There is an incredible passage in Scarlett Thomas' fantasy novel The End of Mr. Y, where our protagonist discovers she can go backward in time by traveling through the minds of lab mice. She jumps from present-day mice to their ancestors, moving from one caged creature to the next, absorbing all their fears, discomfort and pain over the decades. The surreal scene manages to capture the real feelings of many people who work with lab animals, as they try to reconcile their scientific goals with using living creatures in their work.
As Emma Marris pointed out several years ago in a Nature article, there is a false idea that scientists who work with lab animals have no ambivalence or regrets about what they're doing. Like farmers, these researchers have to deal with the fact that they are caring for creatures who are destined to become food or data. This is why there are lab veterinarians, whose entire job is to make sure that lab animals are treated well and suffer as little as possible. And it's why many researchers today push to use animals as sparingly as possible in experiments and fieldwork.
Unfortunately the debate over animal research has become so polarized that it's hard for people to explain that yes, they approve of this kind of research, but no, they aren't happy about it and try to minimize the use of animals. Many scientists feel as if they can't discuss their concerns openly, for fear of being branded animal torturers.
Have you ever worked in a lab with animals? How did you deal with it? If you want to reply anonymously, you can create a burner account.