ON SEPTEMBER 11, 1981, in an unprecedented raid on a scientific laboratory, Montgomery County police seized 17 monkeys being used for neurological research. Nearly a decade later, the battle over animal rights rages on - and the surviving monkeys are caught in the crossfire.
THE FIRST THING THAT HIT THEM WAS THE SMELL.
As soon as the Montgomery County police stepped through the door of the Institute for Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, they caught a whiff of an unmistakable ammonia odor that jolted their nostrils like smelling salts. Out in the office area, it merely smelled "like a pet shop," as one cop recalls, but as they got closer to the colony room, where the monkeys were kept, it got stronger and stronger.
The smell was bad enough, but the sight of the monkeys was worse. There were 17 of them, each in a small cage that hadn't been cleaned for days. Several of the monkeys had bitten off fingers, and some had chewed into their limbs, leaving raw, open wounds the size of silver dollars, wounds that were covered with filthy bandages or not covered at all. One look at the colony room and several cops immediately retreated to their squad cars to put on rubber gloves for fear they'd catch some horrendous disease.
"It was absolutely filthy, just incredibly dirty, like nothing I've ever been in," recalls Lt. Richard Swain, who led the raiding party of about a dozen Montgomery County police officers. "I've executed lots and lots of search warrants. I've worked in murder, in narcotics, in vice, but this was the first time I went into a room and I felt legitimately concerned for my health just being there."
Swain was appalled at the conditions, but he was also angry at the animal rights activists who had infiltrated the lab and brought those conditions to his attention. He'd worked carefully with the activists to plan this raid, to construct a facility to house the monkeys once they'd been seized and, most importantly, to keep the process secret until the search warrant could be executed. But the activists had called reporters the previous day and tipped them off about the raid. And now, out in the parking lot, there were half a dozen newspaper reporters and at least one TV camera crew, and the animal rights people were passing out press releases and pictures of the monkeys and generally turning this supposedly secret raid into a media event.
"I was mad," Swain recalls. "It wasn't appropriate. In fact, it's illegal in Maryland to divulge the existence of a search warrant."
Meanwhile, the police were photographing the lab, gathering samples of food and feces as evidence, and rifling through file cabinets for potentially incriminating information. Finally, at the end of the long, unpleasant day, they carried the monkeys -- Billy, Sarah, Hard Times, Domition, Paul, Nero, Titus, Big Boy, Augustus, Allen, Montaigne, Sisyphus, Chester, Charlie, Brooks, Hayden and Adidas -- out of the lab and into the basement of a house in Rockville. EVEN ON THAT FIRST DAY, WHICH WAS SEPTEMBER 11, 1981, it was obvious to everyone involved that the case of the "Silver Spring Monkeys" was going to be a groundbreaking and controversial battle.
It was the first time in American history that police raided a scientific research laboratory because of alleged cruelty to animals, and both sides -- the animals rights activists and the animal research industry -- im-mediately identified it as a "landmark" case that would set legal and political precedents affecting animal research across the country.
But nobody on either side could have foreseen that in 1991, a decade later, the case would still be alive and still causing controversy. And no one could possibly have predicted the bizarre twists and turns that the saga of the Silver Spring Monkeys would take over the next decade: The monkeys would be kidnapped. Several monkeys would be subjected to an experiment involving electrodes stuck into the brain. There would be two criminal trials, two libel suits and countless legal battles over custody of the monkeys. The two sides would dispute virtually every fact, accuse each other of "exploiting" the animals for political gain and call each other liars. Congress would battle the National Institutes of Health over the fate of the monkeys. Nature, a British scientific magazine, would call the animals "the most celebrated icons of the U.S. animal rights movement." Doris Day would call them "political prisoners." Protests about the monkeys would swamp the White House switchboard. A pro-monkey crusade by the National Enquirer would dump 46,000 letters on Barbara Bush. And, perhaps most importantly, the activist who infiltrated the Silver Spring lab would build a large and militant movement against not only cruelty to lab animals but virtually any use of animals by human beings.
Next month, the legal battle over the monkeys will reach the U.S. Supreme Court. But nobody on either side believes that the high court's decision -- whatever it may be -- will end the fight because the Silver Spring Monkeys long ago became potent public symbols of the battle over animal research.
IT ALL BEGAN ONE MAY morning in 1981, when Alex Pacheco asked Edward Taub for a job.
Pacheco, a personable 23-year-old college student, was already a veteran of militant animal rights protests. The son of a doctor, he'd grown up first in Mexico and then Ohio, where he graduated from high school and entered Ohio State, planning to become a Catholic priest. One summer in the mid-'70s, while visiting a friend in Toronto, Pacheco took a tour of a slaughterhouse. It was the turning point in his life, and he still speaks passionately of what he saw there: "the stench of the blood, the excrement everywhere, the screaming of the animals." He stopped eating meat and started telling everybody about what he'd seen. Most people were indifferent, but one sympathizer slipped him a copy of Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation, the manifesto of a militant new animal rights movement that was little known in America but very active in England. Soon, Pacheco founded a campus animals rights group, and, in an interview with the school paper, denounced local farmers who castrated their livestock without benefit of anesthetic, a comment that inspired a group of Ohio State "aggies" -- agriculture majors -- to camp outside his window that night and threaten to castrate him without benefit of anesthetic.
