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Don't Name the Animals

Turning emotional responsibility into resilience

a rabbit

One thing that is said over and over again in the animal research space is “do not name the animals!”.

Let me rephrase: don’t get attached!

I wholeheartedly disagree with this and I’ll tell you why.

When I started in the pharma industry as a toxicology technician, my job was to handle the animals, dose the animals, draw blood from the animals, and more. If I had to pinpoint the two most difficult parts of the job though, it would be navigating sick animals from the compounds I had to give them and euthanizing the animals.

Both of those were equally important in providing the data we generated by doing them, data that ultimately brought life-saving drugs to people. And I’ve seen it, I know which drugs on the market came from which animal’s sacrifice, and I literally mean specifically which animal from the name I gave them.

At the end of the day, becoming attached is the name of the game.

Here’s a story:

In 2016, I was responsible for running a rabbit study to evaluate some odd animal findings of safety for a upcoming drug and whether they were relevant in the human. The rabbits that we use in research are New Zealand White rabbits.

When the study started, the rabbits came in and we unloaded them one at a time and thoroughly checked them out to make sure they are healthy, happy, and made the journey okay.

This is the first time we meet the animals and get to see who they are, we get to see their personalities. This is the first time we start to bond with them, and it is an inevitable thing.

Everyone in that room is in there because they love animals, everyone took this job because they love animals. Some might disagree with me here, but I will die on the hill that those who work in animal research are the ones who love animals the most in this world. And I would guarantee that everyone I worked with would say the same. So bonding with them truly is inevitable.

For this particular study, we had some interesting rabbit personalities I gotta say, but there was one rabbit in particular that hit me right in the gut.

This rabbit would stand on his hindlegs every time we came to see him, and he was so excited to see us.

I never hesitated to name the animals. I did it so frequently that the names I gave them were used by everyone who came into contact with them. So you can bet I named this guy too: Cadbury.

Throughout the study I would take Cadbury out of his cage and sit with him on the floor and pet him and enjoy his company and he would enjoy mine. As we sat on the floor he would go up on his hindlegs and I’d rub his belly and we would just chill.

I looked forward to seeing Cadbury everyday throughout the study, and I really believe it helped both of us in ways that are hard to put into words.

Eventually the study ended and we had to put the animals down, which again was my job. You can imagine how difficult something like that would be, and you might be wondering well damn, why did you name the animals knowing you’re gonna get attached and then have to put them down?

For those of you who have put down a pet, you should get it. You want your guy to be the most comfortable and the most loved in the those last moments of his life. It was no different for us. Remember, we love the animals the most of anyone.

So while it was always difficult to get attached and then put the animals down, it was necessary. We took on that responsibility for those animals, for Cadbury, so they could go loved and in peace.

The Takeaway:

This responsibility that we took on, it made me stronger both personally and professionally. It gave me coping skills, it gave me the ability to feel through difficult and emotional events. It gave me the power to walk through hell over and over and over again and still come out on the other side, regardless of what that hell was.

I took the struggle of attaching myself to and naming the animals and used it as fuel to achieve by using it to understand myself better. This understanding allowed me to create deeper professional relationships, respond to challenges with a different mindset, and develop above average resilience. Those things alone can propel you further than most in life.

Think about what you are struggling with right now and the emotional responsibility it puts on you. How you can flip the script so it works for you instead of against you? Here are some tips:

  1. Practice makes perfect. Resilience is learned, and you may suck at it at first but the more opportunities you have to be resilient the better you will get at being resilient and the stronger you will be for it.

  2. Understand the purpose. Emotional responsibility doesn’t just happen out of nowhere, there is always a reason for the attachment of emotion. Understanding the purpose behind this attachment will give you strength in carrying it.

  3. Don’t be afraid to lean on others. External support is important, especially from people who are carrying the same emotional responsibility. My colleagues and I still lean on each other today to handle the emotional toll animal research took on us, even though many of us are in different places now. People who feel what you feel are your people.

Ultimately, Cadbury’s sacrifice contributed to saving a drug that is used to vaccinate children and the elderly against a fatal disease, quite an impactful drug indeed.

Not only do I have a profound appreciation for the animals and the lives they gave, but I also have a profound appreciation for what they’ve given me, part of which is the ability to turn the toll of emotional responsibility into everlasting resilience.

Until next time!

Break free from self-pity and turn it into fuel to achieve. Walk with me.


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