Teenage girl who hated cat dissection in class writes prize-winning essay about it

Brynnan Grimes was a new student at a school in Virginia, USA. She was pleased to find out that she could attend an anatomy class but then quickly discovered that she had to skin and cut up a cat. So strongly did she object to this that she left the school, started a petition (with her mom) and then wrote an essay about it for a competition.

The competition was entitled “A Voice for Animals”. It was part of the 26th Annual High School Essay Contest sponsored by the Humane Education Network and Animal Welfare Institute.

Brynnan Grimes’s essay was entitled “Ending Cat Dissection in the Classroom”. She was awarded the prize under the section “Active Involvement First Prize (Essay/Photographs by 16-18-year-old)”.

You can read her essay by clicking on this link. If you click on this link you can read an article that I wrote about Brynnan’s disgust at having to cut up a cat in her school’s anatomy class and how she and her mother dealt with it. The essay came later.

Brynnan and her cat Sparta
Brynnan and her cat Sparta
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

I have read her essay. Of course it is excellent. It is in part made excellent by the fact that she refers to her personal experiences at her new school in Virginia. The essay has that personal touch. She was told in anatomy class “If you have a black cat at home, select a white cat to dissect or vice versa”. I interpret this as meaning that in order to make the cutting up of a cat more acceptable to students they should select a cat (preserved in formaldehyde) which did not look like their cat at home. This must be the interpretation. Also it is an admission by the teacher that the teenagers might and quite possibly would be upset. Having that knowledge, it must be unacceptable to put teenage pupils through this sort of experience.

Brynnan was appalled by the statement and I can quite understand that. When she went home after the class she immediately discussed the matter with her mother and how to put an end to cat dissection at her school and across America. That was her immediate reaction which I think is quite remarkable for a teenager.

She felt that most Americans were unaware of cat dissection in class at schools. She felt that publicising the matter would help end it. She accepts that cat dissection might be acceptable in veterinarian training and veterinary technician training programs. She’s possibly correct in that assessment.

Her mother emailed the teacher about her concerns. Surprisingly she failed to receive a response. I find that impolite but perhaps the school was being defensive and trying to brush the matter under the carpet.

She decided to set up an online petition to publicise the fact that cat dissection tool place at her new school, Culpeper High School. If a lot of people signed it it would place some leverage on the school to stop it happening and it would help publicise the matter nationwide. It certainly did that because I wrote about it on January 4, 2016. I would have found out about it on the Internet. I recall that it was all over the Internet at the time.

Brynnan makes some central points about the cats in formaldehyde offered up for dissection at her high school. Firstly, she says that these cats come from biological supply companies (Balcombe 31). They obtain them from “bunchers” who illegally collect cats. Or they get them from animal shelters who sell them. This last point has always interested me. If animal shelters sell euthanised cats into this market it must encourage the further killing of unwanted cats at “shelters”. This must undermine their raison d’être, the purpose for their existence. It demonstrates a clear conflict of interest. Very few people talk about this but I believe that it is vitally important. It must stop.

She makes a very good point as well about the preservative, formaldehyde. She states that formaldehyde is probably a human carcinogen and linked with cancer. It is hazardous to the health of young pupils. Being exposed to it risks damage to their eyes and skin. It can cause skin irritations, asthma attacks and bronchitis.

Then she makes the point that dissecting cats (who were probably someone’s companion) may well have a negative psychological effect upon a student. Psychological problems can arise out of dissection both because the student objects to it on ethical grounds and in doing so she may have to stand up against other students who criticise her. There might be two forces at play, both negative.

She presents and excellent argument as to why cat dissection at school is unacceptable. The last of which is that there are very good alternatives in 2016.

Her petition, which started in early December 2015 very quickly gained a hundred thousand signatures. Shortly thereafter a TV station asked her for an interview as did a local newspaper. She was interviewed by Channel 29 and NBC affiliate. From there she did a further newspaper interview and the story was published on 12 different online news media outlets.

You cannot help but be impressed by this young lady. I’m convinced that the vast majority of people support her views. I don’t know whether the high school has stopped dissecting cats in class. Perhaps somebody can help me on that.

Note: the article was amended slightly 7th July 11:30 am.

10 thoughts on “Teenage girl who hated cat dissection in class writes prize-winning essay about it”

  1. Michael, I absolutely loved this post. God bless this young lady and her mother for standing up for companion anipals. I agree with the above comments as well. I also signed her petition and read her essay — a very, bright young lady with an awesome upbringing! ♥

    • Hi Diane. Dee mentioned that she had won a prize and as I had already written about her this was a good opportunity to do a follow up. Pleased that you like it.

  2. I applaud those who were responsible for this beautiful young woman’s upbringing.
    It’s obvious that she learned animal compassion and, probably, so much more.

  3. Impressive young lady!

    When I took anatomy in college (pre-vet) we dissected cats. The one that was assigned to me looked exactly like my cat. I was devastated but had to complete the assignment in order to pass the class.

    While I agree that animal dissection is distasteful at best for high school students, it is necessary for veterinarians. Even though today’s technology is very superior, it is necessary for many people to experience hands-on experience that computers can not offer.

    Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE CATS!!! and it disgusts me the way cats and other animals are treated by humans… but the medical field is in need and once the animal is dead, it’s essence is gone and only an empty shell is left behind. At least the animal’s death is not meaningless.

    That does NOT mean that I condone the over-population of pets and the cold execution of animals in shelters. On the contrary, I believe in spay/neuter and TNR as a cure for most unwanted animals overcrowding shelters. Unfortunately, most “shelters” don’t agree and continue to make room for more victims. And it is even more sad that these shelters need money to stay open. Without enough income from donations and tax money, their only recourse is to sell animals for research.

    This leaves only one question: Which research is better: Post-mortem or LIVE animals?

    • Dissection should not be distasteful for pre-vet.
      With the advancements in animal medicine and the sometimes long term investment in time for treatment of some patients I’m curious if there is an emphasis on losing a patient. I can honestly remember when many things that are routinely treated now almost always resulted in euthanasia.
      Vivisection will always have a place in animal science and medicine. It is up to the learning institutions to use it with prudence and true direction.

  4. I signed and followed this. Students this age are not emotionally prepared to handle real animal dissections. There simply isn’t the maturity.
    There are better options in this day and age to learn biology. While it’s a necessary part of vet tech and veterinary training it is not necessary in HS classes. My suggestion is that any student actively preparing for a career in either field be included in a college class if they so desire.
    Companion animals should be off the table for HS students. You simply aren’t playing with a even playing field in emotional development during those years. Telling a teen to pick a cat that doesn’t look like theirs is an extremely insensitive approach to say the least.

    • Well said. I like your intelligent comment. I now agree with you that vets need to be trained on real bodies as opposed to mechanical alternatives.


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