I didn’t have a pet growing up. I have an older brother and a male best friend, both of whom remind me of having a big, dumb dog, but never an actual dog or a goldfish or anything. While I remind both my brother and my best friend frequently to use their words and sometimes they still communicate poorly, they have the ability to tell me what’s wrong and I can respond with something reassuring.  But mice don’t understand words.  When animal rights activists protest, this is probably their singular selling point to me.  I’m a scientist, I know the value of animal research and there are a million protocols and rules to reduce the animal’s suffering, but I can still see their pain and can do so little to ease it.

I study inflammation and obesity in the absence of phospholipase D (my gene of interest).  To do so, I use a mouse obesity model.  This is my first time working with live mice over time; prior to this study, all of my mouse work was done after the mouse was deceased.  Over the past twelve weeks I have been the primary care giver for 24 mice, 14 of which are on a high fat diet. I have weighed them every week, injected them twice a month, tested their blood sugar over time, put them through a CT scanner, and stuck them in a metabolic chamber.  I’ve seen their personalities, observed them under stress, and done my best to soothe them when I had to do something particularly uncomfortable or scary.  You’re not supposed to name them. Part of the reason I am not an MD (other than being squemish) is that I get very invested in people and apparently this also translates to any living creature. They have these personalities and so in my head, I sort of started referring to them as stumpy, fiesty, fatty, yippie… kind of like the seven dwarves.  These mice have become my pets.  And today I have to sacrifice them.

I am literally sick to my stomach.  The only thing that has unraveled the knots has been extreme physical exertion.  But they have to die. They’ve been bred for this; this is their purpose.  I cannot take their blood, which I need, without taking their lives. It would be cruel to keep them alive after bleeding them, it is my own selfishness that doesn’t want to take their lives, to hurt them.  They won’t know. I’ll put them to sleep and then snap their necks, which sounds brutal, but its much worse to watch them suffocate.  The first time I did it, I cried.  Today, I have to man up and be brave for my little friends.

Moment of truth… nerves of steel.