I am reading the story “A Dog’s Tale” by Mark Twain, and as I reach the end, I am ready to fall to the floor and sob into the carpet. Never mind that I am in the middle of a bookstore. The dog’s tale is so depressing, especially since her tale may not be much improved two hundred years later, depending on where she resides. Her status remains the same. In many cases, her likeness to an African house-slave is eerily similar. And vivisection is just as strong as it was two hundred years ago, though the burning excitement behind it to cut and explore may have fizzed by comparison.
“A Dog’s Tale” is still a provocative story because it holds merit today. Finishing that tragic tale, which offers no justice and no relief and relentless bitter commentary, I thought on the scientific industry (not just biological but physics and chemistry too–they all rely on animal experimentation in some degree) and I realized it hasn’t changed all that much. I don’t base these assumptions on Twain’s assessment alone, even though he was an outspoken opponent of vivisection; he just inspired the brief reflection.
As recent as the early 1900s, dogs, cats, and street urchins were regularly picked up off the street to become menial experiments for research science pupils in biology, medicine, chemistry, etc. to earn their way and learn the craft of dissection. It was their rite of passage, so to speak, for to be a real scientist you had to know how to cut somebody open and you had to keep a straight face while you did it and show no remorse after the fact. If you appeared as though you cared, then you didn’t belong in science. I hate to admit that this tradition remains, and though street urchins are no longer on the table, dogs and cats still are and many more, embodied with short furs, long furs, snouts, bills, breasts, feathers, fangs, paws, talons, tapetum lucidum, fear, and utter confusion.
And Twain’s scientist replied, in response to the dog saving his child from a fire, prior to gauging out the eyes of her puppy and proclaiming his celebration for being right in his hypothesis: “It’s far above instinct; it’s reason, and many a man, privileged to be saved and go with you and me to a better world by right of its possession, has less of it that this poor silly quadruped that’s foreordained to perish.” Sure this character is a caricature of the masculinist scientific institution. But is he so far removed from reality that in science the animal still remains soulless, a body that can never match the awesome grandeur of man? If it were not for the minority of rogue scientists who dared to call animals kin, to recognize the anima in animal, to admit they care, then we would all be soulless.