about anatomy."

Van says that while some students have initial fears of dissecting cats, most become more engaged in dissection as the activity continues.

The great debate

Occasionally, Haigh and Van have students who reject cat dissection on moral grounds; Haigh even had a student withdraw from his class last year when she learned the dissection was in the curriculum.

Junior Mollie Segal, who owns five cats, refused to even consider taking anatomy classes because of her opposition to dissection. "I find it sadistic because it's disrespecting the dead," says Segal.

According to the American Anti-Vivisection Society, approximately 100,000 cats are dissected in classrooms across the country each year. Van attributes the popularity of cats over other commonly dissected animals to their conveniently small size, low price tag (about $50 each) and similar anatomy to humans. "Size-wise, price-wise and anatomically, cats make the most sense," says Van.

Jamie Aitchison, a spokeswoman for the National Anti-Vivisection Society (not to be confused with the American Anti-Vivisection Society), believes that animal dissection is wrong on not just moral grounds but social grounds as well. "Dissection desensitizes compassion towards animals. They're not here to be our playthings; they're here to spend their time on earth just like us humans," she says.

On the other hand, Dan James, vice president of business development at Carolina Biological Supply Company, which provides Blair with cats, says that efforts to stop dissection would not mean more cats are saved. "We get the cats from animal shelters in Mexico, already dead or the ones that they are going to put to sleep," says James. "It's not like any fewer animals are going to be killed if we stopped providing cats."

Unfortunately for animal rights advocates, Haigh and Van agree that cat dissections will continue in Anatomy and Physiology classes for the foreseeable future.

Singh, now seemingly over her qualms, endorses the dissections. "In the end, the reason we take this class is to learn about the body," she remarks. "What better way is there than to look inside?"



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  • C-man on March 14, 2005 at 8:48 AM
    I think there should have been a larger focus on miss van's class[es]
  • mon key on March 14, 2005 at 4:54 PM
    who cares about cats? disect them! they evil!
    • horse12 (View Email) on April 23, 2009 at 6:47 AM
      how can u say something like that! how would u like if u weren't laid to rest when u died and instead were dissected into a million pieces? better yet how would u feel if you had to dissect a dog and what if that dog looked exactly like your dog if you have one
      • Shay (View Email) on July 18, 2011 at 2:34 PM
        Already am (: I'm an organ donor.

        Anyway, if the cat's already going to be dead, it doesn't really do any harm. It just puts the bodies to some good use before they're laid to rest. I'd give my body to science in a second if I thought it would do good for other people.
  • Jane Lang (View Email) on March 14, 2005 at 5:18 PM
    How callous and heartless can people be? And these are students, young people with such horrible attitudes... how anyone with a thought in their heads can do that just because teachers say it's okay is beyond me.
    I defiantly refused dissection in high school bio and I let the whole staff there know why I felt that way. But here is more proof that many people are just disgusting.
  • Dumb Democrat= (View Email) on March 14, 2005 at 8:44 PM
    Jane, it doesn't matter what happens to the animals. What matters is if we get the education we deserve, whether it means cutting open a cat or not. The cat used for dissection were bred to be dissected. Those people farm those cats and kill them to be used in science classes. Those cats are born to be killed and dissected. How cruel of you to take away their life goal.
  • Greg on March 14, 2005 at 8:52 PM
    I find this article, rather than being unbiased, being extremely biased to both sides, almost alternating by paragraph and throwing the reader into confusion and the belief that the article is taking a stance one way, only to refute himself repeatedly.
  • Wendolyn on March 14, 2005 at 9:02 PM
    I don't think disecting cats are horrible attitudes. It's that it might result disgusting, but in the end, you learn a lot!!! Besides, the people taking this course knew from the beginning that this was going to happen.
  • Anarchist on March 14, 2005 at 9:14 PM
    I could puke from the holier-than-thou attitude expressed by J. Long.

    Perhaps Ms. Long believes that we would be better off believing that the sun orbits the earth? After all, what kind of "horrible," "disgusting," immoral person believes in heliocentricity? So, we shouldn't bother to study the universe, we know what's right!

