Oct 27, 2012



The White Rats

".....make sure that the rat is pinned down on its back before cutting."

from a manual on rat dissection


I was fourteen years old when I killed my first mammal.

It was lunchtime. I was standing in the shade of the school building teasing a friend of mine about his constant stuttering when a long haired, hands in pocket kid wandered up to us.

"Conners wants to see you in the staff room," he said to me, and flicked his hair back like all the long haired kids of the 70's did.

Now Conners was our science teacher, a clean handed man. He wore grey shorts one size too small and long socks with elastic garters that dug into his calf muscles. When he came close he smelt like a scrubbed up butcher.

Conners was an enthusiastic man who taught us science with a  tremour of excitement - a little like an opera singer singing vibrato. As a scientist he was a purist - so much so that, on the day of the moon landing, Conners told everyone in his science class that he was ashamed of us for coming to school on such an Historic Occasion.

So it was only with a small amount of trepidation that I knocked on the door of the staff room.

Conners  had  his back to the door. He was sitting hunched over at his desk, steepling his hands.

"Come in Finnie," he said.

He turned around and put his hands in his lap. He explained that in afternoon science class we would be dissecting rats and he needed someone to help "despatch"  them.

He asked me how I felt about "it". He told me that he felt I was more mature than the other boys.

I said I was to be honoured to be chosen. I wondered why he should think otherwise.

The science lab was upstairs at the end of a long corridor.

On the dark granite bench near the window was a large fish aquarium.

There was no water in the aquarium. Instead it held ten white rats. The rats ran up and down the aquarium, from glass wall to glass wall. The rats were white and clean, their fur immaculate, their pink ears pricked up, their white whiskers fully alert, They ran around and around, stopping occasionally to stare pink-eyed out through the glass, out through the lab window into the football field next to the school.

On the other bench a large glass beaker the size of a small bucket sat next to the gas tap. A flesh coloured rubber hose was attached to the gas tap and lay flaccid on the bench.

Mr Conners showed me how to pick the rats up by the scruff of the neck. He placed the first rat in the oversized beaker and put a heavy book on the top of the beaker as a lid. At first the rat ran around the beaker. Then it stood on its back paws and knocked at the sides of the glass beaker with it's front paws. It sniffed the small crack between the heavy book and the pouring spout of the beaker, sniffiing the fresh air from the room.

Conners must have seen the look on my face. "Don't worry," he said. "Rats are bred for this."

He went over to the window and slid up the bottom half - so we wouldn't gas ourselves. He came back and fed the flesh coloured rubber hose between the book and the beaker spout so it rested on the bottom of the beaker.

The white rat ran around the bottom of the beaker. And around. And around. Twice it tripped over the rubber hose.

Mr Conners twisted the brass gas tap.

The hiss of gas fed through the tube. I smelt potatoes.

The rat ran around the beaker once more. Then it collapsed. Its legs twitched. Its head lolled to the side.

Finally it twitched once more and defecated.

"That's how you know they are dead," Mr Conners told me.

Now the rat was dead he took the book away and placed it on the bench. He lifted the white furred rat out of the bottom of the beaker. He laid it sideways in a clean shoe box.

"You do the next one," he said. "Don't worry, rats keep themselves clean."

The rat, heavier than I expected, didn't struggle. Her fur was soft. It smelt like wet wool.

I placed the rat in the beaker. Before I turned on the gas I made sure the book was covering as much of the beaker as possible. Through the glass I watched the rat stand  on its back legs, her pink ears on alert, sniffing the crack between the spout and the book, sniffing out the fresh air.

When the gas hit her, her back legs collapsed and she went down in a lump of white fur. She twitched a few times, then her head lolled backwards, her pink eyes still open.

And finally she defecated.

I gave her another 30 seconds of gas, just to be sure, then moved the book away, reached in and took her in my hand. She was still warm. I laid her next to the other one in the shoe box.........

The Rabbits

...............previous maneuver of esophageal cannulization.

When I was 19 years old I was in my second year of uni.
We were studying anatomy and physiology.

One day we were due to dissect rabbits. But this time it was different.

The rabbits were still alive.

When we went into the lab we found that the lab assistants had each rabbit in a cage that encased their body so they couldn't move.

Only their heads stuck out of the cages - as if they were about to be guillotined.

The rabbits in their cages were lined up on a bench facing the door. The rabbits watched all the students come into the lab. The rabbit's eyes were wide. Their ears folded back on their heads.

We stood behind our benches in groups of three or four and listened to the head tutor tell us what we would be doing.

Firstly we were going to inject the rabbits with a "general anaesthetic".

Then we were going to lay them out on our benches.

We would then take the number three scalpel from our new disssection kits (a black plastic  kit that had tweezers  scalpel, scissors and some steel probes that looked liked they belonged to an Egyptian mummifier).

With the scapel we would make an incision in the rabbit's neck and find the oesophagous.

Then we would cut about 4 centimetres out of the rabbit's oesophagous and insert a plastic valve in the opening. We would hook up our flesh coloured rubber hoses to the valve and feed different gases through the hose. The idea was to see what different gases would do to the rabbit.

Afterwards we would inject the rabbits with a lethal dose of the anaesthetic.

Then they would be thrown into the incinerator.

As soon as the tutor was finished speaking, one of our group, a youth with short reddish hair, tight bell bottom pants and a neat mustache as thin as a lady's eyebrow - a chap who always got full marks in everything - went to the white laminex bench where the rabbits in their cages were lined up.

