Unbelievable! In a recent story out of Auburn University, a vet student takes on a role better suited to a Tom Clancy novel than to an ivory tower academic setting.

Employing hidden cameras and defying confidentiality agreements regarding care of privately owned animals, this vet student at Auburn University made news with his underground association with PETA. His mission? Expose the canine kidney transplant program at Auburn for its cruel and unusual treatment of enlisted dogs.

PETA’s contention? The program was unnecessarily cruel in forcing dogs to undergo kidney transplants only to end up dead after suffering the rigors of kidney failure, the pain of surgery and the agony of anti-transplant-rejection drugs. After the vet-student-turned-spy’s investigation, PETA demanded that the NIH recall its funding and Auburn terminate its program.

But all of PETA’s demands were for naught. It appears the NIH had never funded the program (it was paid for by fully informed and willing pet owners) and Auburn had already terminated the program (due to its admittedly poor results) months before PETA sent out all its press releases on the report. PETA claims neither is true and that the university misappropriated funding and continues this program. No evidence to support either claim has been provided.

PETA goes on to allege that unsatisfactory pain protocols were followed and that the school falsified results in the study. One transplant patient's parent also claims that her dog was inappropriately matched with its donor's kidney. Again, no evidence provided. Auburn has initiated an internal investigation to clear itself of wrongdoing.

In case some of you don’t know it, a lot of animal studies (especially in the pet arena) are funded by you: pet owners. Most NIH and other federal grants won’t touch small animal medicine—pets are not considered a public issue. (Basic science, public health and agriculture are another matter. Vet schools do qualify for grants when they address these issues.)

That leaves funding for much of the research in small animal medicine up to private individuals. These donors include those in the general public willing to offer their personal funds for pet research as well as pet owners seeking experimental therapies for their own pets’ illnesses.

It stands to reason that kidney transplants, like diabetes care and spinal surgery in pets, has to start somewhere. There’s no way to bring new life saving procedures into common practice without studies undertaken at vet schools and other research facilities. Yes, pets die during this research. There are no guarantees—as there were none for the first human kidney transplant cases.

It maddens me to think on how wasteful PETA’s efforts are in targeting institutions whose express intent is to help animals. Why can’t PETA target pet stores or puppy mills if they truly want to champion the rights of the abused and underprivileged animals in our society? Why target institutions and individuals with similar goals (even if they don’t agree with their methods)? Aren’t there enough targets out there whose goals and methods are at odds with their beliefs?

Even more maddening to me as a veterinarian is that a veterinary student actually took part in this fruitless charade. I, for one, sincerely hope this vet student is expelled for the unethical and illegal behavior he engaged in--regardless of whether the school is ultimately found at fault in any way.

Actively seeking to damage a program within one’s own school is potentially acceptable behavior. Indeed, there are many defensible precedents for this kind of activism. Acting covertly to expose an unethical program is also potentially defensible. Committing fraud and breaching contracts is not.

Moreover, allowing oneself to be used by PETA (who apparently could care less about your future as a veterinarian) only to bring forth unsubstantiated charges (after the fact and which serve only to incriminate you) is just plain stupid. This guy doesn’t deserve to graduate his program if he’s that careless about his profession.

And PETA—willing to sacrifice an easy target in their characteristically opportunistic ways—for what? To gain more ill will from the wider community of potential supporters? To further remove themselves from the mainstream? All they accomplished in this useless attack was to showcase their corrupt tactics and willingness to serve up a vet student lamb for slaughter.

PETA should be ashamed…if not for their methods then for their amazing ability to spend their organization’s money for operations with senseless outcomes. And the vet student? I certainly hope he can get PETA to reimburse him for the student loan debt he won’t be paying down now that his chances for a vet career are looking mighty slim.