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Coast Guard suspends practice of shooting, stabbing and dismembering animals in trauma training

A Coast Guard crew searches by helicopter. (PO1 Melissa Leake/U.S. Coast Guard/AFP)
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The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that it has suspended a longtime practice in which it used live animals during trauma training.

The suspension of “live tissue training” will last at least six months, giving the Coast Guard time to examine non-animal alternatives, such as using dummies, Coast Guard spokeswoman Alana Miller said.

“The idea is not to continue” using live animals, Miller said in an interview, “but we want to make sure we’re identifying the best practices for the Coast Guard.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who has been vocal about animal rights issues, said the Coast Guard is “taking a step in the right direction that I hope will lead to a permanent end to live tissue training.”

“Historically,” Roybal-Allard wrote in an op-ed published in the Hill, “to simulate injuries that Search and Rescue personnel might encounter at sea, the Coast Guard and other military branches have relied on ‘live tissue training,’ during which sedated pigs or goats are shot or stabbed (and ultimately euthanized). Fortunately, high-tech human simulators are now available as a superior training alternative, eliminating the need for live tissue training.

“In fact, simulators are now used by virtually all medical schools and many elite military units because they are a much more effective means of teaching personnel how to provide emergency medical care under realistic conditions in the field,” she wrote.

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Animal protection activists have for years decried using live animals in military medic drills and called on the government to find more humane ways to train the troops.

As The Washington Post reported in 2013:

The military’s use of animals for medical training dates back to the Vietnam War, but it drew relatively little scrutiny until the summer of 1983, when activists caught wind of a training exercise planned at a facility in Bethesda. The plan to shoot dozens of anesthetized dogs strung on nylon mesh slings in an indoor, soundproof firing range enraged animal activists and some lawmakers.
Dog lovers protested in front of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, one with a leashed dog wearing a shirt with a bull’s eye. They took their rage to the home of then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, demanding to know how he could stand for the training as the owner of an adorable collie named Kilty.
Weinberger acted swiftly, issuing a one-sentence statement saying he had “directed that no dogs be shot for medical experimentation or training.” But to the consternation of animal activists, Weinberger did nothing to spare goats.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) published a video in 2012 that showed a Coast Guard trauma training drill in which live goats were shot, stabbed and dismembered.

The video, narrated by film director Oliver Stone, “showed course instructors … repeatedly cutting off the limbs of live goats with tree trimmers, stabbing the animals with scalpels, and cutting into their abdomens to pull out their organs as they twitched, moaned, and kicked,” PETA said. “Veterinarians who viewed the video confirmed that these are signs that the goats were not adequately anesthetized and were likely feeling pain.

“The video also showed a course instructor … who cheerfully whistled as he cut the legs off goats as well as Coast Guard participants who joked about writing a song about mutilating the animals.”

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Soon after, the Department of Agriculture cited a military contractor for violating the Animal Welfare Act, according to news reports.

In 2013, lawmakers started to phase out live tissue training with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, requiring the Department of Defense to provide reports detailing the “transition from the use of live animals in medical education and training.” Lawmakers introduced legislation this year that would require the Pentagon to complete the phaseout project by October 2022.

“The Coast Guard’s progressive move will save humans and animals,” PETA veterinarian and Air Force veteran Ingrid Taylor said in a statement, urging “all branches of the military to switch to superior simulators that accurately mimic human anatomy.”

This story has been updated.

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