    The only thing that's disgusting here is the stupid, anti-intellectual, anti-learning attitude expressed by people like Ms. Long.
  • Megha Even, M.S. (View Email) on March 16, 2005 at 4:25 PM
    To the Editor: With all the alternatives to animal dissection now available, I find it disturbing that compassionate students like Mollie Segal are steering away from anatomy classes at Montgomery Blair High School because teachers are concentrating on cat dissections [“Anatomy and physiology classes dissect furry felines,” 3/14/05]. As a biologist, I know that non-animal teaching tools work. Studies have shown that students who use anatomic models, interactive videos, computer programs, and other high-tech tools (including those featured on www.dissectionalternatives.org) do as well on anatomy tests as students who dissect cats, frogs, and other animals. Studies also show that many students want non-animal learning options. A survey of ninth graders found that 50 percent would have chosen an alternative to dissection if offered one, and a full 90 percent believed that students should have a choice. Although dissection is intended to educate and inspire, it can be emotionally traumatic for students and can even destroy their budding interest in science. With so many excellent, cost-effective alternatives available, it is time for schools to offer better learning methods. Sincerely, Megha Even, M.S. Research Analyst Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 5100 Wisconsin Ave, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20016 meven@pcrm.org (202) 686-2210 ext. 327
  • Safia (View Email) on March 17, 2005 at 11:07 AM
    HORRIBLE!! I think of my own cat. HOW DARE THEY!! Anyone who think killing other animals is ok is retarted. I can't BELIEVE this. Killing animals for human pleasure, entertanment, and curiousity SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED!! And if a dog/lion/tiger/panther/bear attacks and/or eats a human, everyone makes a big deal! But when animals are constantly being abused and killed, hardly anyone speaks up! Humans shouldn't even exist, in my opinion!
  • let em learn! on March 17, 2005 at 5:26 PM
    OH GET OVER IT PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Anatomy is an ELECTIVE! If you don't want to disect the stupid cats, don't take the class! Its not like the school is forcing us to take the class. These kids want to learn about anatomy---let em learn! Doctors can stomach that type of stuff, they need training somewhere! Its not like they are killing them, THEY ARE ALREADY DEAD!

    • claire (View Email) on August 17, 2010 at 12:07 AM
      no you should not get over it people! over 6 million innocent animals die to be disected, most of them were not already dead. im a 9th grader in biology and im required to disect animals. so i AM being forced to do it, i didnt pick to do it as an elective but i am going to do what ever it takes to not have to do this. and if the doctors need training you are able to disect animals virtually so it is not necessary to have millions of animals dieing for this. your a sicko, get some help.
  • zxcv on March 17, 2005 at 5:36 PM
    its not like they are dogs or cute things or something.

    cat, rat, frog...owl pellet whats the difference? they all smell the same.
    (just joking, dont kill me cat lovers!)

    I wouldn't do it though.

  • m berkenkamp (View Email) on March 19, 2005 at 3:33 PM
    You what ever you are are sick y'll need to be put in a mentel ward. these cats are loveing GODS animals you disgust me any one who takes part in killing of animals y'll will have to answer in the end but this will be to late for some STOP this madness. animal abuse.
  • Dr. Deborah Tanzer (View Email) on March 21, 2005 at 5:23 PM
    There are many sophisticated and excellent alternative methods available for teaching anatomy, so that dissection is not necessary in this day and age. But above all, it is immoral and disrespectful of animals, both their lives and their deaths, which will also have dangerous desensitizing effects on the students involved.

    Dr. Deborah Tanzer
    New York City
  • cranfs on March 21, 2005 at 5:32 PM
    Ok, first of all, these cats are not being killed just for the dissecting purpose. These cats are already dead and instead of just having there bodies decompose in some dump, they are donated to science to be used in anatomy classes. Students are not forced to perform this activity and for those that are willing to dissect, it is a very rewarding experience. You learn so much from this activity and future veterinarians really appreciate this opportuniy because they feel it will help them in the future in animal operations and surgeries. This is by no means a form of animal abuse because if the animal is already dead, then it is not being harmed in any way. And again, cats are not bred and killed just for this purpose, these are cats that have already died and their bodies were donated for this activity.
  • one who has a heart on May 12, 2005 at 1:40 PM
    this is wrong. the students in many schools take general bio and are forced to disect once-living beings (aka, cats or pigs). and "let them learl" - you are very wrong. most cats are obtained illeagly and are killed cruely and painfuly in the worst of conditions just to arrive in a classroom and have a girl say "eww! grose!" it's horrible, crule, and inhumane and should be made ileagal.
  • nancy (View Email) on August 29, 2005 at 6:27 PM
    dud..it is not like We (AP Students) want to dissect cats...but WE HAVE TO..in order to pass the class. We vomitted, fainted..then what? we had to overcome our fear..and have to dissect cats. Or else, we cannot pass AP. WE need to take AP for pre-nursing; whoever said, "I would not do that"..dud because you don't need AP for your major. WE Do..then we have to dissect cats.
  • Anonymous on September 18, 2005 at 11:23 PM
    i think that dissecting harmless cats is a horrible and inhumane way to learn. people kill the cats and use them for practice. it is very unprofessional and should be made illegal.
  • Tamara (View Email) on September 23, 2005 at 11:18 AM
    Were disecting cats now in anatomy class our senior year in high school and would love to know what cool things you found out about the cats eye and mouth. I love disecting and learning awesome new things.

