Calling for Yale to end postdoctoral associate Christine Lattin’s allegedly cruel experiments on sparrows, an animal welfare activist stormed the stage just as University President Peter Salovey began his remarks at an alumni event in Seattle Wednesday night.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, the animal welfare group that organized the demonstration, claims that Lattin has killed 250 birds since 2008 in her experiments, which study sparrows’ responses to stress. Lattin began these experiments when she was on the faculty of Tufts University and continued after arriving at Yale in 2014. PETA also staged a protest against Lattin’s experiments outside a Yale Corporation meeting earlier this month and another demonstration outside Lattin’s home a few weeks ago.
On Wednesday, four PETA volunteers, carrying signs that read “Peter Salovey: Stop Cruel Sparrow Experiments” and “Christine Lattin kills sparrows in cruel tests,” stood at the entrance to Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture as Yale alumni filed in. Just as Salovey began to address the crowd, Marlene Blanco, an animal rights activist who is not affiliated with Yale, took the stage and denounced the University for supporting Lattin’s experiments.
“Yale experimenter Christine Lattin has been traumatizing wild sparrow birds for many years for studies that are meaningless to humans, birds and conservation efforts,” said Blanco, according to a video recording of the protest provided to the News by PETA. “Shame on Yale. Please stop these cruel experiments. Show compassion.”
The video shows Salovey walking over to Blanco from his podium, telling her “you’ve made your point,” and asking her to leave the stage.
But Blanco, brandishing a sign that read “Peter Salovey: Stop Cruel Sparrow Experiments,” continued to march up and down the stage and tell security that they will have to carry her out if they want her to stop.
Blanco told the News that security threatened to call the police if she did not leave.
After two minutes decrying Lattin’s experiments before the crowd of about 100, museum security escorted Blanco out of the venue, she said.
Blanco said she protested both to inform those present of the nature of Lattin’s experiments and to urge Salovey to take action and stop the experiments himself.
“[I was] pleading with the president to stop these experiments because she’s wasting resources and animals lives with these impractical and absurd experiments that have no valuable takeaway for humans or other species including birds,” Blanco said.
In May, PETA filed a complaint with a Massachusetts district attorney to request that the office investigate whether Lattin had violated anti-cruelty laws in her experiments. The activist group alleges that Lattin has used several forms of torture in her experiments, including feeding sparrows crude oil, restraining them in a cloth bag for long periods and inflicting wounds on the bird’s’ legs without pain medication, citing her scientific publications as evidence.
In an email to the News earlier this month, Lattin denied that she “tormented birds in inhumane conditions.” She emphasized that she cares about the well-being of the birds and attempts to minimize any potential suffering or distress in her experiments. She added that her work complies with all existing laws and regulations, as well as the Ornithological Council’s guidelines for the Use of Wild Birds in Research.
According to Speaking of Research, an advocacy group for animal research, PETA’s claims are unfounded and exaggerated. The birds were only fed small amounts of oil in their food, equal to one percent of food weight. And while they were subject to a brief period of restraint in a breathable cloth bag, the birds were given anaesthesia, a form of pain relief, when their legs were wounded.
Although PETA alleges that the results of Lattin’s experiments are inapplicable to humans and other species, Lattin said the hormone and neurotransmitter pathways she studies are similar in all vertebrate animals, including birds and mammals. She added that experiments on stress could lead to the development of new medicines and treatments or save endangered species.
“The reason I use wild birds in my research is that we can’t completely understand stress by only studying animals that were born in a cage, because captive-born animals don’t have the same range of physiological and behaviorial responses to stress that wildlife and humans show,” Lattin said.
University spokeswoman Karen Peart told the News last month that Yale’s animal care oversight officials found that there was no evidence of non-compliance or inappropriate care in Lattin’s research. Subsequently, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, a federal agency, also concluded that PETA’s allegations were unsubstantiated.
In addition to organizing several protests decrying Lattin’s experiments, PETA has also sent letters to the institutions funding the experiments, including the American Ornithologists’ Union and Yale. Tasgola Bruner, the media manager for PETA’s Laboratory Investigations and Regulatory Testing, said more than 150,000 people have called on Yale to cease its support for Lattin’s experiments through the organization’s action alert. PETA veterinarian Ingrid Taylor sent two letters to Salovey detailing instances of animal cruelty in Lattin’s experiments, but University officials have yet to respond, Bruner said.
Yale was most recently accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International in March 2016, according to Yale’s animal research web page.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org