On his summer vacation, Pacheco got a job on the Sea Shepherd, a ship captained by a sort of reverse Ahab figure, a militant anti-whaling activist who was obsessed with destroying a particularly infamous outlaw whaling boat. That summer, Pacheco says, the Sea Shepherd caught up with the whaler off the coast of Portugal and rammed it. The crews of both vessels were briefly jailed in Portugal. Upon his release, Pacheco went to England, where he joined the Hunt Saboteurs Association, an animal rights group devoted to disrupting fox hunts by spraying an artificial fox scent designed to throw the hounds off the trail. The saboteurs also sabotaged the fox hunters' cars.
"I had a lot of fun," Pacheco recalls. "There was a lot of excitement."
Back in the United States, he transferred to George Washington University and became a political science major. He also started volunteering at a local dog pound, where he met Ingrid Newkirk, who worked there. Together, the two of them founded PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- a group designed to be a bit more militant and uncompromising than your average chapter of the Humane Society. In 1980, PETA, which had fewer than 20 members, picketed a poultry slaughterhouse in Washington; in April 1981, the group demonstrated at NIH, protesting against animal research.
A month later, Pacheco decided to spend his summer vacation working at an animal research lab so he could see exactly how animals were treated. He obtained a list of government-funded labs and found the one closest to his Takoma Park home. It was called the Institute for Behavioral Research, and it was located in Silver Spring, near Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
One day in mid-May, he walked into IBR and asked for a job. Somebody told him to come back the next day and talk to the boss, Edward Taub.
Taub, then 50, was a veteran research scientist with degrees from Brooklyn College, Columbia University and New York University and a re'sume' that contained an impressive list of publications and grants. He'd started out as a philosophy major but had been frustrated that, although you can argue philosophical positions all day, you can never really prove them. Looking for an intellectual discipline that was less ethereal, he had drifted into physiological psychology, the science that studies the central nervous system and its relation to behavior.
For 25 years -- first at a research hospital in Brooklyn, then at IBR, an independent institution founded by B.F. Skinner and other prominent scientists -- Taub had been performing neurological experiments on monkeys, experiments that he described in dozens of articles in such scholarly journals as Science, Neuroscience and Experimental Neurology. Taub's colleagues considered him very skilled at scientific writing -- and also very skilled at the art of getting grants. In the 20 years before Alex Pacheco walked into his lab, Taub had received 18 grants, most of them from federal agencies and most of them for his research with monkeys. His latest grant, for $180,000, came from NIH, which believed that Taub's work on monkeys could yield information valuable to the rehabilitation of human stroke victims.
Taub loved doing animal research, and he was eager to share his work with young people, so he was receptive when Alex Pacheco walked into IBR that morning in May of 1981. Pacheco said he was interested in a career in animal research. Taub had no paid positions available, but he offered to let him do some unpaid but "interesting" research work. Pacheco immediately accepted.
"I have a marvelous student," Taub remembers telling his wife that night. "I told him there was no position, but he volunteered to work out of pure interest." WHEN HE FIRST APPEARED at IBR, Alex Pacheco didn't even know what kind of animals he'd find at the lab. He soon learned that they were monkeys -- 16 crab-eating macaques and one rhesus, to be specific -- and that nine of them had been surgically crippled.
The process -- called deafferentation -- involves operating on the spinal cord and slicing the sensory nerves leading to one arm, thus severing all sensory communication between the arm and the brain. The operation left the limb completely numb but still able to move. Scientists had first deafferented monkeys in the 1890s in order to study how the nervous system controls movement. They observed that the monkeys no longer used their deafferented limbs and concluded that voluntary movement is impossible in the absence of feeling -- a conclusion that became a law of neuroscience. But in the late '50s, Taub and other researchers began to doubt that conclusion. They tested it by deafferenting monkeys and then forcing them to use their deafferented arms by putting a straitjacket on their good arms or by putting the animals in restraining chairs and giving them electric shocks if they didn't use the numb arms. Under duress, the monkeys did use the numb arms, thus disproving a basic tenet of neuroscience.
For the next two decades, Taub continued his studies. He experimented with deafferenting monkeys' entire bodies, deafferenting monkeys at birth, deafferenting monkey fetuses and then returning them to the womb. At first, he believed his work was "pure research" -- learning simply for the sake of increasing scientific knowledge -- but he gradually concluded that it had practical application in the rehabilitation of humans who'd suffered strokes or spinal-cord injuries. Those people, like deafferented monkeys, had neurological damage that resulted in a lack of sensation in their limbs. Doctors had long assumed that those limbs could never be used again, but Taub thought that stroke victims, like his monkeys, could be trained to use the limbs. NIH agreed, and subsidized Taub's research.
