Documents detail animal abuses

The over 40 animal rights violations that occurred in Yale’s laboratories over the past three years are comparable to the number of violations reported by most other research universities across the nation, according to the animal rights organization that filed a complaint against the University on March 31.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! is urging the USDA to impose the maximum financial penalty on Yale for three animal welfare violations in university laboratories. SAEN obtained records that detail over 40 self-reported violations between January 2011 and May 2013 through a Freedom of Information Act filing. All but four of these violations concerned the treatment of mice and rats, animals that are not legally protected by the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA framework used to decide which violations to pursue.

In contrast, the NIH’s Public Health Service policy does extend to treatment of mice and rats, and requires all NIH-funded labs to self-report animal welfare violations, even though the NIH cannot take disciplinary action. The complaint filed by SAEN on March 31 pertained to animals covered by the AWA — a dog, seventeen hamsters and 15 mastomys.

The FOIA documents, which had not been released to the public before the SAEN filing, reveal recurring themes in the over 40 violations reported. Failing to administer post-operation painkillers, or infrequently administering them, as well as forgetting to place a milk source with baby  mice, appeared on multiple occasions.

On Dec. 11, 2012, researchers found that around 200 adult mice had not received the narcotic painkiller buprenorphine after undergoing eye surgeries. Researchers discovered on April 1, 2013 that seven mice who had undergone optic nerve crush procedures — a surgery in which the optic nerve is severed, detaching it from the eye — had been given buprenorphine once daily instead of the twice daily administration required by protocol.

In a number of instances, cages housing mouse pups were found missing their nursing dams. In some of these cases, the mouse pups were immediately rehydrated, but in others, those that had not already died were euthanized.

The violations in the FOIA documents ranged in severity. Some simply included placing animal cages in the wrong labs, while one involved a researcher accidentally putting live mouse pups in a freezer, working under the impression that they had all been euthanized. Still others involved unapproved overnight fasting, forgetting to put food in cages, euthanizing mice with improper chemicals, accidental flooding of cages and housing mice on wire bottom inserts without Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval. According to a March 6 press release from the NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, all the violations detailed in the FOIA documents were appropriately handled by Yale, and the NIH is not pursuing the matter. The NIH does not have regulatory enforcement, and only in response to extreme violations will the NIH withdraw funding, said Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN.

In a Wednesday evening email, Yale medicine and health science spokesperson Karen Peart  wrote that the incidents had been identified in a timely manner and promptly reported to OLAW.

“Yale takes seriously its responsibility for the humane care of animals,” Peart wrote, adding that Yale’s daily self-monitoring and prompt corrective actions meet or exceed federal regulations.

The Animal Welfare Act was originally passed in 1966. It is the only federal law that regulates the treatment of laboratory animals.

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