Leo came to the attention of Humane Research Australia (HRA) in August 2010 when he was released from a testing facility in NSW when funding ran out. He had been part of a study to undertake surgical techniques for vision correction in humans. Prior to this he had been used in vaccination studies at another facility (1).
Luckily for Leo, the rescue group CatRescue 901 found Leo a loving home in Melbourne, where he now lives with a doting family. Leo has since become quite the celebrity and has his own facebook page with nearly 5,000 followers.
Whilst details on cat research are difficult to ascertain, case studies have identified that cats are predominantly used in vision experiments, hearing experiments, immunodeficiency research and vaccination research (2). HRA records that in 2017 alone, 2,587 cats were used in research and teaching facilities across Australia (3).
Whilst HRA does not believe that such research is ethically or scientifically justified, whilst this research continues, we urge that animals used in research should be given the opportunity to live out their lives – by being surrendered to a rescue group where they can undergo rehabilitation (if necessary) and adoption to a loving family. In 2013, the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes was updated to encourage rehoming (4). However, this does not have any legal standing and needs to have legally enforceable standing in State and Territory legislation (5).
Throughout the month of August, HRA is profiling the use of cats in research in Australia and selling Leo merchandise at a discounted rate. Supportive individuals or organisations can gift a copy of the children’s book ‘Leo Escapes from the Lab’ to a primary school or library of their choice (6).
While we celebrate Leo’s fortune, he also reminds us of the millions of animals less fortunate than him. Unfortunately, the vast majority of animals used for research in Australia are not as lucky as Leo, they remain trapped within the system, moving from one distressing procedure, test or study to the next, or have their life terminated once the researchers have finished with them. A very disturbing reality given we know that just like Leo, every one of the millions of animals used each year is a sentient individual, who deserves the chance to live their life free from exploitation and suffering.
- Leo’s Story: https://www.humaneresearch.org.au/leos_story/
- Case studies profiling these experiments can be found at: https://www.humaneresearch.org.au/casestudies/cats/
- 2017 Animal Research statistics (latest available) https://www.humaneresearch.org.au/2017-australian-statistics-of-animal-use-in-research-teaching/
- ‘Opportunities to rehome animals should be considered wherever possible, especially when the impact of the project or activity on the wellbeing of the animal has been minimal and their physiological condition and behavioural attributes indicate that they can be introduced to a new environment with minimal, transient impact on their wellbeing.’
- Right to Release campaign: https://www.humaneresearch.org.au/right2release/
Leo video available here.
Images available upon request