When Pacheco began working at IBR in May 1981, Taub was in the middle of an experiment designed to train the monkeys to use their deafferented limbs in various ways. Then, within a year, he planned to kill the monkeys and check their spinal cords to determine whether the severed neurons were regenerating. Pacheco was appalled. He was -- and he remains -- opposed to all experiments that cause pain to animals. Besides, he figured that Taub's allegedly brilliant thesis -- that human stroke victims could be taught to use their bad arms by binding up their good arms -- was simple common sense, the kind of idea, as he likes to put it, that your grandmother would suggest.
Meanwhile, he decided, the monkeys were suffering. Sitting in their rusty little cages, which were less than 18 inches wide, they exhibited all sorts of neurotic behavior -- spinning in circles or compulsively masturbating. Sometimes, the animals attacked their deafferented arms -- which could not feel any pain -- biting off fingers and chewing off flesh, leaving wounds that were frequently left unbandaged. And, he claims, the place was dirty. The colony room was cleaned haphazardly by a couple of college students, who, he says, were indifferent to the animals' welfare. In other rooms, he found monkey corpses, some frozen in a filthy refrigerator, some floating in a barrel of formaldehyde.
Horrified, Pacheco decided to document the conditions in the lab. He told Taub he wanted to work at night, and Taub, suspecting nothing, gave him the keys to the place. After that, Pacheco began coming in after hours and secretly taking pictures. In July, he took the photos to New York and showed them to animal rights activists, including writer Cleveland Amory, who gave him money to buy a better camera and some walkie-talkies, which enabled Pacheco to photograph inside the lab while communicating with a sentry who sat outside, watching for any unexpected visitors.
In late August, Pacheco began bringing sympathetic veterinarians and scientists into the lab at night, so they could corroborate his pictures in affidavits. "I have never seen a laboratory as poorly maintained . . .," wrote Geza Teleki, a primatologist at George Washington University. "The premises were filthy . . ." Psychologist Donald Barnes, a former primate researcher, agreed, calling the place a "miserable and unhealthful environment for the primates" as well as "a very serious health hazard to humans."
They were, apparently, seeing the lab at its worst. Taub was on vacation, and the caretakers took advantage of his absence to take some unscheduled vacations of their own. "Both of them stopped coming in," said John Kunz, the graduate student whom Taub left in charge of the place. "They called in with different excuses. I didn't come down on them hard . . . In hindsight, maybe they were taking advantage of that situation."
In early September, Pacheco, aided by a sympathetic local lawyer, took his photos and affidavits to the police, persuading Swain and his superiors to obtain a warrant to search the lab. But there was one big logistical problem: What do you do with 17 monkeys seized in a raid? The county Humane Society said it couldn't handle the animals, but one of its employees, Lori Kenealy, volunteered to house them in the basement of her home on Beall Avenue in Rockville. For days, animal rights activists worked there, building cages, painting and installing new doors and a new ventilation system.
On the night before the raid, Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk smuggled one final visitor into the lab -- a local veterinarian named Richard Weitzman. The place was very dirty, Weitzman recalls, but the animals seemed "in pretty good health," well-fed and certainly in no danger of dying. Pacheco and Newkirk kept asking him if the conditions he saw constituted abuse, but Weitzman didn't give them the response they were seeking. "My reaction was, 'Why don't you confront the gentleman and tell him what's wrong and have him fix it?' " he recalls.
Pacheco and Newkirk told him nothing about the next morning's raid. Weitzman heard about it on the news, just like everybody else. "After the raid, I knew there was something not too right about this," he recalls. "I felt that they were people who were against the research more than anything else."
IN LORI KENEALY'S ROCKVILLE BASEMENT, THE SILVER Spring Monkeys -- veterans of Asian jungles and scientific laboratories -- were introduced to one of the sublime joys of civilized life: watching soap operas on television. "They loved it," Kenealy recalls. "We used to put the soaps on for them during the day. It didn't take long for them to respond to it."
The monkeys were also given toys and mirrors and lots of tender loving care by a posse of indulgent animal lovers who fed them by hand and groomed them with toothbrushes and stayed with them 24 hours a day. "Our whole purpose was to take care of their every need," says Kenealy, "and we did."
While the monkeys enjoyed their suburban splendor, lawyers for IBR, which owned the animals, went to court, demanding that they be returned to the laboratory. About 10 days after the raid, a judge granted their request.
And then, mysteriously, the monkeys disappeared.
Lori Kenealy says she wasn't home when persons unknown entered her house late one night and took the monkeys. She told Lt. Swain that she had no idea who stole them. Swain didn't believe that. He handcuffed her and hauled her off to jail. He was angry that somebody had swiped his evidence, and irate that the crime appeared to have been abetted by the same activists that he'd gone out on a limb to help: "I felt like I'd been spun, to say the least."
A judge released Kenealy from jail the next morning, but the police and prosecutors kept the pressure on the PETA people, informing them that there could be no legal action against IBR or Taub unless the monkeys were returned.
And then, mysteriously, the monkeys reappeared.
They had Spanish moss in their cages, and the word among the activists was that they'd had a nice "vacation" in Florida. But to this day, Pacheco is coy about saying who took them on a five-day trip. "All I know," he says with a mischievous smile, "is that I heard the security system was woefully inadequate."
