A research dog at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suffered and
died after it was denied sufficient veterinary care, according federal
inspection reports that detailed numerous problems with the care of
research animals at the university.
The inspector, Dawn Barksdale of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, highlighted more than a dozen violations of animal protection regulations in inspection reports dated between April and July 2005. Barksdale found a rhesus macaque with its arm stuck in its cage, and a building housing cows and sheep infested with birds and covered with their droppings.
In August, the UW agreed to pay $6,875 to the USDA to settle alleged violations in 2005 and 2004, admitting no wrongdoing. The fine did not cover the death of the dog, which the UW reported to the agency.
The problems were detailed in reports obtained by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The group, which recently released the reports to The Capital Times, said the UW was among the research universities with the highest number of violations last year.
Barksdale's 2005 reports came after federal inspectors in 2004 found nine violations, including failure to adhere to protocols regarding blood collection, drug use, blood tests and euthanasia.
The fine also covered an August 2004 incident, previously reported in the media, in which three marmosets died when their cage was sent through the cage washer.
The agency also noted that a rabbit died in February 2005 when it was not removed from its cage before the cage was washed. This information, as well as the 2004 allegations and fine paid by the university, was covered in a letter from the USDA to the university, released by the UW at the request of The Capital Times.
Rick Lane, associate director of the Research Animal Resources Center at UW-Madison, said the university has taken corrective steps in light of the complaints, not all of which the university agreed with.
Barksdale noted comments from animal care staff that repairs for research animal facilities are a "low priority" for the university's physical plant staff. A physical plant official disputed that assessment, and Lane said the university will make sure future problems are dealt with more quickly.
According to Barksdale's report, the dog had been found with vomit in its kennel five times between March and May 2005. On May 19 of that year, the research staff found the dog to have abnormal kidney values, but neither the principal investigator nor the attending veterinarian were notified. The dog continued to vomit, did not eat and appeared dehydrated and thin, but there was no record that a veterinarian or research staffer was called.
On July 4 of that year, records show the dog was in distress: vomiting, emaciated and panting heavily, then lethargic. Again, there was no record of a veterinarian being called. The next day, the dog was found dead in its kennel.
In a letter reporting the incident to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, four top UW officials said the animal died of kidney disease, but "regrettably, inadequate communication between care staff, veterinary staff and investigative staff contributed to the incident."
In a letter of response, the agency agreed with those findings, and neither fined nor reprimanded the university, instead commending it for its actions to report the problems and take steps to prevent their recurrence.
Lane said the laboratory in question has put in place new safeguards, such as conducting a physical exam of all new dogs within 30 days of arrival, and notifying staff at the earliest possible time when medical problems are identified.
Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said the incident reflects poorly on the university's quality control.
"They're using seriously, if not critically ill, animals in research. That will make many of the results in research essentially meaningless," Budkie said. "It also appears their staff is borderline incompetent."
The reports also alleged:
• Barksdale found a rhesus macaque with its arm stuck in its cage. She noted that the animal care staff was trying to release it, and had called the lead technician, who "applied lube and started to manipulate the arm in an attempt to free the animal. The arm was obviously swollen and within a few seconds of manipulation, the animal began to vocalize. The lead technician persisted in manipulating the arm until the USDA inspector asked him to stop and call for assistance from the attending veterinarian."
The attending vet anesthetized the animal and used bolt cutters to release the arm, according to the report.
A subsequent check of the records found the macaque got its arm stuck on five previous occasions. Although the veterinary staff was treating the animal for swelling or trauma to the arm, "the attending veterinarian was unaware of the persistence of the problem and no plans had been discussed to address the problem."
Lane said the animal was subsequently moved to a cage with smaller
• Animal care staff told inspectors they were not sure who was in charge of deworming sheep, noting that it only occurred "whenever a research staff employee brought medication to the facility." It was supposed to happen three times a year, but records showed it only happened once a year.
Lane said the problem may have been one of record keeping, but he
said he's not sure.
• Several rooms containing dogs were smeared with feces and had not
been cleaned as scheduled. One room had not been cleaned for a month.
• In a building housing cows and sheep, the ceiling covering had large holes through which the roof could be seen. It was "heavily infested with birds. Layers of bird droppings were observed on fence rails, feeders and waterers. This is not conducive to the health and well-being of the animals," Barksdale wrote.
Lane said the roof was fixed in June 2005.
• In a building with 15 rhesus macaques, there were pipes with exposed insulation and peeling paint near cages, and an "automatic flush system" that had not been working for a month, "resulting in increased amounts of fecal material in the pans under the animal enclosures."
Lane said the university replaced valves in drain flushers, and replaced the programmable controller.
The university is looking at alternatives to paint, Lane said. The
rooms are high-pressure cleaned with sanitizing agents on a regular
basis, leading to peeling paint, he noted.
• In her report, Barksdale wrote: "Animal care staff has indicated that animal facilities are a low priority for physical plant work, having to wait for excessive periods of time for requested repairs."
Lane said a Research Animal Resources Center staffer was reassigned to serve as a liaison to the university's physical plant. "We knew there was a need to have better coordination," Lane said.
Faramarz Vakili, associate director of the physical plant, said he was shocked to hear about Barksdale's complaint.
"By far, that's our top priority," he said of maintenance for animal facilities. At times, his department may not know about complaints, he noted.
"If someone calls and says this cage needs to be cleaned, this door needs to be taken care of, this wall needs to be painted, we jump on it."
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