By Kimberley Heatherington
(OSV News) — In a bipartisan effort showing shared concern for animal welfare, Reps. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., and Ken Calvert, R-Calif., reintroduced the Companion Animal Release from Experiments (CARE) Act of 2023 in the U.S. House April 26.
The CARE Act drew praise from Catholic ethicists who noted how it reflects the Catholic Church’s biblically-based teaching to care for creation.
It requires facilities that both use research animals — dogs, cats and rabbits — and receive funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to plan for the animals’ future once they are no longer used in research. Under the CARE Act, the labs would need to design and implement adoption policies, and maintain public records of the animals.
“This is a straightforward, common sense bill: If you experiment on animals and receive funding from the NIH, you have to give them every chance to find loving homes where they can live out the rest of their lives,” Cárdenas, a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, said in a statement. “The least we can do is give these animals a chance at a happy, healthy life. Holding testing facilities accountable for finding animals homes is part of a larger effort to move away from animal-based testing and research wherever possible and toward more humane and sound scientific research.”
“While our first priority should always be to avoid the use of animals in taxpayer-funded research wherever possible, the CARE Act will ensure that any dogs, cats or rabbits used in NIH research studies are offered for adoption,” Calvert said in a statement. “I firmly believe that we must have research policies in place that protect animals as well as the taxpayer.”
According to Cruelty Free International, a London-based animal protection group founded in 1898 that campaigns for an end to all animal experimentation, “approximately 200,000 dogs, cats and rabbits are used in experiments in the United States each year. Even when animals survive an experiment, they may be killed and discarded if they are considered no longer useful to the laboratory.”
Fifteen states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington — have enacted laws for post-research cat and dog placement from publicly funded research institutions, but no national requirement exists.
The federal CARE Act “appropriately reflects the respect due to such animals, both because God has blessed them with awareness and subjectivity, and as a gesture of gratitude for the medical service they have provided us,” said Jesuit Father Christopher Steck, a professor of theology at Georgetown University and the author of “All God’s Animals: A Catholic Theological Framework for Animal Ethics.”
Father Steck told OSV News, “I am glad to see that the bill requires us to bestow on such animals a kindness that has been denied them during their time as subjects of experiments.”
Catholic moral theologian Charles Camosy, author of “For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action,” agreed.
“A Catholic vision of animals, one that is reflected even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that animals — like all gifts from God through creation — do not ultimately belong to us,” said Camosy, who is professor of medical humanities at the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Animals belong to God and we have a responsibility to show them kindness in ways which reflect God’s will for these creatures,” Camosy told OSV News. “It is also worth noting that Genesis 2 reveals God’s original intention for relationships between human beings and animals was related to the fact that ‘it is not good man should be alone.'”
Speaking of the accompaniment pets and other creatures can provide, Camosy observed that “animals are not our suitable partners — only another human being can be and do that — but in witnessing to the fullness of the kingdom of God, we would do well to do our best to see animals as our companions.”
With respect to the CARE Act, Camosy said, “It seems to be that adopting these animals would be a wonderful way to provide just such a witness to how human beings and animals will relate to each other when the kingdom comes in our fullness.” He added, “As the prophet Isaiah informs us: Lambs will be laying down with lions and babies will be hanging out with snakes.”