Taub was incensed. Carting monkeys to and from Florida in the back of a truck, he likes to point out, could easily be classified as cruelty to animals. IBR pressed its demand for the monkeys, and once again the judge ordered that they be returned to the lab. But when Taub and his assistants appeared at Kenealy's house to claim them, they found the door locked and barricaded with a sofa. After a while, though, the PETA people bowed to the inevitable. "We held him off as long as we could," Kenealy recalls. "It was the principle: We wanted to show we were giving them back under duress."
About a week after the monkeys returned to the lab, however, one of PETA's nightmares came true: During a cleaning of their cages, two monkeys were briefly housed together. They began to fight, and one of them, Charlie, died.
After that, the court ordered NIH to take custody of the monkeys, and the 16 remaining animals were taken to an NIH facility in Poolesville.
They would remain there, housed in cages smaller than the ones at IBR, for nearly five years, while various groups battled over their fate. THE DAY AFTER THE MONKEYS RETURNED FROM THEIR Florida "vacation," the Montgomery County police charged Edward Taub and his assistant, John Kunz, with 17 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals.
Their trial, which began in late October 1981, proved to be a preview of the years of confusing controversy that have followed it: Nearly every fact was disputed by "experts" from both sides. The prosecutor charged that Taub's lab was so filthy that it was unhealthy, and he produced federal inspection reports and witnesses to corroborate that claim. The defense responded that the lab was clean -- certainly no dirtier than most animal labs -- and produced other federal inspection reports and other witnesses who backed that up. Veterinarians called by the prosecution testified that Taub's policy of not bandaging wounds on the monkeys' deafferented arms constituted a threat to the animals' health. Veterinarians called by the defense -- including two University of Pennsylvania researchers who had worked with deafferented monkeys -- testified that bandaging those wounds was counterproductive because it caused the animals to attack the arms again. The prosecution introduced 70 photographs showing unsanitary conditions and injured animals. The defense produced researchers who'd worked in the lab over the past decade and testified that the place never looked like that when they were there. Taub himself charged that several of the pictures appeared to have been "staged."
On and on it went through five days of contradictory testimony. Finally, District Court Judge Stanley Klavan rendered his verdict: He found Taub guilty of six counts of cruelty to animals for failing to provide adequate veterinary care to six of the monkeys, and he fined the scientist $3,000. But the judge also acquitted Taub of the other 11 charges against him, and acquitted John Kunz of all 17 counts.
PETA, which had packed the courtroom with scores of animal lovers, called the verdict "a landmark victory in the struggle for animal rights." Taub, who promised to appeal, termed it a blow to science: "What has happened to my work harks back to the Middle Ages and the period of religious inquisition, when scientists were burned at the stake."
AT THAT POINT, TAUB HAD HIT BOTTOM. HIS LABORATORY had been raided and his name forever connected with the abuse of innocent creatures. He'd been convicted of six misdemeanors in a widely publicized trial. His monkeys were under court-ordered custody, so he could no longer do his research. And NIH, citing "inadequate veterinary care," had terminated his grant, leaving him with no income.
But he was determined to fight back. "I couldn't conceive of a life without doing research," he recalls. "That was what I did. That was what I was. And I would give that up over my dead body."
Over the next four years, while he survived on his savings and his wife's salary, Taub used the tenacity and bureaucratic skills he'd exhibited as a scientist in a relentless battle to clear his name.
In June 1982, he got a second trial. It lasted nearly three weeks and produced testimony that was just as contradictory as that at the first trial. After three days of deliberation, a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury acquitted Taub of five of the convictions that he was appealing and let stand the sixth -- inadequate veterinary care of a monkey named Nero, whose wounds had led an NIH veterinarian to amputate his deafferented arm. The judge fined Taub $500 and then told him: "I hope and trust this will not deter you from your efforts to assist mankind with your research."
"How can this help but deter me from my work?" Taub said later, and he appealed his single remaining conviction to the Maryland Court of Appeals. A year later, the court overturned the conviction, ruling that state animal cruelty laws did not apply to federally funded animal experiments.
Meanwhile, Taub was also appealing NIH's decision to cut off his funding. When his first appeal was turned down, he appealed again, this time to a Department of Health and Human Services board. In June 1984, that committee too rejected his appeal, but it also was moved to defend his "personal integrity" and assert that the animals' condition was "unavoidable given the nature of the experiments."
Taub also lobbied various scientific organizations, demanding that they investigate his case. Several -- including the American Psychological Association and the Society for Neuroscience -- agreed to do so and ended up defending Taub.
By 1986, Taub's efforts to vindicate himself were successful enough that he was hired as a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But he no longer does animal research, and he suspects that pressure from PETA, which has organized demonstrations against him in Birmingham, will prevent him from ever working with animals again.
"We're not dealing with a benign adversary," he says bitterly, standing in his Birmingham office, in a storage room filled with battered green Army-surplus file cabinets stuffed with court transcripts, legal papers and news clippings about the case that still obsesses him. "They're extremely dangerous and extremely malicious and they'll do anything. And it is minor to them to destroy a person."