He brought a rabbit over. The rabbit was still in its cage.  Ears flat, it stared out at us.

The red haired chap consulted our lab instruction manual. He picked up the hypodermic needle, stuck it through the pink rubber cap of the test tube that contained the anaesthetic and drew the required amount into the needle. Then he reached down, moved the rabbit's head to the side and stuck the needle into the flesh just below the rabbit's throat.

The rabbit's stiffened ears flopped down and its head curled agaisnt the side of the cage.

We took the rabbit out of the cage and laid it sideways on the bench. The same chap wiped his moustache, opened his new dissection kit, selected the number three scalpel. He cut into the rabbit's neck.

In about four minutes he had opened up the neck, cut out 4 centimetres of pinkish oesophagous and dumped it in the waste tray. He inserted the plastic valve. There was only a small amount of blood.

Next we plugged the small gas cylinder into the valve and opened up the line.
The anesthetized rabbit coughed and squirmed - exactly as it was supposed to do.
We ticked the box in our instruction sheet.

About that time there was a bit of an uproar near the front.
There was a group of three girls.
Their rabbit was dead.

The tutor was annoyed. His voice grew louder when one of the girls explained  that they had killed their rabbit outright rather than put it through the misery of the experiments.

The tutor's face grew red. Students were starting to murmur.

Someone in another group asked him how they would know if their rabbit had had enough anesthetic.
The tutor picked up a pair of dissection scissors from someone's brand new dissection kit.
He walked over to their prostrate rabbit.

He cut a notch out of the live rabbit's ear with the scissors.

The half conscious rabbit jumped.

"It needs more anesthetic," the man said.

I'd had enough by then. I told the tutor I was leaving.  He told me I'd fail if I did.

I failed.


Do you know the word "Vivisection"?

It means to cut something up that is still alive.

Last year in Australia we cut up 7 million live animals.

One internet site tells me that "The number of warm-blooded vertebrate animals used in science each year in the United States is approximately 28 million. Of that total, about 18 million animals are killed for research, compared with 2.51 million in England, 1.66 million in Canada, and 0.73 million in the Netherlands."

You can read about rabbit experiments here - specifically the technique of trachael intubation in rabbits. I don't recommend it though.

This is for Illustration Friday's Haunt.

I'd sorry if this post made you feel sick....
It made me feel sick....


  1. Okay. Wow. Hahahaha! You were the teacher's pet!!! First your illustration - those guys looks rather scary. Poor rabbits. Poor pigs, poor frogs, poor cats, poor chickens...poor people...I was so apprehensive with every dissection, vivisection lectures. We had cadaver and brain dissections. We also studied late term-aborted fetuses that were soaked in formaldehyde in gigantic jars. They were the sizes of real babies but the solution sort of shrunk them. I cannot remove the images of aborted fetuses in jars lining the shelves of the police station. I don't know why they were there. In cadaver dissections, I always covered the faces of the cadavers. Once when I was I trauma nurse, there was a cadaver dissection lecture at lunchtime at the U.T. auditorium. I attended the lecture. They were serving beef and chicken fajitas. Since it was our lunchtime, we sat down in our seats and ate. Then the surgeon who was at the stage doing the dissection, noticed that we were eating fajitas. He turned over the cadaver and removed a section of rib muscle. He lifted the muscle and said "This is the human equivalent of the beef fajitas. He expected us to vomit or get nauseated. but we were hungry and we enjoyed his lecture.

  2. I'm sorry I'm too busy to read... I need more time, because I might use the vocabulary, you know, with all these scientific topics.:) But I have some minutes for a glimpse and what I see in the last couple of posts is wonderful! The use of light and shadows "work" for achieving the specific atmosphere of mystery, secrets, even horror...
    I still do hope your mood is much more colourful, Andrew!
    Happy new week!

  3. I love the visual of Mr.Conners. What a great description. As for the rest, well, I believe that I would have failed too. I wouldn't have been able to do either one, I don't think. Our animals came already in formaldehyde, no killing or blood involved. Blood is not an issue for me if I am helping an animal, but I couldn't do that in the case of experimentation. Yes, I would have failed and made him angry ;) Great story Andrew. Oh and I see a bit of the old creepy Andrew peeking out in this one. I love it :D

  4. Ok, let me get this straight. I'm appalled, sir.

    Am I to understand that you teased someone for stuttering?!

    Hehehe, no seriously, this post had my throat all tight. I don't want anyone sticking any hose down my neck. I applaud you for walking out. That experiment just sounds like Nazi science! Ack!

    Your illustrations are deliciously creeeeeeeepy, though. And disturbing. The dead rabbits should be a scene in a horror movie. And the three men with their old faces and young boy bodies....shudder. I love your descriptions, too. I'm not sure what a clean handed means or what a scrubbed up butcher should smell like, but I'm having fun imagining.

  5. there is no doubt that the use of live animals for research decline in many countries...luckily. They realise the public opinion have bigger impact in nowdays than in past.

    good written story and very properly illustrated (as usual, Mr. Finnie)

    the eyes of the middle and the left Andrew express clearly their mood - you reached here great expression (picture nr.1)

    (and highly educational)

    I like particularly the B&W version of last picture, which illustrated very precisely the essence of the story : it is only black or it is only white. There is nothing between....


Hya! Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I appreciate your time and thoughts.