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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Student Refuses to Operate on Stray Animals

For MTFrom left, Kalinina, Ananyeva and Yelena Kocherga decrying surgeries on strays at a news conference in September.
When Yulia Ananyeva decided to study to be a veterinarian, she did not expect that she would have to catch healthy stray dogs and cats and operate on them.

When the veterinary school in the Far East city of Blagoveshchensk told her to round up a stray, she rebelled and was forced out, she said.

"These are living beings, and not things that you can cut up and then throw away," Ananyeva said.

Ananyeva's plight casts a spotlight on the little-discussed practice of using animals in experiments at veterinary schools nationwide. International veterinary associations and animal rights groups condemn the Russian method as inhumane.

Ananyeva's problems started when she started studying pet surgery at the Institute of Veterinary Medicine at the Far Eastern State Agrarian University in Blagoveshchensk. As part of the course, students were expected to take turns catching animals and bringing them to the school to operate on.

Last September, Ananyeva said, she was told to bring in an animal by teacher Anatoly Chubin for a lesson on the effects of shock.

"I asked him where to get the animal. He said that I need to catch the animal on the street," Ananyeva, 27, said in a telephone interview from Blagoveshchensk.

Typical operations on the healthy animals included the removal of kidneys or the extraction of an eye, she said. The animals were usually put to sleep after the operation.

This was a practice that had been going on for years, said Ananyeva and Natalya Kalinina a teacher at the institute.

"So many animals had been caught in the area around the institute that there weren't any left and it was difficult to find stray animals," Ananyeva said.

Students at the institute swapped stories of how they had to go to animal shelters or answer advertisements offering cats and dogs to "a good owner" in order to bring animals to class.

Ananyeva refused to take part.

She and a third-year student, Yelena Kocherga, began collecting signatures from students asking for the practice to be stopped. When that had no effect, they went public. They enlisted the help of Kalinina, who teaches ethics at the institute, and together held a news conference.

Not long after the news conference in September, the institute called off the practice surgeries completely.

"It was our small victory," Kalinina said.

But the institute did not take kindly to the scandal. "They threatened me with a court case but then realized that this was not good for them and quieted down," the teacher said.

Ananyeva and Kocherga failed their surgery exams last month.

Kalinina said Ananyeva faced strong pressure from the institute to leave, with teachers telling her classmates that she was to blame for the suspension of surgeries.

"She was forced to leave," Kalinina said.

An institute administrator, who refused to give her name, said by telephone that Ananyeva had left the university because she had failed her exam. The rector did not return repeated calls over the past week.

Chubin, the teacher who Ananyeva said had asked her to find a stray animal, also could not be reached for comment.

Kocherga's mother, a veterinarian, reacted with disgust to her daughter flunking. "She has helped me from the age of 10 in the clinic, but associate professor Chubin persistently obstructed Lena in the exam," said Margarita Kocherga, in a statement released by animal rights organization Vita. "It is my university too, and I am ashamed that ... there are teachers who force students to mutilate animals and corrupt children's souls."

Kocherga passed the exam on a second attempt.

The Blagoveshchensk school is not an exception.

"Unfortunately, such things do happen," said Sergei Sereda, the head of the Association of Practicing Veterinarians.

The only school that does not experiment on animals in any way is a new school in Velikiye Luki, in the Pskov region, that cooperates with Vita, said Yelena Maruyeva, a former veterinarian who works for Vita.

The methods used in Blagoveshchensk brought condemnation from international veterinary organizations.

No European country would ever use such methods, said Clara Esposito, spokesman for the Brussels-based Federation of Veterinarians of Europe. Russia is not a member of the association.

Using healthy animals is cruel and illegal, said Ian Holloway, communications director of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the regulatory body for veterinary schools in Britain. There are a number of other ways for students to learn surgery, he said. In Britain, students study surgery or anatomy at a local veterinary practice attached to the school or on cadavers.

"They are certainly not killed. That would also be illegal," Holloway said.

There is a 24-hour veterinary clinic in Blagoveshchensk where students could quite easily learn surgery, Vita said.

Meanwhile, Ananyeva has not given up her love for animals and is trying to enroll in another school. The nearest ones are in Novosibirsk or Ussuriisk, thousands of kilometers away.

"They won't let me study like an ordinary student," she said of her old institute.