WHILE TAUB FOUGHT TO CLEAR HIS name, PETA was fighting to win custody of the Silver Spring Monkeys.
The 15 surviving monkeys -- one had been euthanized -- were still in NIH's Poolesville facility, but PETA wanted to take them to Primarily Primates, an animal sanctuary near San Antonio. Shortly after Taub's first trial, PETA and allied groups filed suit in federal court in Baltimore, seeking custody of the animals. The court ruled that PETA had no legal standing in the matter and dismissed the case. PETA appealed, believing that the case represented "the Armageddon of the laboratory movement," as Cleveland Amory put it. "It could set a precedent to get animals out of laboratories legally."
Which was precisely the precedent that nearly 70 scientific and medical organizations hoped to avoid when they filed a brief opposing PETA's position. If animal rights activists won the right to sue animal researchers, the brief argued, scientists would be "intimidated" and valuable medical research would be threatened.
Meanwhile, NIH maintained that it simply wanted to finish the research that it had originally funded -- in other words, complete Taub's plan to kill the deafferented monkeys and check to see if their spinal neurons had regenerated. But there was a problem with that plan: Nobody was available to do it. Taub's funding had been cut off, and IBR, which owned the monkeys, announced in 1985 that it no longer wanted the animals and offered to "relinquish ownership to NIH." NIH immediately declined that offer: "We have no research protocols, either ongoing or planned, for which these animals are appropriate."
Despite that position, NIH still opposed transfer of the monkeys to PETA, argueing that some scientist somewhere ought to finish Taub's project. PETA, which was still awaiting its day in federal appeals court, disagreed and began an intensive lobbying campaign in Congress.
The lobbying paid off. In April 1986, Robert C. Smith -- then a Republican representative from New Hampshire, now a senator -- drafted a petition charging that "the continued confinement of these highly intelligent and social primates in small steel cages, for no reasonable purpose, is not only inhumane, but an unjustifiable waste of taxpayers' dollars . . . " Aided by a blizzard of mail from animal lovers across the country, Smith persuaded 253 of his House colleagues to sign his letter while 52 senators endorsed a similar appeal. Still, NIH, citing the pending court case, refused to relinquish the monkeys.
So PETA took to the streets, camping outside NIH's Bethesda headquarters day and night for weeks, beneath a huge painting of a bandaged and forlorn-looking macaque and a sign that read, "Save the Silver Spring Monkeys!" BY THEN, PETA WAS NO LONGER THE tiny, obscure local organization that Alex Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk had founded only six years earlier. It was the fastest-growing animal rights group in America, a militant, media-savvy organization that had won battles -- and headlines -- across the country.
The Silver Spring Monkey case had brought PETA to public attention, and the group soon shook up the staid animal welfare movement in much the same way that the militant young students of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee shook up the established civil rights movement in the 1960s. PETA took on the Defense Department over a military "wound lab" where animals were shot and then studied. It helped to close a huge horse slaughterhouse in Texas. It released videotapes stolen from the University of Pennsylvania Head Injury Clinic -- tapes that showed pistons crushing the skulls of baboons -- and then held a sit-in at NIH until Margaret Heckler, then secretary of HHS, cut off the clinic's funding.
Today, PETA, which is based in Rockville, claims more than 350,000 members, a paid staff of more than 100 and an annual budget of more than $7 million. It is also a multimedia conglomerate that publishes books and magazines, organizes animal rights rock festivals and produces dozens of videotapes and public service announcements, some of them narrated by celebrities Mike Farrell, River Phoenix and k.d. lang. The PETA Catalog -- whose cover features Paul and Linda McCartney in PETA T-shirts -- advertises PETA coffee mugs, PETA pens, PETA watches, PETA shampoo and a line of PETA household cleaning products, as well as vegetarian dog biscuits and "the official PETA leash," which "helps your companion animals" -- the word "pets" has been banished as condescending -- "show their support for PETA."
PETA's official slogan is "Animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on," and the group takes that philosophy seriously, mounting campaigns against meat, circuses, zoos, furs, leather, guard dogs, hunting and all forms of animal research except those in which a scientist merely watches the beasts in the wild. But the organization's most controversial stand is its support for the underground group called ALF -- the Animal Liberation Front.
To animal researchers, ALF is a "terrorist" organization, but actually its activities could more accurately be described as burglary and vandalism. ALF is the group that broke into a University of Pennsylvania lab and swiped the now-famous Head Injury Clinic videotapes. It has also raided other labs in California, Oregon, Texas and elsewhere, sometimes smashing equipment, sometimes "liberating" the lab animals. Information seized in ALF raids -- like the Head Injury tapes -- has on occasion turned up only hours later at PETA press conferences, which has led the other side to charge that PETA is a front for ALF. Pacheco denies any connection between the groups but adds, "I won't get up and denounce the people who risk their freedom to save animals."
