This article was published in Ceylon Today on May 21 2014, where it was given the title: “Savagery in a Surgery. Hitlerian Experimentation.
Names have been withheld to protect the guilty – you know who you are!
May 23, 2014 marks the seventh anniversary of the death of Polly.
I enjoy reading crime novels. The older ones, like Agatha Christie’s, give the satisfaction of solving a puzzle and finding resolution in the end. Even the less cosy modern novels, like Nordic Noir, give the reader a sense of closure. Although the detective may be flawed, the crime is solved, the perpetrator caught and punished. Justice is seen to be done.
Real life is not always like that.
Three dogs were removed from an animal shelter on May 22 2007 by a professor who said he wanted to give them a home. That was his first lie. He did not give them a home. They were taken to a government veterinary hospital where extensive and savage surgery was performed. Someone at the hospitalreported that the three dogs were “all cut up and mauled and killed”.
Polly had her adrenal glands removed. She died the next morning and was buried at the hospital. The body was exhumed on 28 May 2007 and a post mortem showed no trace of her kidneys. The inference is that the kidneys were removed during surgery. A piece of cotton wool wrapped up in a large piece of gauze was inside her sutured abdominal cavity. It seems that a chemical substance was inside her dissolving her organs as she lived. She died a slow and agonising death. She had been wagging her tail when she was taken for surgery.
Perry had both vertical and horizontal incisions on her abdomen with nearly 30 sutures. Six days after this butchery, pus and blood were still oozing from the incision.
Wussie had her pancreas removed and had a huge incision down her abdomen. Blood tests showed high blood-sugar levels resulting from the absence of the pancreas. Her front legs were so bruised she was given a drip intravenously from a hind leg. She was restless and totally traumatised. Her incision was infected. She had not eaten and could hardly stand up, as she was very weak. Her fur was shaved almost up to the spine from both sides of her body and there were many lacerations and small shaving wounds.
This butchery was conducted by the head of a government veterinary hospital. He refused to tell Dean of the Veterinary Faculty on 29 May 2007 the nature of the surgery he had done on the two surviving dogs. This information was crucial to the clinicians of the veterinary faculty of the university who were primarily concerned with treating the sick dogs.
Wussie in the care of more humane humans. Despite their best efforts she died six months later.
The matter was referred to the police and the SLVC (Sri Lanka Veterinary Council). I wrote to the SLVC on 24 September 2007 to inquire about the progress of their investigation. They replied on 19 October, informing me that my letter had been submitted to the inquiring panel.
“I am pleased to inform you that the Council is seriously thinking about formulating a set of regulations which will clarify the Veterinary professional ethics and responsibilities of Registered Veterinarians in this regard. Please be informed that your letter will be tabled at the next council meeting to be held in November 2007. I have the honour of thanking you for your constructive ideas and comments”.
The SLVC stonewalled innumerable queries. It seems that the SLVC did eventually rule that the actions of the two vets was “unethical and inhumane” but refused to say so publicly. They would not say what punishment they meted out.
The University was also evasive. They claimed that an Inquiry would be carried out but have kept quiet about it ever since. The Provincial Governor is a decent man who has done good work in the cause of animal welfare. The Provincial Governor wrote to me on July 1 2007: “I wish to state that an inquiry has been conducted by the University … subsequent to my request and necessary action will be taken against the perpetrators.” The Deputy Vice Chancellor responded to an enquiry from the Hon. Provincial Governor on December 4 2007 by saying that a Committee of Inquiry was “in the process” of finalising a report. No report has yet appeared. This shows great disrespect to the Hon Governor.
There was an international outcry, which shamed the Sri Lankan veterinary profession and shamed the nation itself. Foreign academics who had worked with the professor refused to believe he had done this. An Australian professor wrote to me: “If he is as flagrantly in breach of these laws as claimed, then his detractors in Sri Lanka have a clear legal avenue for punishing him.” The Australian professor eventually realised that he was mistaken in assuming that unethical veterinary behaviour will automatically find remedy in legal systems or with the Sri Lankan authorities. “I didn’t believe it at first, but it does seem to be the case that there are no laws in Sri Lanka about animal welfare. So maybe the time has come to develop a lobby group to push for that.”
An English academic also started from an assumption of civilised behaviour and reasonable institutional procedures. He said, “an issue as serious as this needs to be dealt with by established protocols in which everyone concerned has an opportunity to put forward their case in a free and fair way.” He continued: “I certainly would not condone any scientist engaging in experimental work on animals and acting on a freelance basis without a licence or institutional monitoring. Any such action in the United Kingdom would be dealt with under criminal law with serious consequences for those involved; moreover, such actions damage the reputation of legitimate scientists and bring discredit to the profession.”
I studied the ethical protocols of over thirty countries and it became obvious that the professor’s actions would not be condoned in any jurisdiction. No-one could act as a freelance in this way, without a licence, without a research plan, without a stated objective, without arrangements for after-care, without monitoring and supervision. In most countries, it is specifically stated that it is not acceptable to use animals from pounds or the streets.
I have just finished reading an Ian Rankin novel. By the end, I know who committed the crime and what the motive was. The villain is captured and locked up. Seven years on, I do not know why these two people behaved with such barbaric savagery to three innocent animals. In a grovelling letter, the professor tried to justify himself to animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi: “First of all I would like to briefly explain the experimentation we planned to perform with these three dogs. I was doing a trial on ‘Therapy for Diabetes Mellitus with medicines of Plant origin and Gene Therapy’. This will bring out great implications and benefits to the Veterinary as well Medical fields.”
She was not impressed and published an article condemning his lies. In a letter to him, she wrote: “You have not done research on these dogs – you have simply killed and killed and killed. Such is the way of the world that you have been repeatedly rewarded for doing what we look down on in slaughterhouses. Please do not believe that you have ‘brought grace’ to Sri Lanka. This is a land of supreme grace and dignity and you have merely shamed her by your actions”.
An Argentinean animal welfare campaigner wanted the culprits castrated. My hope was that the three dogs’ suffering might have some point if steps were taken to ensure that such atrocities could not be repeated. Even if the perpetrators were allowed to go free and prosper, we hoped that such brutality and insensitivity would not be possible in the future.
Animal Welfare Legislation
Sri Lanka’s Constitution casts a duty on citizens to protect nature and conserve its riches. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 makes it a criminal offence by any act or omission to cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal. It is an offence to kill any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner. Anyone who ill-treats, starves or mutilates an animal commits an offence.
The main reason why this Ordinance is not effective is that the penalties, which stand at an incredibly low Rs.100 ($0.93) and/or three to six months imprisonment (rarely or never meted out by the courts), have no deterrence value. The authorities have therefore tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving extreme or heinous cruelty to animals.
In 2006, the Law Commission prepared a draft Animal Welfare Act (AWA), based on an exhaustive study of relevant legislation elsewhere and the views of the public. It took the Law Commission over six years to finalize the draft Animal Welfare Act, after reviewing many drafts. The project to replace the obsolete Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907 was steered by the lawyer, writer and animal welfare activist Senaka Weeraratna. Mr Weeraratna was appointed as the Honorary Legal Consultant to the Law Commission on Animal Welfare legislation and many eminent lawyers worked on the drafts before the final version was approved in May 2006.
An Animal Welfare Bill based on that Law Commission draft was gazetted as a Private Member’s Bill tabled by Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thero, MP, in October 2010. This Bill could enable Sri Lanka to provide a model for other Asian countries to incorporate in their legislation modern standards in the way humans co-exist with other sentient beings.
An Animal Welfare Bill also based on the Law Commission draft has been finalised by the authorities and will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers on 29th May.
Let us pray!