Animal Underground

The Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine and its relation to the hospital at large.

Taking care of these animals is one of the main draws for those employed by ULAM. While they come from myriad walks of life, their one uniting bond is an ardent devotion to animals. Before guiding families through an ersatz African wilderness in the sticky swamps of mid-Florida, Kristy attended Eastern Michigan University, studying Biology and founding its pre-Veterinary club. A lifelong lover of animals, she feels “very fortunate to work” in ULAM, as it affords her the opportunity to work almost exclusively in the care-taking of a diversity of animals.

Similarly, Gavin, a particularly buoyant seven-year employee of ULAM, studied Biology and Chemistry at Grand Valley State University, and like Kristy was a member of that institution’s pre-Veterinary club. For him, ULAM’s allure over other professions dealing with animal care is its removal from the competition and “the whole business side” endemic to fields like veterinary medicine; “at ULAM,” he stated, “my willingness to help is independent of anyone’s ability to pay.”

Yet there is an aspect of Gavin and Kristy’s jobs that seems antithetical to their professed love of animals: the ultimate point of breeding, housing, and feeding all these creatures is their use in experiments which, more often than not, result in their deaths. This sobering fact is, moreover, one of the reasons ULAM is – both literally and figuratively – an underground operation. Institutions and researchers engaged in animal research have been the targets of vitriolic attacks by animal rights activists, some of which, albeit the great minority, have turned violent. In February of 2009, Mel Broughton, a British animal rights campaigner, firebombed part of Oxford University’s research facilities in protest against its planned $323.4 million expansion of its animal research facilities.1 A year earlier in August of 2008, pamphlets appeared in a Santa Cruz, California coffee shop “warning of attacks against ‘animal abusers everywhere.’” A few days later, two firebombs were detonated nearly simultaneously at the homes of two researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz. Though no one was severely injured, the resulting conflagrations destroyed the car of one of the researchers, while the second “forced the researcher, his wife and two children to flee the home from an upstairs window.”2

While the overwhelming majority of animal rights activists vehemently denounce terrorism as a means to curb animal research, the potential risk is not lost on the directors and employees of ULAM. Whenever PETA or like-minded groups hold an event on campus, emails are shot off to everyone in ULAM making sure they stay vigilant should any untoward event occur.

When asked about animal rights activists, both Gavin and Kristy responded in the same way: it is a problem of misconceptions. “I understand where it might come from,” said Kristy, as “they think they are acting in the animals’ best interests.” Similarly, Gavin put it this way: “Their hearts are in the right spot, they’re just ignorant to reality. They don’t think of it when their kid is sick.” It goes without saying that Gavin and Kristy do not enjoy euthanizing the animals they care for. But when the unsavory act is contextualized, for them the good reaped outweighs the evils sowed. While their identities as animal lovers and their duties as ULAM employees at first seem incongruous, it is this macroscopic, ends justifying means view that allows people like Gavin and Kristy to so thoroughly enjoy their jobs without harboring crippling qualms.


  1. Byrony Taylor, “Animals in the Service of Human Health,” South China Morning Post, June 30, 2009 []
  2. Jessie McKinley, “Firebombings at Homes of Two California Researchers” The New York Times, August 4, 2008 []

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  1. Hi There: I really enjoyed your article. My son is also a tech at the U of M. He and I have faced criticism many times when people discover what his job entails. They could not be more wrong.

    My son has always had love forand an almost supernatural connection with animals. He brought home EVERY stray he encountered when he was younger.

    I am extremely proud of my son and wholeheartedly support him and his profession and others in his field. Thank you for writing this paper. It was very well put together.

    All the best,

    Linda Wold

    Comment by Linda Wold — March 5, 2010 @ 1:30 pm
  2. Kudos to you! I hadn’t thgouht of that!

    Comment by Lorren — April 11, 2011 @ 8:31 am

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