PETA literature goes even further: It lauds ALF as "the Army of the Kind," compares it to the Underground Railroad and the French Resistance, and solicits contributions for the legal defense of ALF activists. Every Christmas Day, PETA members gather outside the National Zoo to sing pro-ALF anthems from its book of Animal Rights Christmas Carols:
"On the 12th day of Christmas, the ALF set free 12 grateful turkeys, 11 lions roaring, 10 birds a-soaring, 9 pet shop puppies, 8 trapped coyotes, 7 crippled kittens, 6 blinded rabbits, 5 chimpanzees, 4 micro-pigs, 3 veal calves, 2 guinea pigs and a rat from a laboratory."
IN JUNE 1986, THE 15 REMAINING SILVER Spring Monkeys were loaded into an air-conditioned truck and carted from Poolesville to the Delta Regional Primate Research Center in Louisiana.
The move was instantly controversial. PETA's custody suit was still awaiting appeal -- it was later dismissed -- and Rep. Robert Smith, who had become Congress's unofficial monkey watchdog, complained that the transfer was made "under the cover of darkness with no advance notification." William Raub, then NIH's deputy director, says the move went unannounced due to fears that animal rights activists might try to blockade the truck. Then he adds: "The fact of the matter is that the sun was shining brightly the afternoon the animals left Poolesville."
Hoping to diminish the controversy, NIH dropped its oft-stated plan to kill the monkeys and complete Taub's experiment. Instead, it offered to let the monkeys live out their natural lives and, if possible, to resocialize them in group housing. "These animals," NIH promised, "will not undergo invasive procedures for research purposes."
At Delta -- which is one of seven federally funded primate research centers -- the monkeys were examined by a panel of primatologists. They found that the six non-deafferented monkeys -- one had died soon after arriving -- were healthy, and recommended that they be resocialized. (Five were later sent to the San Diego Zoo.) But the eight deafferented monkeys were suffering from myriad physical problems. Their crippled arms were plagued with skin lesions and broken bones, and their vertebrae had fused near the site of their deafferentation surgery, causing permanent and painful curvature of the spine.
"All deafferented animals," the panel recommended, "should be euthanized."
"That," recalls Delta Director Peter Gerone, "surprised the hell out of us."
Not that he disagreed. Gerone believed that the monkeys should have been euthanized in 1982, as Taub had planned, instead of being allowed to degenerate. But to simply kill the animals now would ignite a political firestorm. So NIH did the prudent bureaucratic thing: It gathered another expert panel to study the monkeys.
For the nine monkeys remaining at Delta, the new panel suggested that two monkeys be immediately euthanized, that three were "reasonably good candidates for resocialization" and that the remaining four ought to be housed in individual cages until they too required euthanasia.
Alex Pacheco was not thrilled with that plan. PETA had lost its court fight for custody, but Pacheco still hoped to pry the monkeys away from NIH. He proposed that the animals be transferred to Moorpark College, a California school that trains animal caretakers. Pressured by Congressmen Smith and Robert Dornan (R-Calif.), NIH permitted a Moorpark team to visit Delta in 1988 and examine the monkeys. Moorpark's Gary Wilson concluded that "these animals are not in as poor condition as previous evaluations have indicated," and he volunteered to take all but one.
NIH's Raub was incensed at Wilson's conclusions: "The report is inaccurate, incomplete and otherwise seriously misleading," he wrote in a blistering letter to Wilson. He declined to transfer the animals to Moorpark, where, he says, they would not receive adequate veterinary care.
Raub's response angered Smith and Dornan, who later wrote a blistering letter of their own, charging that Moorpark's recommendations "were completely ignored by NIH."
WHILE THE CUSTODY BATTLE RAGED ON, A proposal for a new experiment on the monkeys set off another round of legal skirmishes.
In 1987, neuroscientists from the National Institute for Mental Health approached Raub to ask: Did you know that recent scientific developments make the Silver Spring Monkeys far more valuable than anybody had previously thought?
"No, I didn't," Raub, now NIH's acting director, remembers replying.
Until recently, the NIMH researchers explained, neuroscientists had believed that the adult brain was static -- that brain damage incurred in adulthood was irreversible. But more recent experiments had caused researchers to suspect that perhaps the brain could reorganize itself throughout adulthood: Scientists had deafferented one finger on a cat's paw and then examined the cat's brain, which had, they found, reorganized itself so that the tiny portion of the cortex that had received input from that finger was now receiving it from elsewhere. Which made scientists wonder about the Silver Spring monkeys: A much larger portion of their bodies had been deafferented -- an entire limb -- and it had remained deafferented for nearly 10 years, far longer than any other lab animals. Had the monkeys' brains reorganized? If so, how much? And how did those changes occur?
The answers to those questions, the scientists said, could shed light on the human brain's response to stroke and spinal cord injuries. They asked permission to perform one final experiment: They would anesthetize the monkeys, remove a portion of the skull to expose the brain and insert a tiny electrode into the cells that once received information from the arm to determine what function, if any, they were now serving.
