As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 lights up the box office, its glow is reaching animals who are rarely seen: those in laboratories. Through the powerful stories of the central character Rocket Raccoon, alongside Floor the rabbit, Teefs the walrus and Lylla the otter, we are urged to empathize with real animals.

Baby Rocket Raccoon in Marvel Studios’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.’ (Marvel Studios)

The animal characters are, of course, digital fictional creations — no real animals were harmed. Yet, understandably, many viewers are having intense emotional responses to seeing the animals be held in cages and mechanized contraptions where they are subjected to bodily mutilation and psychological terror.

Major animal advocates are heralding the film as revolutionary. In PETA’s view, the film’s truth bombs give “a name, and a personality [to] the millions of vulnerable animals being cycled through laboratories” everyday.

From fiction to facts

Animal suffering is heartbreaking wherever it occurs. Many people simply don’t know what takes place every day inside labs and on factory farms. Legal exemptions to animal protection laws mean animals in labs are subjected to things that would be illegal if done in a home.

Inspiring people to not only see, but also care about these animals, is a significant challenge. Advocates like Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals, a media agency, use animal photojournalism to “expose the experiences of animals who live amongst us, but who we fail to see” — or, more specifically, who are purposefully concealed. Public ignorance is by design.

So there is something particularly righteous about a massive cinematic franchise with guaranteed reach highlighting the plight of hidden animal victims. The next step is to expand our understanding of animal abuse beyond fiction to facts.

There’s a good chance viewers moved to tears by the anguish of Rocket, Lylla, Floor and Teefs use mascara or other cosmetics tested on real animals who suffered just as much as the animals in the film do.

A 3D animated raccoon strapped into an experimental device with scientists in white lab coats looming above him.
Rocket Raccoon being experimented on in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.’ (Marvel Studios)

Many popular coats, shoes, handbags and meals are made from animals who were never given names and saw no happy ending. Dogs are also used as test subjects for various research purposes.

This is the very deliberate vanishing trick used by companies and industries whose business models perpetuate legal animal cruelty. Whether ordinary or luxurious, the end products are what people see — not the animals and their pain behind the scenes.

A more humane future is possible

The film urges not only empathy, but also compassion and solidarity within and across species. Thankfully, a more humane future is within our reach. There are meaningful actions we can take right now to help real animals.

Daily purchasing decisions are an opportunity to put ethical priorities into action. Consumers can support the thousands of cruelty-free brands that have proven it is not only possible, but also preferable, to deliver quality products without animal testing.

With a little research and attentiveness, people can demonstrate their commitment to animals and urge companies that are lagging behind to change their ways. We can also promote changes in our workplaces. As major purchasers, organizations and large employers carry even more economic weight when they switch to more ethical products.

Ideally, people should be able to walk down any drugstore aisle or into every cosmetics store and know that not a single product was tested on gentle rabbits or mice.

Alternatives to animal testing

Governments around the world — including Norway, India and Brazil — are restricting or completely eliminating cosmetics and toxicity testing on animals. The European Union’s ban came into effect more than a decade ago. In North America, only Mexico has banned animal testing for cosmetics, but there are U.S. states with limitations or prohibitions.

The Canadian government introduced legislation that, if passed, will finally put an end to the testing of cosmetics on animals.

A small white-and-black dog stands in front of a protest sign that reads 'We Don't Want Animal Tested Products in Canada!'
A dog stands in front of protest signs as animal lovers and their pets deliver petitions demanding a ban on animal-tested cosmetic products in Canada on Parliament Hill in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The question of animal testing for medical products is an important one. We have all benefited from medicine and drugs created with animal suffering. While we can’t change history, a growing number of scientists and thought leaders argue that animal-based testing models should be replaced.

For example, the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods at the University of Windsor notes that a staggering 95 per cent of drugs deemed to be effective and safe after being tested on animals fail human clinical trials.

Executive director and founder Charu Chandrasekera is among those arguing that a new paradigm is needed — one where human biology is the gold standard for tests. In other words, whether motivated by an ethical commitment to animals or an interest in better science, animal testing should become a thing of the past.

Compassionate communities

It is a form of poetic justice that a talking raccoon is helping audiences empathize with vulnerable animals, given the species’ status in mainstream North American culture.

While many people share my admiration for these smart, loyal and resilient animals — or at least accept the principles of tolerance and coexistence — others have more mixed feelings.

If Rocket’s voice and story can also help people respect real raccoons who are simply trying to survive and raise their own babies in an increasingly hazardous world, or being held in cages and killed for their fur, all the better.

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Animals’ suffering is real and it’s up to our species to flip the script. As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s writer and director James Gunn said, “compassion is the answer.” Because the truth is this: our choices are both the problem and the solution.

Kendra Coulter, Professor, Management and Organizational Studies, Huron University College, Western University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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