Marilyn Brown, DVM

Institutions that work with lab animals should establish a “culture of care” to make sure animals are treated with compassion.

Without a doubt, animal models of disease have contributed widely to the development of new drugs for the treatment of many human diseases such as cancer, diabetes or infectious diseases. At Charles River, we have long believed that, although there are laws and regulations that govern working with research animals, institutions involved in research, testing, and teaching using laboratory animals should strive to go beyond what is legally required and work to establish a “culture of care” to ensure animals are treated with compassion and respect. Animal welfare is not only good for the animal, it impacts the quality of the science and ultimately the lives of the people and animals that stand to benefit from the research. Creating a culture of care sets the stage for attitudes and behaviors that enhance animal welfare. Following are some ideas for how any institution can develop programs that help foster a culture of care.

Stating Your Commitment

It is helpful for any animal care and use program to have a strong institutional statement regarding their commitment to animal welfare. This statement can be as simple as, “We are committed to the humane use of the research animals produced and used in all XYZ’s activities.” Sometimes a simple statement can have the greatest impact. Having a person or department whose sole focus is to serve as a champion for animal welfare throughout the institution is also extremely critical to a culture of care. An institution might also consider having a new employee sign the commitment to humane care, confirming their understanding of the institution’s core value and their responsibilities for ensuring good animal welfare upon employment.

Good Hiring and Training Practices

Attracting workers with stellar educational and professional credentials is critical, but recruiters also need to attract people who understand the value and purpose of animal research. It makes sense, therefore, for companies to work closely with their human resources personnel to make sure they inform prospective employees about animal welfare and the 3Rs (refinement, reduction, and replacement)—why they are important and what is expected of employees who work in an animal care facility.

This message also needs to be reinforced once the employee is on board. This could include, for instance, requiring all new employees—from technicians, Ph.D.s, and senior VPs to maintenance crews and accountants—to attend a training session or watch a video that reiterates the concept of the 3Rs and the company’s commitment to animal welfare. In addition, employers should institute regular (e.g., annual) animal welfare training for all workers with animal-related responsibilities. Interactive training that encourages open discussion is the most effective. Employees can also re-sign the commitment they signed upon employment after each annual training session. 

Open and Clear Communication

Institutions, particularly those with animal facilities at multiple sites around the world, should also consider tapping the versatility of its Intranet to spread the word about animal welfare, humane care, and 3Rs-related activities. Consider creating an internal animal welfare and training community that could act as a global resource or hub for information related to all aspects of animal welfare, including archived training such as the annual animal welfare training. Companies should also establish a network of Animal Welfare Specialists (AWSs) at every site to serve as liaisons between the institution’s Animal Welfare Department and the facility. Regular telephone conferences and webinars with the AWSs serve to keep lines of communication open and foster consistent approaches to animal welfare. These AWSs also help foster an open environment where staff feels comfortable coming forward with any animal welfare-related questions or concerns. 

Recognition and Reinforcement

Another effective way to promote a culture of care is by recognizing and rewarding workers who show a level of conscientiousness, personal initiative, and willingness to take on additional projects that support the humane care mission. Institutions should recognize scientific and technical innovations that relate to the 3Rs. Companies can also reinforce the message of humane care by prominently displaying posters throughout their facilities. Posters should change on a regular basis to keep the message fresh. Consider having a poster contest that asks employees to fill in a statement such as, “Animal welfare is important to me because….” Perhaps most importantly, the institution’s commitment to animal welfare should be reinforced during regular staff meetings and/or presentations from senior institutional leaders.

Living the 3Rs

Finally, institutions can build a culture of care by recognizing activities internally that advance the 3Rs, such as introducing the novel strategy of microsampling that reduces the numbers of animals needed, or developing in vitro technologies that reduce the need for in vivo testing. Companies might consider creating a working group to spread the word about 3R activities both internally and externally, as well as develop training programs for study directors or webinars for scientists. Institutions should also support involvement of their staff in organizations such as the NC3Rs, World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Alternative Toxicological Methods (SACATM), and various 3Rs committees in many professional organizations.

A culture of care is critical to ensuring the humane care and use of laboratory animals. Such a culture starts with great people but requires support of senior management. Companies must recognize those that go above and beyond to ensure lab animals receive high-quality care and advance animal welfare efforts, not only benefitting the animals under our care, but our company and workplace overall.

Marilyn Brown, DVM ([email protected]), is corporate vp of global animal welfare at Charles River.

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