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Respect for research animals

As director of animal care at Memorial University, Jennifer Keyte has the task of ensuring the ethical and humane treatment of her charges.

BY JOEY FITZPATRICK | FEB 07 2011

She rode horses as a young girl and her family owned the standard household pets. But Jennifer Keyte was never the type to volunteer untold hours at the local animal shelter. “I felt like a bit of an imposter in vet school,” the director of animal care at Memorial University admits. “So many of the students there had always wanted to be veterinarians.”

The considerations that led her to apply to the Atlantic Veterinary College at University of Prince Edward Island were more logical than emotional. “I liked working in the sciences, and I liked variety. And I wanted something that would allow me to work anywhere in the world.”

Since September, Dr. Keyte’s place in the world has been St. John’s, where she’s charged with ensuring the ethical and humane care of research animals at Memorial. Besides lab rodents, the stable includes woodchucks, rabbits, a wide range of marine species and a working farm of Yucatan miniature pigs.

With a physiology similar in many ways to humans, swine make ideal models for studying various diseases and therapies. Yucatan mini-pigs offer the added advantage of a small and manageable physique, even as adults. Universities across Canada and internationally acquire pigs from the Memorial herd.

“One of the things that strikes you in this line of work is the intelligence of these animals, and the way they will engage with someone they recognize,” Dr. Keyte notes. “They deserve a great deal of respect.”

The animal care program at Memorial is in a period of expansion and transition. “We’re bringing new skill sets to the program, which will allow researchers to concentrate on research, rather than on some of the animal care-centered tasks.” Dr. Keyte was lured to Newfoundland from her position at University of Ottawa because of this renewal.

She says the job gives her a chance to use the knowledge and skills she’s developed over 10 years. “In the morning I might be speaking to a cardiac surgeon and an hour later be working with the plumber on an aquatic system. In the afternoon I might be speaking with a wildlife biologist studying shorebirds.”

While Dr. Keyte is responsible for the care of thousands of animals during working hours, ironically, she resides in a building with a no-pets rule. “My son said to me the other day, ‘Can we at least get a cat?’”

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