just a few examples

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There are many types of tests conducted. The two below just serve as examples. Tests are conducted primarily on rabbits, rats, guinea pigs and dogs (other animals are also used on occasion). And yes, sadly, lost/stolen pets sometimes end up at such facilities.
  • Eye Irritancy Tests: a substance is dropped into the eyes of rabbits, their heads are immobilized, no anesthesia is administered, for a period of 3 to 18 days. Rabbits can suffer from inflamed irises, ulceration, bleeding, blindness or even a broken neck (from struggling to escape).

  • Acute Toxicity Tests: companies try to determine the amount of a substance that will kill a percentage (usually 50, sometimes up to 100 percent) of a group of animals. A substance is usually forced into animals' stomachs (via tubes or holes cut in their throats), injected, inhalation through a gas mask or forced into their rectum or vagina. Then the "scientists" note the reactions (convulsions, labored breathing, diarrhea, emaciation, skin eruptions, bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth) and continue tests until required percentage of animals die.

    [Update Spring 2001: A version of this test known as the LD50 (as in 50%) test is now being phased out around the world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD] of the United Nations agreed that regulatory agencies around the world will have to accept the use of alternatives in testing chemicals. An interesting note, the United States and Japan were the strongest opponents of the ban.]

As far as "medical research" to benefit mankind go, the tests can be just as dubious.
  • Vogel-Conflict Drinking Test: according to researchers, this test has a "worthy" purpose, to detect drugs that help reduce anxiety in people. In the test, mice are deprived of water and then allowed to drink from a spigot that randomly delivers and electric shock. "Surprisingly," this makes the mice quite anxious! A drug is thought to have anti-anxiety potential if it enables the mice to drink more often despite the threat of shock. How does this benefit humanity? Is torturing mice worth reducing anxiety?

  • It's Only Rock N' Roll: Two men from the University of California in San Francisco, tried to buy loudspeaker capable of delivering 145 decibels from San Francisco Audio. When the owner found out they intended to blast monkeys with the speakers he refused to sell the equipment to them. Unfortunately, they did find another company willing to sell the equipment to them. After bombarding the monkeys with noise and produce lesions in their ears, UCSF will cut into the animals' brains--twice--to look at the changes that occur as a result of hearing loss--despite the fact that millions of Americans have similar hearing loss and that high-tech imaging machines can be used to monitor changes to the brain.