Save the Gerbils
STUART WILES IS NO ORDINARY VET. He is the first-ever commissioner of laboratory animals for Cambridge, Mass.—home of Harvard and MIT—which is also one of the nation’s leading medical-research centers. The city’s 22 laboratories house 60,000 animals, ranging from monkeys to frogs, that are used for experimental purposes. In 1989 the Cambridge city council passed an ordinance outlining conditions for humane care and treatment of lab animals. Wiles, one of the drafters of the ordinance, was appointed as the $40,000-a-year commissioner last May. “I feel so strongly about animals,” he says, “that I can’t bear to see anything done to them that is unnecessary.”
Wiles keeps a careful eye on lab procedures—overseeing collection of blood, the administering of anesthesia and painkillers and careful inspection of lab animals’ living quarters—to make sure they are done in ways that do not cause unnecessary pain. “You have to make sure the monitoring is there, that the animal is looked at every day,” he says, noting that holiday and weekend care was at times sporadic before the ordinance. So far, Wiles hasn’t found cause to bring disciplinary procedures against any labs, but he has the authority to levy fines of up to $300 per day for violations.
Wiles developed his love for animals as a child in the farming community of Bolton, Mass. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school, he eventually set up his own practice. Wiles, who now runs a house-call vet service that supplements his income, admits that his feelings about animal experimentation are complicated. “I have to accept the fact that animals are being purposely used and destroyed, but at least here, it will be in the least stressful way possible. Just by my presence, I know I’m helping.”