A recent news story here involves my vet school alma mater and a $5 million dollar donation that didn't happen. The news reported that a current vet student contacted Mrs. Pickens after hearing about the donation. The student shared concerns about the way vets are trained to do surgical procedures and about the dogs sold to the school for this purpose. Mrs. Pickens was upset by this information and chose not to go through with the donation.
I remember struggling with this same dilemma when I was a vet student. I had so many mixed feelings about working with dogs I knew wouldn't wake up from surgery lab and yet I knew that their sacrifice would save many others. My classmates and I spent extra time with these animals, giving them love and affection, trying to come to terms with our feelings. It was very difficult for me, perhaps even traumatic.
Is it possible to learn on a cadaver dog or cat the skills that are needed? To a limited degree, yes. I actually had some first hand experience with the comparison. When I was in private practice in another state, we hired a new graduate from a vet school that only used cadaver dogs to learn surgical procedures. After several months, we noticed that "spayed" females were coming back to the clinic with all the signs of being in heat. Owners were angry, thinking they had paid for a surgery that never happened. We discovered that the new doctor had only removed part of the tissues and left in the parts that bring the animal into heat. Because she had been trained on cadavers, she had no experience with the anatomy of a live animal under anesthesia. This meant that we had to do a second major surgery in every animal she had spayed (including some that had yet to return) to correct the problem, and it was much more difficult than the original surgery would have been. I felt sorry for her, sorry for the pets and sorry for myself trying to find ovaries that were partially removed.
That said, I will never forget the dogs that I learned from in vet school. Their images will always be a part of me. As a student, standing in the kennel that day, I looked them in the eyes through my own tear-filled ones and apologized to them for what would happen. I had no other answer, no power, no way out at the time. I promised those dogs that I would do all I could to help other animals with what they taught me. Was that the right thing to do? I honestly don't know. I only know that I did everything I could to keep that promise...for them....and for me.