How to Talk About Animals in Labs Over the Holidays

Amy Meyer, November 25, 2019

When someone shares their opinion with you and it’s a direct contradiction to your values, you have options in how you respond. You may disagree with nearly everything your crazy uncle believes, but want to keep things civil for the sake of the rest of your family while you’re at the table together for Thanksgiving.

You always have the option of not engaging. Some people are just not going to be worth your mental and emotional energy to try to change their minds on an issue you’re passionate about. And that’s okay. Shifting the conversation to something you know that you align with the person on is perfectly fine—know your limits. You don’t have to be an advocate 24/7.

But, if you’re looking to start to have more conversations about animals in labs, particularly with people who appear to not agree with you, we’re here to help! Follow this 4-step guide for our tried-and-true tips for succeeding in hard conversations.

Step 1: Approach the conversation in a way that exudes respect

You’re not going to get very far in convincing someone to transform their worldview if you start pointing fingers and launch into an angry rant about how they’re just ignorant. They’ll put up a wall, and all your thoughtful points won’t even be heard.

Instead, stay passionate, but calm. Imagine someone watching your conversation and making up their mind of whose side they are on based only on what they see.

Beyond body language, you can prove that you are approaching the conversation in a respectful way by asking open-ended questions. Most people love to talk about themselves more than anything else, because they are the best expert in that topic! Find questions that can get them talking about stories of themselves that can move the conversation in a meaningful way. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What kind of actions do you consider to be animal cruelty?
    (Most of what comes to mind is likely happening in a lab somewhere. Does doing the action while wearing a white coat legitimize the cruelty?)

  • What would you think if your dog ended up in a lab?

  • What kinds of basic protection do you think all animals deserve?

  • When you’ve witnessed an animal suffering, what was it like to see that?

  • How would you react if someone tried to hurt your dog/cat?

  • How has your health and healthcare improved?

  • If you were in charge of the federal budget, how many taxpayer dollars would you give toward experiments on animals?
    (Currently, the NIH spends over $18 billion on animal experiments.)

Step 2: Be an active listener

Being an active listener helps in two ways: first, it proves to them that you truly are interested in their perspective, making them have more interest and respect for you (and therefore, eventually, your perspectives too); and second, it helps you see their perspective more fully so you can guide the conversation in a way that will resonate more with them.

Ask follow-up questions based on what they told you. Don’t try to think of these questions ahead of time, because it will be obvious if you planned your next move before even knowing what they had to say. Stay sincere.

Step 3: Discover—and point out—where you agree

I know it can be challenging, but I promise you can get so much further in changing hearts and minds by finding some common ground. It might be as obvious as … “I really sympathize with that—we really must do better for the sick in our country.” It might not be related to the animal issue at all, but about issues that impact animal experiments, such as the amount of tax-dollars wasted. “It’s really disappointing that so many billions of our tax dollars are spent on basic research while so many of us are living paycheck to paycheck.” Or perhaps it’s about a value you both have, like “it’s really scary how so many people discredit science altogether.”

Step 4: Share your story

Stories are powerful. Your story is powerful. Once you’ve built a good connection and established a place of agreement (on some level), you’re in a better position to be heard about why you oppose experiments on animals.

Don’t focus on the numbers, statistics, or hard facts from scientific journals. It’s hard to process, and it just won’t stick. People love stories—they’re what we remember, they inspire us to reconsider our opinions, and they can even moves us to take action.

Tell them about an animal you connected with that made you see they feel pain, just like we do. Or about how cancer has affected your life, and why we cannot continue down the dead-end path of curing cancer in mice year after year while people (and other animals) continue to suffer with this hideous disease. Think about the point(s) in your life that got you to be passionate about this issue – and tell that story.

You can, of course, pepper facts about animal experiments throughout your story. Consider one-liners that may resonate, such as:

  • There’s no such thing as an illegal experiment on animals.

  • Dogs in labs never even get to go outside. They never get to touch grass, or feel the warmth of the sun. They’re kept in a metal cage their entire life.

  • If experimenters did to their cats at home what they do to cats in labs, they would be charged with animal cruelty.

  • The NIH themselves have admitted that upwards of 90% of drugs that are found safe and effective in animal trials fail in human clinical trials.

Haven’t thought about your story? Get some inspiration from some of the NEAVS team!