By Richard Asinof
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Veterinarian David Serra, who oversees the welfare of animals at the University of Rhode Island, was named the Veterinarian of the Year by the Southern New England chapter of the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science.
Serra’s responsibilities included rats and mice used in research laboratories, fish in tanks at the Narragansett Bay campus and livestock at Peckham Farm.
“Most of what I do is preventive medicine,” Serra said. “A big part of what I do is to ensure that the diseases inherent to these species don’t gain entrance to the animal colonies on campus. Screening for diseases and vigilance with surveillance are key.”
Serra said that while he looks out for the health of individual animals, the care of laboratory animals is more often described as herd health. “There are very few things that happen to one animal in a cage,” he said. “Whatever is going to happen usually happens to all the animals.”
According to Serra, advances in technology have resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of laboratory animals used in research.
As a result of the strict regulations of the Animal Welfare Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts unannounced inspections of animal care facilities once or twice a year to ensure that the university is in full compliance.
“The use of animals in research is a highly charged issue, but I don’t think that there will be a time when animals are no longer used,” Serra said. “We should continue to refine and reduce the number of animals used and find alternative methods, but I don’t think they’re ever going to go away entirely.”
Nor should it go away, he continued. “It should just be done better and better all the time. And if I can help make it better with better oversight of pain and distress, better oversight of nutritional adequacy and environmental enrichment for these animals, and make their lives happier while they’re giving their lives for us, then I’m very happy doing that.”