AR-News: (US) Dr. Ned profiled in S.F. Chronicle
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Mon Aug 25 10:40:51 EDT 2003
On-line article includes photographs.
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All Creatures Great and Small
Nedim Buyukmihci's tireless work for animal rights is slowly paying off at
vet schools nationwide
The San Francisco Chronicle, Julian Guthrie, August 24, 2003
The goats were uninterested in the pigs. The pigs were busy rooting out
morsels from the mud. Occasionally, a swine would stop foraging, drop to the
ground, roll over and await a belly rub. Not far away, a steer sat lakeside,
stoic as a bovine Buddha, taking it all in. It was a calm, cool spring
morning in Vacaville. The 150-plus creatures - chickens, cows, turkeys,
dogs, sheep, cattle, goats - who are lucky enough to live on the rolling
hills and verdant fields of this 60-acre sanctuary were saved from their
fiercest predator: man.
Peggy Sue, a Yorkshire pig, had been tossed in the garbage and left for dead
by a high school teacher. A student rescued the sickly piglet, who is now a
strapping 275 pounds. Eve, a Suffolk sheep, was tied to a pole at a gas
station and nearly died from sun exposure. Joe, then a days-old calf, was
tossed into a "dead pile" at a stockyard and rescued by a man who heard
belabored breathing coming from the pile of corpses. David, a white goat,
was liberated from a research lab where his blood was drawn dozens of times
Those dark days are over, thanks to Nedim Buyukmihci, an international
leader in animal rights who co-founded [with Kim Sturla] the nonprofit
Animal Place sanctuary in Vacaville in 1989 [ http://www.AnimalPlace.org ]
Buyukmihci, a dreamer and a pragmatist, retired this past spring from UC
Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where he'd been a thorn in the
administration's side for more than two decades. His unflinching defense of
animals - "individuals," as he likes to call them - often landed him in the
dog house with his colleagues and superiors. "I joined Davis in 1979 and
started ruffling feathers in 1979," said Buyukmihci, who is 55, soft-spoken
and has a nest of silver hair and eggshell-blue eyes. "There was no grace
period for me."
The rankling began when the young ophthalmology professor published articles
in veterinary journals saying that hunting, trapping and fishing are
inappropriate sports for veterinarians. Buyukmihci then became the only
faculty member at the prestigious veterinary medicine school to challenge a
longtime practice of using dogs and cats purchased from local shelters for
research and practice surgery. Beginning in the early 1980s, Buyukmihci
began testifying at public hearings that the Sacramento and Yolo County
animal shelters should stop selling adoptable animals to UC Davis's vet
school. His colleagues shunned and ostracized him.
As the debate escalated and Buyukmihci refused to back down, the
administration tried to fire him. He didn't agree with top administrators
who said that students would be better vets having done practice surgery on
live animals. In defiance of the school's curriculum, Buyukmihci further
angered administrators by offering his students the alternative of
practicing on cadavers, terminally ill animals or animals that really needed
the surgery. "Taking that position was one of the most harmful situations in
terms of my career," Buyukmihci said, walking around the property and
calling each animal by name. The animals, hearing their names called,
trotted or ambled over. Buyukmihci gave long and vigorous ear scratches and
belly rubs. "My colleagues believed they needed those dogs, and here was a
professor who wasn't only challenging that, but was testifying at hearings,"
he said, rubbing the gums of a blissed-out 500-pound pig named Aloha. "I
believe that shelters are not supposed to be supplying animals for
research," Buyukmihci said. "They're supposed to find a home for the animal
or, if they can't, kill the animal humanely. These dogs shouldn't be taken
from the pound, loaded into a car - terrified, no doubt - driven miles only
to end up in another cage to be used for research before being killed. If
they're going to die, don't make them suffer."
Over the years, Buyukmihci's defense of animals has taken him to
laboratories that use animals for research and to farms where chickens are
routinely debeaked and cattle dehorned and branded without anesthetic.
"Cattle are dehorned by farmers," he said. "They're roped and immobilized. A
gouging tool is used to gouge out the horn. It would be like someone coming
up with bolt cutters and removing your first finger at the base." Buyukmihci
believes all animals, whether dogs and cats or pigs and cows, deserve kind
treatment. "There are about 10 billion farm animals killed in this country
every year, " he said of chickens, cows, sheep, goats, ducks, geese and
turkey. "That's more than 285 individuals killed every second of every day."
[Counting fish in, it's more than 25 billion per year per PETA's:
A vegan for 17 years, Buyukmihci does not wear, eat or use any animal
products. "There's no hope of stopping the raising and killing of animals
today or in the foreseeable future," he said. "Even though I don't believe
in raising other animals for food, if it's going to be done, at least we can
make their lives as good as humanly possible. Right now, their lives are
absolutely horrific. And, it would take very little to make their lives
better. Their day- to-day living is horrible."
He ticks off a few of the conditions he sees in the farming industry:
-- Chickens used for egg production are confined to small cages with as many
as eight other chickens. They are unable to lie down. The birds are debeaked
with a hot knife. Food is withheld for 14 days, so hens lose their feathers.
Males are killed, either by being suffocated in plastic bags or pulverized
alive in oversized blenders.
-- Dairy cows are kept pregnant for years, so they'll continue to produce
milk. They're artificially inseminated, and their calves are taken away
hours after birth. Calves headed for the veal market are immobilized in tiny
cages so they can't develop muscles - a procedure designed to ensure the
meat is tender. -- Pigs are kept in metal crates, restricted from turning
around. Some pigs never touch the ground. Piglets are taken away shortly
after birth so the mother can be artificially inseminated again. Piglets
have their tails cut off and teeth clipped without anesthetic. The average
pig raised on an American farm is killed at six months of age.