    Tamara
  • sarah on September 28, 2005 at 10:33 PM
    woah people. chill out. i'm in love with cats and i joined in. they're dead anyway...and it's helping us learn.
  • Anonymous on December 5, 2005 at 4:16 PM
    i personally dont think that its right to kill innocent animals. even though we do learn alot about anatomy when we get an inside look, i dont think that we should have to kill to learn. but thats what our society does though. anything that is perceived as lesser to us must die. but you know, if people would just treat these animals right then there wouldnt be so many cats over populating and having to be put down all the time. we humans are over populated. but its illegal to go around randomly killing eachoter. well its the same with animals. they over populate, we kill them. heres an idea, if you care so much about cats how about instead of going to a breeder for a special kind of cat, go to the shelter and get a cat that is going to be put down if it doesnt find a home.
  • Shawna (View Email) on January 6, 2006 at 4:01 PM
    I think this is a very useful way to let students observe the inside of a mammal. If a students is interested in becoming a doctor, then he/she must know how to cut open a mammal and what the muscles are..
  • cassy (View Email) on February 7, 2006 at 8:40 AM
    i thing dissection the cat is so cool well got to go bye
  • bob (View Email) on February 7, 2006 at 8:42 AM
    dissection is very wrong. you shouldn't be made to do it. but if you choose not you should NOT get a zero for the project.
  • bob (View Email) on February 8, 2006 at 8:11 AM
    i just read this whole page and i still think it is very VERY VERY WRONG.
  • anonymous on February 14, 2006 at 2:23 PM
    cats are the spawn of the devil so dissect them
  • heather (View Email) on March 6, 2006 at 10:00 AM
    i think that is very wrong to do that to a poor cat or any other animal they did nothing wrong. but it is good you students to learn the parts of a mammal.
  • dylan smith (View Email) on March 15, 2006 at 2:24 PM
    have fun
  • brittany (View Email) on March 27, 2006 at 10:17 AM
    i think dissecting a cat is really nasty and i would like to ask a qustion.what is it like dissecting a cat?[bacause i would like to try.
  • Melissa (View Email) on April 21, 2006 at 9:41 AM
    I personally don't believe in cat dissection. But for those of us trying earn a college degree in health services have no choice. In my A & P class the cat dissection is a big part of my grade. I can't afford to fail the class because I think it's wrong.
  • snoop dogg (View Email) on April 23, 2006 at 4:55 PM
    yo, it is sweet disecting cats. its to bad for the stupid catz. but who cares! they deserve to die!!!!!!catz are stupid.
  • t (View Email) on April 25, 2006 at 8:59 PM
    i am currently dissecting cats in my anatomy class. at first i was wary of the whole idea, but my teacher assured us that the cats died of natural causes. this being said, i have no qualms about our cat dissection. people don't round up a bunch of cats to kill them just so kids can have a science project: there are many cats out there without homes, and that are old, they just die. get over it.
  • Student in Ohio on May 15, 2006 at 8:02 AM
    Look, i think many people are taking this from the context that students are enjoying this from the mutilation aspect. I have no problem with myself or any other person dissecting an animal in a clinical, scientific manner. The problem comes from people mutilating a corpse because it makes them feel powerful. The cat is already dead-- get over it. Students majoring in mortuary sciences have to watch autopsies, and in most schools actually perform one as part of their grade. Are you telling me that it is ok for these people to crack open the ribcage of a deceased human being, but a couple of furry critters that some view as PESTS are science taboo? Produce some testosterone, people.
  • tyler (View Email) on May 16, 2006 at 11:45 AM
    sick
  • allison farr (View Email) on May 18, 2006 at 1:52 PM
    I think it is wrong to use cats. There are many schools that have eliminated using frogs and grasshoppers in favor of new technology. They say the pictures are even better and the students should have a choice. I think people that justify it by saying the cats were already dead are just trying to rationalize it. They know it is wrong. If there are too many cats people should spay and neuter their pets. There are many no-kill shelters now and people should not kill cats because of over- population. There are non-lethal ways to solve the problem. It is not the cat's fault. It is the owner's and the public's. The supplier is only exploiting a situation for his own greed. He isn't helping at all. I think he should offer himself up for the next dissection class.The point is to learn about Human Anatomy and Physiology not a feline's.
  • Theresa Ricord (View Email) on July 4, 2006 at 1:08 PM
    What about those of us who cannot get over the fact that these were somebodys pets, but need the class to complete our degree plan? Isn't there another way?
  • allison farr (View Email) on November 28, 2006 at 7:29 PM
    new technology has replaced using animal models.And it can be used over and over. It not only saves lives but money as well. students say the pics are better and when they make a mistake it doesn't ruin anything, they can go back and do it over until they get it right. Many states have a"student choice" policy.The idea of breeding more cats is inexcusable. The shelters are overflowing now. It makes sense to use more modern and humane methods of teaching.
  • moneill (View Email) on December 11, 2006 at 7:40 PM
    give me a break! you are taking an anatomy/physiology course. You just can't experience a&p without learning to dissect. If you can't do it take basket weaving...by the way, these cats that are used are unwanted and many times very sick. They are euthanized with compassion..nothing more.. Oy Vey!!
  • Syd on February 4, 2007 at 3:19 AM
    there should be a choice in whether you want to participate or not in something like this. However being able to look at organic tissue up close and personal and how it connects together is very valuable when studying anatomy.
  • jennifer (View Email) on February 4, 2007 at 7:42 PM
    just wondering if there are any good pic of a cats anatomy or website that shows the entire inside of cat need help
  • katlyn.gregory (View Email) on May 25, 2007 at 10:45 AM
    i want too learn about stuff like this but their should be a chioce if u want too do this or not its wrong for some religions
    but its fun too dicet a chicken and a cat
    they should die
  • Natalie (View Email) on September 17, 2007 at 1:37 AM
    I just don't see the purpose of High school students dissecting a feline. College, maybe. But high school? more than half of those students won't even go into a biology degree.