Raub agreed to permit the procedure, but only on animals who were already so sick that Delta's veterinarians had recommended euthanasia. Even then, the procedure could last only four hours, and the animal would be euthanized before the anesthesia wore off.
PETA was outraged. For years, NIH had promised repeatedly that "these animals will not undergo invasive procedures for research purposes." If cutting open the skull and sticking needles into the brain isn't invasive, Pacheco asked, then what is?
PETA and an allied group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, attacked the new experiment as "grossly improper and scientifically useless." Neal Barnard, a psychiatrist and president of PCRM, called the plan "a charade of science." Daniel Robinson, chairman of the Georgetown University psychology department, agreed: "That the brain stripped of input reorganizes itself has to be one of the worst-kept secrets in neuroscience," he says. "We know damn well there is recovery of function, so you don't have to hack up a monkey to find out."
Despite the critics, NIH announced in December 1988 that it planned to euthanize three ailing monkeys and, in the process, perform the new experiment. Immediately, PETA went to a Louisiana court and obtained a temporary restraining order against the procedure. PETA also asked the court to grant it custody of the monkeys. NIH moved to have that case transferred to federal court, where it had already won a similar case against PETA.
While the appeals and counter-appeals headed slowly toward the Supreme Court, the restraining order prohibiting euthanasia still stood. Meanwhile, the health of the monkeys continued to degenerate. By the summer of 1989, Paul, who'd recently had his deafferented arm amputated, was wasting away. He'd lost more than a third of his body weight and was lying prostrate in his cage, "dying by inches," as Gerone puts it. Delta's vets recommended euthanasia, but that was prohibited by the court order. PETA was willing to permit euthanasia but not the experiment. As the two sides battled, Paul died, painfully, in his cage.
Four months later, in December 1989, Delta informed PETA that Billy, the only monkey who'd had both arms deafferented, was dying. Gerone asked Pacheco to waive the court order and permit euthanasia. Skeptical, Pacheco demanded that Thomas Vice, the veterinary consultant to Primarily Primates, examine Billy. Gerone agreed, and on New Year's Eve, Vice flew to New Orleans. He found that Billy, whom he'd examined a year earlier, had "deteriorated very much." Weakened by an infection that had spread from his bones to his entire system, "he couldn't move much," Vice recalls. "He'd lost a lot of weight and he really didn't look good."
After the examination, Vice called PETA's lawyer, Margaret Woodward. "I told her I thought he should be euthanized." Woodward said she'd talk to Pacheco and then call back. Two hours later, she called to say that PETA would refuse to permit euthanasia. "I was dumbfounded," Vice recalls. "What did I come here for? I was really mad."
A few days later, Vice says, Pacheco called to explain his decision. "He admitted to me that they felt that if they gave in on this animal, they'd lose the whole bunch," Vice says. "And I said, 'These animals are your power base and you're no longer basing your decision on humane considerations. These animals are a pawn.' "
Pacheco denies that charge. "I made the decision just as if Billy had been my brother," he says. "Had my brother or Billy been in unrelievable pain, then my decision would have been to euthanize him."
Despite PETA's stand, Delta went to court, requesting permission to euthanize Billy and perform the final experiment. When the Louisiana court granted permission, the PETA-affiliated PCRM went to court in Washington and obtained an order prohibiting the experiment. Two days later, another judge vacated that order. Immediately, Billy was anesthetized, experimented on and euthanized.
That battle was over, but the war raged on. For months, PETA and PCRM fought in various courts to prevent any further experiments, and for months they kept losing. On July 3, they ran out of appeals.
Three days later, three deafferented monkeys -- Augustus, Domition and Big Boy -- were euthanized in an operating room at Delta. But first they were anesthetized, and then Timothy Pons of NIMH opened their skulls and inserted electrodes into the area of their brains that had once received input from their deafferented arms. Then he gently stroked their bodies with a camel's hair brush. When the brush touched their limbs and trunk, there was no response. But when it brushed their faces, their brains sent bursts of electricity into the electrodes.
Pons was shocked -- and thrilled -- at what he found. He'd expected that a very small part of the brain -- maybe half a millimeter square -- would have reorganized to take input from the face. Instead, he found that a "huge" area -- 10 to 14 millimeters square -- had reorganized. "It's absolute dynamite," he says.
If the brain is capable of so large a reorganization, Pons suggests, perhaps some day scientists will learn how to use drugs or surgery to get a healthy section of the brain to take over the work of an injured part, thus permitting limbs paralyzed by stroke to be used again.
"It's very speculative," he says, "but it's very exciting."
LAST NOVEMBER, THE U.S. SUPREME Court agreed to review one aspect of PETA's lawsuit seeking custody of the Silver Spring Monkeys, and Alex Pacheco rejoiced: "I have fought for almost 10 years to get a hearing for these poor monkeys," he said in a press release.
But the high court, which will hear oral arguments next month, will not be deciding the metaphysical issue of the ethics of animal research, nor the delicate question of how lab animals should be treated, nor even who should get custody of the four monkeys remaining at Delta. Instead, it will decide only whether PETA's suit should be heard in federal court or in Louisiana state court. Either way, the controversy over the monkeys will continue.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has been trying to get PETA and NIH to agree to convene another panel of experts, which would then decide what to do with the four monkeys left at Delta. But agreement has been difficult to obtain because, as one House staffer says, "neither side likes each other, or believes each other, or trusts each other."
