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Animals as Cold Warriors: Missiles, Medicine, and Man's Best Friend banner written in red lettering.

World War II   |  Atomic Animals   |  Canine Heroes and Medals   |  Antivivisection as Sabotage   |  Laika   |


Laika

On November 3, 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched the satellite Sputnik II, carrying within it a small Russian dog, Laika. The first living being to orbit the Earth, she embodied multiple meanings on both sides of the Iron Curtain. For the Kremlin, her mission commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the "great October Socialist revolution," and she emerged as a canine hero of the Soviet Union. Gazing up at the night sky, many Americans saw the small dog as a terrifying declaration of Communist technological supremacy and American vulnerability.

Laika also revived the long raging debate over vivisection. Countless Americans bristled at Soviet inhumanity. As news of Laika’s death from overheating reached the West, American antivivisectionists capitalized on the "Muttnic Affair," turning popular anticommunism against researchers who had so successfully employed it against animal protectionists over the previous decade.

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Bubble gum card illustration of Laika inside Sputnik II.
Laika inside Sputnik II, bubble-gum card, ca. 1957
(Private collection)

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A pack of Laika Cigarettes with an illustration of Laika's face below Sputnik II moving through the atomosphere.
Laika Cigarettes (U.S.S.R.)
(Christian Kranich collection)

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A block of twelve Laika stamps issued by Romania in 1957 featuring an illustration of Laika on the right side and an illustration of Sputnik II on the left side of each stamp.
Laika stamps, issued by Romania in 1957
(Private collection)

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An illustrated stamp featuring Laika in Sputnik II orbiting the earth.
Laika stamp, issued by United Arab Emirates in 1971
(Private collection)


Click for a larger image. November 1957 wire release from the National Society for Medical Research
Laboratory researchers in the United States were measured and even awkwardly supportive of their Soviet counterparts’ Laika mission, as reflected in this November 1957 wire release from the National Society for Medical Research, written before news of Laika’s death, and the absence of any plans for her safe return, became known.
(NLM, MS C 417, Box 42)


While the debate over animal experimentation still rages, the fading of the Cold War tempered at least one prominent voice. Speaking of Laika in 1989, Gazenko declared: "Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. . . . The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it."