    Whats worse is the desensitizing the teacher uses to ease the process of dissecting the animal. Cracking jokes, playing with the dead corpses. She forgets that this was once a living creature, and rather than show respect for the dead animal and teach the students about respecting another life, she uses it as a plaything.

    More importantly, a feline is more than an animal. Many students have cats as pets and may even see them as part of their family.

    Do we really want to teach students that its okay to be morally and emotionally dead to the idea of a once living creature being killed for a frivolous dissection assignment? I'd think the psychological effects should be considered moreso than the educational aspects.


  • catcrazy (View Email) on November 9, 2007 at 5:23 PM
    I think it is wrong to disect a cat. I want to become a vetrianarian, and I know that I will have to put cats to sleep, but that is for theirr own good , so they don't have to suffer.
    Animals at animal shelters should not have to die because they don't have a home, unless they are suffering. Its not like the cats want to be disected.
  • Kasia (View Email) on November 22, 2007 at 7:48 PM
    "We get the cats from animal shelters in Mexico, already dead or the ones that they are going to put to sleep," says James. "It's not like any fewer animals are going to be killed if we stopped providing cats."

    So why don't you get someone dying of cancer? Or your 90 yeard old grandmother? Ever thought about that? These people will die anyway, right?

    Oh I get, it's immoral to do that to humans, but animals are just free for us to do whatever we feel like to them.
    Ever read about Descartes?


  • derek (View Email) on November 26, 2007 at 4:25 PM
    its ok to diseect these aniamls. they are being used to help us study so we can better know about how things work. this is experience is valuable to anybody in science. these cats are not bred to die they are just dead cats. you need to start small.
    and to kasia have you ever been to a college anatomy class. i have one where all we do is dissect humans that have donated their bodies. without these generous offers how would i get the hands on experience that i need. morality has nothing to do with it, its just learning.
  • Kendra (View Email) on May 28, 2008 at 6:16 PM
    I personally believe we should not have to disect animals when computers are just as good. It is wrong in some religions. Like currently, I am taking a zero test grade because I do not wish to disect an animal that was once living and breathing. I wouldn't want my body cut up after I die. It's one thing if they are going to be doctors or going to do work in mortuary science. People who are willing to do that obviously don't mind it. But some people get sick easy and have weak stomaches. Some people disagree in the desecrating of once living beings. I believe that dissection should be a choice, at least in high school. It shouldn't be a requirement.
  • Hakim (View Email) on October 13, 2009 at 2:20 AM
    its really good
  • claire (View Email) on August 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM
    i believe disecting animals is very gross and wrong. its one thing to do it in college but in high school most students wont ever need to know the anatomy of a cat,frog,rat etc. im in 9th grade and my biology teacher is going to make us disect a frog, eyeballs, a rat and many other things. many of the animals i will have to disect i have as a pet, and it would be horrible to have to disect an animal that looks like my loved one. over 6million animals are murdered so high school and college students can disect them which is very sad and horrible because we are able to disect things virtually. i know i am going to do whatever i can to not have to disect theses poor, innocent animals even if it means i will get a zero on some labs. and for those of you who think its funny when a living creatures life is taken away for nothing and you actually enjoy it then there is something terribly wrong with you. by the way does anyone know of a religion that is strongly against animal dissection?
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