The March of Dimes, a group that funds research into birth defects, makes some grants to researchers who experiment on animals–a major bone of contention with animal-rights activists. Declaring animal research cruel and unnecessary, two staff members with the Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spent an hour outside the March of Dimes’ Raleigh office on Oct. 3 calling for the cessation of animal research. Jay Kelly, coordinator of PETA’s March of Dimes campaign, used a clothesline of baby dolls to make his point: The March of Dimes hangs babies out to dry while animals die.”

Kelly, who made stops in Atlanta and Charlotte as well as Raleigh, says PETA is calling for a halt to March of Dimes animal testing for two reasons: first, because the tests are “horribly cruel and painful to the animals involved”; and second, because animal tests hurt babies by “diverting funds from desperately needed prenatal education” and other more effective uses for research dollars.

March of dimes spokeswoman Emily Baker doesn’t dispute PETA’s claims. “The March of Dimes does support the use of medical research to investigate the cause and prevention of birth defects and infant mortality,” Baker said. “This does involve, when necessary, the use of animals.”

Baker said the group insists that such research comply with the highest ethical standards to protect the health and welfare of animal subjects, and that the group has long supported the use of alternatives to animal research whenever possible.

Baker said she is not qualified to answer questions about current March of Dimes-funded animal research, something Kelly said PETA would like to know more about. Kelly didn’t know of any March of Dimes-funded animal experimentation being conducted in the Triangle, but he hopes the campaign will result in local donors calling on the March of Dimes to halt animal research.

Baker was unimpressed with PETA’s protest. “It was not a demonstration,” she said, “it was two people.” March of Dimes doesn’t plan to make any changes in response to the PETA campaign. “We respect the right of other people’s opinions to differ [from those of] the March of Dimes,” she said.

–patrick o’neill