University of Utah freshman Karissa Schneider loves her dog so much, she had a stick-figure drawing of him tattooed on her arm.
"He reminds me of home," she said.
After growing up with various animals and pets around her home, Schneider and her sister Emmy, a new member of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, decided they couldn't tolerate any harm being done to animals, anywhere.
"Any type of cruelty to animals just crushes my heart; I can't stand it," Schneider said.
The sisters and other students gathered with local PETA members, as well as members of the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement on Tuesday to protest the use of animals for scientific experimentation being done at 26 different laboratories at the research-intensive institution. PETA recently filed a report detailing the findings of an undercover operative who worked at two of the labs from February to October of this year. PETA says the lab has violated federal and state law and regulations.
"The U. will try to do everything possible to hide what they're doing because they know the public would not be happy with it," said Amy Meyer, president of the U.'s Student Organization for Animal Rights. She said finding out that the school was purchasing "other people's pets" from local animal shelters gets pet owners and other people "emotionally involved."
The group passed around a petition to take Utah's pound seizure law, which requires state-run animal shelters to make unadopted animals available to research facilities and universities, off the books, according to Salt Lake resident Michael Sharpe.
Utah is one of five states with the law, while 15 states currently have laws prohibiting shelters from providing animals for research. Thirty other states have no law, leaving the issue to local discretion. As soon as Sharpe gets enough signatures, he hopes to get an initiative to eliminate the law on next year's election ballot.
"We are aware that suffering is business as usual for the U.," Meyer said. "The U. is deceiving the public under a banner that they are performing lifesaving experiments. They are not all lifesaving, but essentially scientific curiosity experiments."
Meyer said she'd love for all animal testing to stop, adding that rats and mice have feelings and emotions too, but the organizations are currently focused on getting the state to end testing on dogs and cats specifically.
Local dog owners Steve Huffman and Andrea Dion dressed their dogs up with protest signs for the event, "channeling their inner thoughts," Dion said. The two adopted dogs 11 years ago from animal shelters, "because that's their only chance," she said, adding that "mutts are better dogs anyway."
U. officials have said the labs are adhering to guidelines and research involving animals elicits effective results leading to the development of life-changing medications and procedures.
SLAAM director Colleen Hatfield said that once the public becomes aware of what is going on at the labs, they will work to create laws against it.
"There are so many wonderful animals at our shelters, waiting for another family," she said. She questioned the actual work being done at the U. to help people, saying she's never heard of a disease being cured by the U.
"They could tell you where all their grant money is coming from," she said. "But tell me the name of a disease the University of Utah has cured, and yet hundreds of animals are being killed."