As It Happens

Pre-med student receives a fetal pig in the mail, vacuum-sealed and ready to dissect

Julie Taraborelli was surprised to open her mail and find a whole fetal pig. She and her University of Arizona roommates received one each, as well cows' eyes and sheep brains.

University of Arizona Physio 201 students will perform dissection at home, guided over Zoom

Julie Taraborrelli is a third year pre-med student at the University of Arizona. (Submitted by Julie Taraborrelli )

Warning: This story contains images that some people may find disturbing. 

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Julie Taraborelli and her roommates were surprised to open their mail and find three little pigs. 

Taraborelli just started her third year at the University of Arizona in the physiology and medical sciences program, a pre-med major that typically involves biology lessons and the hands-on approach of dissections.

What isn't so typical, however, is that now she will have to do the dissections from home.

Like many other students navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, Taraborelli is attending classes online. She logs onto Zoom from her apartment in Tuscan, Ariz., along with two other roommates in the same program. 

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Taraborelli shared the story of her strange delivery in a viral TikTok video, which was then reported by BuzzFeed. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

What did you first think when you got this box? What did you think was in it?

Honestly, I thought it was going to be a fake dissection kit, maybe plastic or something like a toy that you can learn from. I didn't know it was going to be real.

What was your first clue that there was going to be something real in that box?

At first, you can smell it. Then my friend opened it up and [there] was an eyeball.

Not a real eyeball?

Yeah, it was a real cow eyeball ... There was also a brain.

And the brain was a sheep's brain, was it?

Yeah, it was a sheep's brain. Then the pig showed up, and it was just like a completely different idea.

Physio 201 students at the University of Arizona Physio received at-home dissection kits, including this fetal pig, in the mail. (Submitted by Julie Taraborrelli)

OK. The pig showed up. You want to tell us about that?

Basically, we didn't really know what was [going to be] in the box. I just didn't expect anything like that.

I would have never expected them to ship us, through the mail, real animal parts.

When we opened [the box], we wanted to record it because it was going to be like a surprise ... We saw that there was an eyeball and a brain, but then we saw there was a whole pig and everyone was just shocked. [We were all] laughing because it was funny that we were all in shock.

When you say a pig, what did they send you?

The whole pig. The whole piglet. A little baby.

[It's] dead but preserved in chemicals so that [it doesn't] disintegrate.

A sheep's brain was also among the package's contents. (Submitted by Julie Taraborrelli )

What did your roommates say?

The first thing they said was, "It's gonna stink when we open it."

Two of them also received a pig, so we have three of them.

Wow. What are you doing with these pigs?

Well, right now they're just sitting ... [inside] the boxes in the hallway. I'm dissecting mine tomorrow over Zoom.

What kind of assistance will you get from your professor when you dissect this pig?

They put us in lab groups. There are usually smaller [groups, but we'll all be] on the Zoom call. I'm guessing she's just going to direct us through what we're supposed to be doing, but I don't know how it's going to work out. To be honest, I have no clue. I'm the first one of my roommates that has to dissect it.

Taraborrelli says she'll dissect her materials, including this cow's eye, on her patio over Zoom. (Submitted by Julie Taraborrelli )

Where are you going to do this?

I think I'm going to do it on my patio so it doesn't smell inside the house.

Do you have everything else you need for dissecting the pig, the brain and the eyeball?

The box came with goggles, gloves and the little tools you need to cut it and stuff.

You know, if you had been in class you would have dissected these same things, right?

We probably would have dissected the same things. But with a lab partner. And we would have been in person. And we wouldn't have to have a pig in our house.

I'm sure people are listening to this and also thinking, 'Well, jeez, why do they do that still?' Is there an alternative? I mean, is there a way of doing this with models and non-biological dissections? 

Yes. I actually wrote an essay about this in high school, whether or not we need live animals to dissect [in class].

I understand it in terms of medical college students. That's a little more serious and a practical thing to do. But I think high school students usually just mess around with the animals in a way that is disrespectful and kind of like a waste of the [preserved] animal itself.

What do you do with these parts after you have dissected the eyeball, the brain and the piglet?

I believe that we can just throw them in the dumpster.

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson and Sarah Cooper. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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