in Houston, Texas
Public records show Texas Tech uses live cats in medical training
Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 12:35PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Over the past few months, we've done an occasional series of posts about things you wouldn't know about if it weren't for public records laws. Like whether your kid's high school's football coach is applying for a job in another town. Or whether the local schools are using enough lettuce in the chef's salad recipe. Or why Texas Tech didn't seem to be as quick as some fans wanted about resigning the winning football coach's contract.

Here's another one to add to that list: Whether the medical school at your local university is buying cats from an animal shelter, having med students perform painful training on them, and then euthanizing them.

That's the deal in Lubbock, where Texas Tech medical students have apparently been training on cats bought from the shelter in Odessa. They've been using the cats to practice how to intubate a patient -- you've seen people laid up in hospital beds, very ill, with a big plastic pipe stuck down their windpipe so that a machine can breathe for them? They also practice using a needle to force extra air out of the cat's, er, patient's, lungs.

Ouch. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is really ticked off about this.

Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president of laboratory investigations, said in a statement that using cats in this way was “crude and outdated.”

“Parents want doctors and nurses who were trained using the most advanced methods, not someone who practiced on a cat,” she said. “All the wishful thinking in the world will not make a cat’s anatomy like a human’s.”

(You can read the entire press release from PETA below.)

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, which pushes hard for public records -- getting the e-mails about the Texas Tech football coach's contract and reporting on the big expenditures by the head of the medical school, for instance -- has reported that the med school has been buying the cats from Odessa for this purpose for a long time. The university sees nothing wrong with it.

Needless to say, this has stirred up some controversy. A Dallas doctor wrote in to the A-J's letters page the other day:

As a cardiologist who has learned and taught the procedures for which Texas Tech University Health Science Center is using shelter cats, I wish to refute the university's position that it is necessary to use cats for such training. Not only is this unnecessary, it is outdated and educationally substandard.

Here's the complete statement from PETA:

Norfolk, Va. 05/11/09— Documents obtained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reveal that Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) has been purchasing live cats from an animal shelter in Odessa, Texas, and using them for cruel and deadly medical training exercises.

Internal documents obtained through the Texas Public Information Act indicate that the cats purchased from Odessa Animal Control are used for procedures such as intubation training, in which hard plastic tubes are repeatedly forced down the animals’ windpipes by trainees. Repeated intubation in cats can cause severe pain, bleeding, swelling, scarring, collapsed lungs, and even death.

In another procedure, called needle aspiration, excess air is forced into cats’ lungs, and trainees penetrate the cats’ chests with needles and practice removing the air.

In October 2008, during the most recent training session at TTUHSC, 50 students practiced these procedures on just six cats. By the time the training sessions are over, the once-healthy cats have been severely mutilated. The animals are then killed.

According to an article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, TTUHSC has been purchasing cats from the animal shelter and using them for these purposes for more than 20 years. During that time, similar facilities have largely eliminated the use of live cats for medical training and have adopted the use of realistic manikins that more accurately replicate the anatomy of the human airway, providing a better learning experience for trainees and eliminating the need to purchase, harm, and kill cats.

In fact, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics endorse the exclusive use of humanlike manikins to teach intubation and needle aspiration skills in the life support courses that they sponsor.

Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president of laboratory investigations, describes these training methods as “crude and outdated.”

“Parents want doctors and nurses who were trained using the most advanced methods, not someone who practiced on a cat,” she says. “All the wishful thinking in the world will not make a cat’s anatomy like a human’s.”

Texas Tech has so far shown little interest in abandoning the use of live cats for training purposes. Both Texas Tech and Odessa Animal Control have defended the practice, even though it’s inherently cruel and even though superior, humane alternatives are available. Texas-area physicians have also publicly criticized the use of animals for this training in opinion pieces published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the Odessa American.

PETA has filed a complaint with the university and is urging it to stop using animals for medical training.

For more information, visit and PETA’s online Action Alert.

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