That is an understatement. The battle over the monkeys has become a vicious mud fight, full of accusations of deception. PETA accuses NIH of "lying to Congress." Raub accuses PETA of "outright fabrications." Taub says that Pacheco "doesn't stop at lying." Pacheco accuses NIH of "fraudulent research" concocted to "justify killing the monkeys." Gerone says Pacheco "deals in perversion of truth." Pacheco charges Gerone with "lies and distortion."
And then there are the libel suits. In February 1990, Washingtonian magazine published an article by Katie McCabe on the animal rights movement. In it, McCabe charged that Pacheco had "staged" a much-publicized photograph of a Silver Spring Monkey taped crucifixion-style to the bars of a crude restraining device. PETA and Pacheco denied the charge and slapped McCabe and the magazine with a libel suit, which is still pending.
A month later, after Gerone repeated McCabe's charges, PETA and Pacheco hit him too with a libel suit. Gerone threatened to counter-sue. The two sides reached an out-of-court settlement in late January. The settlement is sealed, but it obviously does not inhibit Gerone from excoriating PETA and Pacheco, which he continues to do with great gusto.
STRIP AWAY ALL THE NAME-CALLING and the legal wrangling over the Silver Spring Monkeys and several questions remain: What, ultimately, is the meaning of this bitter decade-long battle? Did the monkeys live and die in vain? Or did society somehow benefit from their strange ordeal?
The opposing sides offer conflicting answers to those questions. But some effects of the controversy are beyond dispute. The case ignited widespread public debate on the ethical issues of animal research. It also turned Alex Pacheco into a public figure and helped to make PETA the largest, the most powerful -- and the most feared -- animal rights group in America.
Scientifically, the effects are more difficult to calculate. The long-term importance, if any, of Pons's controversial brain-mapping experiments will not be known for years, maybe decades. Although the raid almost certainly ended Edward Taub's career as an animal researcher, it did not curtail the influence of his work. Several scientists -- including Steven Wolf, director of research at Emory University's Department of Rehabilitative Medicine -- are currently using the knowledge that Taub gained by experimenting with deafferented monkeys to help rehabilitate human victims of strokes and spinal cord injuries. "We got the idea of applying this to humans because of what Taub had done on the animal model," says Wolf.
Legally, the case has not set as much of a precedent as its principals hoped or feared: No other American lab has been raided by police, nor any other researchers charged. But, as Pacheco says, "psychologically, it had an impact. It scared the bejesus out of a bunch of experimenters, and it gave the animal people a lot of encouragement."
That encouragement led to widespread protests against animal laboratories, but it didn't stop the use of animals in experiments, and it probably never will. However, the mere existence of a vigorous animal rights movement has certainly led to changes in the way lab animals are treated. Scientists who work with animals now know that they are being scrutinized, and they act accordingly. "Today, you'd never see conditions like the Silver Spring Monkeys because people are more conscious of this," says Gerone. "Ten years ago, there was a lot less consciousness on the part of researchers about how they cared for animals. The animal rights movement has done a great deal to increase the consciousness of people working with animals."
Meanwhile, oblivious to their symbolism in this great debate, the Silver Spring Monkeys linger on.
Four of them live at the San Diego Zoo. The other four survivors remain at the Delta Research Center. Sarah, the only nondeafferented one living at Delta, is healthy and, apparently, happy. She's got big dark eyes and slightly buck teeth. Visitors can watch her as she hops playfully around the large indoor-outdoor enclosure that she shares with several unrelated young monkeys. "She takes care of them," says Marion Ratterree, one of Delta's veterinarians. "She's done real well as far as being a grandma."
Visitors are not, however, permitted to see Titus, Allen and Nero. The three remaining deafferented monkeys have become so neurotic that the presence of strangers can cause them to chew up their bad arms, Ratterree says. Too crippled to live in groups, they remain in individual cages. They are fed four times a day -- twice as often as the center's 4,000 other monkeys -- and the number of biscuits they eat is dutifully recorded daily, Gerone says, lest PETA accuse Delta of starving them.
"We want to make damn sure we've got all our bases covered," Gerone says. "We are going through heroic efforts in taking care of these monkeys, regardless of what Mr. Pacheco tells us."
"They get a lot of tender loving care," Ratterree adds.
They also get a lot of mail. Animal lovers send cards and letters. One Louisiana woman, who took a particular interest in Billy, used to send Valentine's cards and postcards from her vacations in Florida: Weather's great. Wish you were here.
Recently, somebody sent a roly-poly pink penguin toy, and the keepers dutifully added it to the rubber balls and plastic pipes that sit, mostly unused, in the cages.
"They chewed the eyes out in about five seconds," Ratterree says, laughing.
"All these things are to keep the animal rights activists happy," Gerone adds, not laughing. "I don't think they do much for the animals."