The Ghosts In Our Machine

Why Chimpanzees?

Theodora Capaldo, EdD

Perhaps it is my Sagittarian nature that requires me to be firmly footed while I shoot for the stars. Whatever the reason, I believe effective work for animals must carry not only the fire of passion to “change the world,” but as importantly, sure-footed strategy to assure that change.

In sixth grade I was exposed to a photo of a starvation experiment on a young dog. In high school I was essentially denied my aspiration to become a veterinarian when I refused to pith a living frog on a cold steel tray. I realized early on how unacceptable culturally accepted ways of treating animals are. Fortunately, then came NEAVS – an almost 120-year-old institution over which I have the privilege, for a while, of guardianship.

NEAVS and I have given much to each other in the nearly 20 years I’ve served as president. I knew “we” needed a plan. The animal movement’s here-and-there chasing of this-and-that horror was not working well for animals. Successful anti-vivisection work takes years of momentum to reach its goals. Unlike the most of the world where working hard usually gets you good results, changing how human institutions treat animals and ending their profit from that exploitation means working very, very hard to accomplish even small steps closer to our goals.

And so by 2004, I committed NEAVS to revitalizing national animal protection interest in chimpanzees in laboratories. I recognized focusing on chimpanzees was a critical first step, without which there could never be hope for the millions of other animals used in research. Chimpanzees are a keystone in the chain of animal use – genetically our closest relatives, yet still poor models for biomedical research for humans; socially and emotionally identifiable to us; and an enormous drain on dollars that should be used for more promising non-animal research. The time had come for chimpanzees to join us in breaking the species barrier that restricts scientific ethics to human consideration only.

Still, chimpanzees are no more special, capable of suffering, or worthy of any more consideration than any other species used in science. They are, though, an extended hand between us and all other animals. And so, NEAVS partnered with chimpanzees we came to know and love who had already been rescued from research. Together, with our late Ambassador Tom from Fauna Sanctuary and others, we told their stories, did the research, exposed the truth, and made the plight of chimpanzees compelling to the public, media, scientific bodies, legislators, and others in whose hands their fate and the fate of all animals in research rests.

NEAVS is proud of this campaign that soon became a priority of leading national animal organizations. And frankly, we live in awe of having accomplished, all of us together, so much in such a relatively short time. When the last chimpanzee is safe in sanctuary, NEAVS’ work isn’t over. In fact, for all the others used in research, it may truly have finally begun.

Theodora Capaldo, EdD
President, New England Anti-Vivisection Society

Theodora is our Featured Animal Ambassador for the month of April 2013.


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  1. Carol Anderberg November 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I applaud all that you do. My heart, soul and tears are with every mission that will bring zero tolerance to the helpless animals in this world. I will look into your material that is available to know more about your work. If you have petitions i probably have signed every one and will continue to help fight your cause.

    Thank you,
    Carol Anderberg

  2. Claudine Erlandson November 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Thank you so much dear Theodora for your continuous wonderful work for all Animals and lately for your very successful campaign for Chimpanzees. Bravo to you and NEAVS! Merci for your mercy!