Cats Dissected at California High School & You Can See Photos Online

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In June of this year, students at Newport Harbor High School in Orange County, California posted photos on Facebook of cat dissection in anatomy class. They were not scientific photographs for learning you would expect in a classroom. Students were seen posing and smiling with mutilated cats. Videos were made and posted on Facebook. One showed a girl holding up the headless cat carcass, smiling and sticking out her tongue toward the cat. This elicited a student comment, "Ewwww ... u look like ur trying to lick it."

"The staff at Newport-Mesa Schools decided to eliminate animal dissection and use electronic means in its lessons" wrote David Brooks, Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) Board of Education president, to John Pippin, M.D., PCRM's director of academic affairs, in an email dated October 18, 2012.

Karen Coyne, an English teacher at the high school and faculty adviser for the school's animal rights club, contacted the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM sent a letter to the school district and kept up correspondence throughout the summer months.

However, it has now been discovered that NMUSD has ended cat dissection only; other animals will apparently still be used in vivisection activities in the classrooms. Dr. Pippin was disappointed to find only cats are being eliminated in dissection lessons. His numerous emails with Mr. Brooks were worded as such that it led him to believe the decision would eliminate dissection of ALL animals in all classrooms within the district.

In a telephone interview with Dr. Pippin, he expressed to me his concerns about vivisection. "Science education needs to move beyond animal dissection" he said. "Don't send the message that animals are ours to use and throw away. It is unethical to teach that life is cheap."

After PCRM found similar photos from other high schools of students mugging with dissected animals in classroom settings, they sent a letter to Facebook asking the pages and photos be removed, in accordance with its graphic content policy. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) joined PCRM in requesting the photos be removed and dissection not be used in teaching anatomy. The Orange County Register quoted Coyne. "It's certainly better for the cats, and at least it's gotten people to discuss this issue more," said Coyne. "I just wish they could see that dissection really is an archaic practice and unnecessary, and we need to teach these kids compassion toward these helpless beings."

"In light of the fact that PCRM found other photos online at different schools, we know this is a big problem not just locally but across the nation," Coyne said. "Especially with the rise in teen bullying and school shootings, we need to be teaching them compassion." Coyne reported overhearing two students state "that the [dissected cat] head had been placed inside a student's locker as a prank."

Animals like cats and dogs are often acquired by biological supply companies from shelters. This means many of the animals used for dissection were strays and lost family pets. It is often a greater advantage for the shelter to euthanize pets and sell them, instead of attempting to find the animals owners. Shelters actually receives income when selling the animals and this also makes room for even more strays. This is made possible thanks to local ordinances that only require shelters to hold found pets for as little as 24 hours to several days.

There are more humane techniques for teaching anatomy to students in middle school, high school and college level classes, like computerized dissection modules. Numerous medical schools have been changing their training to stop using live animals while others have not. PCRM lists a number of alternative options to dissection on their site.

Facebook refused to comment on the specific events at Newport Harbor High School and instead advised anyone who thinks a photo is inappropriate to use the site's report links.

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