"I'm most concerned with the day-to-day suffering of these individuals,"
Buyukmihci said. He has little hope that the farming industry will change on
its own. Change would come through smaller but significant steps, he
believes. For example, Buyukmihci encourages people to give up eating meat
for two or more days a week. "If you stick to that, you will be making a
huge difference in the number of animals you alone are responsible for
destroying in your lifetime."
Buyukmihci, raised in Minneapolis, became interested in animal welfare
issues at an early age. His mother set the example, he said, showing great
compassion for all creatures. He received his bachelor's degree from
Michigan State University, his veterinary degree from the University of
Pennsylvania and a postdoctorate degree in ophthalmic pathology from Yale
Medical School. In 1981, shortly after joining the faculty of UC Davis, he
co-founded the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR
[http://www.AVAR.org ]), a national organization of veterinarians and
veterinary medical students. The organization was created to help
veterinarians become animal-rights advocates. AVAR hosts a chat room for
students, publishes a newsletter and offers advice to veterinary students
who want to opt out of terminal surgery courses that use animals.
AVAR is continuing Buyukmihci's battle against the Sacramento County Animal
Shelter. The group is preparing to file suit against the shelter for what it
alleges are violations of its agreement with UC Davis. The shelter, the
subject of a story in The Chronicle earlier this year, sells approximately
400 dogs and cats each year to UC Davis. A dozen or so dogs are sent to the
medical research wing of Sutter Hospital in Sacramento. Teri Barnato,
national director of AVAR, says that Buyukmihci's early opposition to the
agreement came at a time when it was more common for shelters to sell
unwanted dogs and cats to teaching hospitals. Today, the Sacramento County
shelter is the only shelter in California that sells lives dogs and cats for
research. "The administrators at Davis should have been patting Ned on the
back, rather than giving him such a hard time," Barnato said. "They took his
class away. He had to sue to keep his job. In the end, he won. They paid his
attorneys' fees. He kept his job. I'm sure they were celebrating when he
finally left this spring."
Buyukmihci is relishing his time in retirement. The battles were wearisome
and demoralizing, but important, he says now. "I was very much at the
forefront. I wish there had been a large group of which I was just a tiny
part. But, I was the leader." Asked what it cost him, he said, "A lot of
sleepless nights, aggravation and loss of standing among my colleagues. Even
though I had those sleepless nights, I felt good because I believed I was
doing the right thing."
Kathy Andres, a veterinarian who graduated from UC Davis' veterinary program
and now works at Pets Unlimited in San Francisco, said "Dr. Ned," as he was
known, was considered an extremist by some and a hero by others. "He had
this little dog who would follow him around, right at his heels, everywhere
he went," said Andres. "You knew the dog was a rescue dog. Ned was all about
"I was shocked when I got to vet school," Andres continued. "There were
people in my class who went hunting on the weekend. Here they were, shooting
animals on the weekend and learning to patch 'em up on the weekdays. Even
before that, in my interview to get into the school, I remember very clearly
being asked about my thoughts on vegetarianism and about using animals in
research. You knew, by talking to other students who had gone before, that
it didn't pay to say you were a vegetarian or opposed to research. I think
they were trying to keep the Dr. Ned-like 'radicals' out. He was one who
lived what he preached."
On especially bleak days, Buyukmihci said he found strength in his students.
"The students were just amazing as far as support. I think they knew they
could come to me and that I would be consistent and never back down. I would
never change my position, regardless of pressure from the administration."
Since Buyukmihci began his crusade, veterinary medicine schools have slowly
begun adopting alternatives to required courses that harm animals. A few
schools, including Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, have
adopted policies banning the use of any procedures that are harmful to
animals. Starting this fall, a new veterinary teaching school will open in
Southern California, offering students a fully accredited program without
the use of any live animals. The director of surgery and clinical programs
at the Western University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona is a
graduate of UC Davis and a member of AVAR. She said the university will rely
on prosthetic models and willed cadavers, animals turned over by their
owners for training and research purposes.
Over the years, UC Davis has gradually reduced the number of animals used in
teaching. Dr. John Pascoe, the executive associate dean and professor of
surgery at the veterinary school, defends the limited use of live animals.
At the same time, he said, the school is searching for synthetic anatomical
models suitable for academic instruction. Buyukmihci is trying to focus on
the ways he's made life better for his "individuals."
Since retiring from Davis, Buyukmihci has been traveling the country,
talking to veterinary medicine schools about alternatives to using live
animals for surgery and teaching. At home, he spends a great deal of time
talking to the animals. Wherever he walks around the sanctuary, which is
quiet except for the barking of dogs and snorting of pigs, animals trail
after him in a scene reminiscent of Dr. Doolittle. He knows every animal's
story - of neglect, abuse or ignorance. He knows their quiddities, too. He
knows the favorite treat of pigs is croissants or doughnuts. He knows where
to pet the goats and sheep and how to give gum rubs to the pigs. He knows
that Norman the goat has held a grudge against him ever since he removed his
horns to protect workers at the sanctuary. He knows to keep a distance from
Howie, the 2,000-pound steer. And, he knows what it means when "the divas"
scream. The divas are Valerie, Flower, Susie and Patty. "Have you ever heard
the shrill scream of a pig that wants its breakfast?" Buyukmihci asked.
"They are very good at getting my attention."
E-mail Julian Guthrie at jguthrie at sfchronicle.com.
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