Oregon Health & Science University fired caretaker over allegedly hitting pig, didn't tell feds

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Oregon Health & Science University fired caretaker over allegedly hitting pig, didn't tell feds

By Nick Budnick, OregonLive.com, Monday, October 6, 2014

Oregon Health & Science University disciplined one of its animal caretakers for reportedly "punching" a pig and possibly drawing blood in April 2012, and did not report the incident to federal authorities until nearly two years later.

Now an animal rights group has cited the delay in a complaint against OHSU saying the university's 22-month wait in reporting what the group calls a "beating" reflects either a cover-up or that research staff are afraid to report animal-welfare concerns for fear of retaliation.

OHSU officials, however, say the record shows they took decisive action over the incident. The university's "immediate action was to deal with an employee who was obviously out of line and it was a serious concern," said Dan Dorsa, the university's senior vice-president for research, adding that employees are expected to report anything of concern. "We make it clear from the bottom to the top of the institution that reporting is not only encouraged, it's required of employees."

OHSU didn't have to report the incident to the federal government because the pig was being used in an industry-funded experiment, not a federally funded one, Dorsa added. The university reported it anyway out of an "abundance of caution."

The complaint was filed by the Ohio-based group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, which seeks to halt all animal testing and has filed several complaints against OHSU.

The incident occurred when the OHSU Department of Comparative Medicine received a April 13, 2012 "shipment of swine," according to a letter OHSU sent the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare at the National institutes of Health on Feb. 26, 2014. (Download page one and page two of the letter.)

The incident and the observation of blood in the pig's transportation cage afterward was investigated the same day as the incident, causing the caretaker to be suspended, then fired, Dorsa wrote in the letter. However, the department did not inform OHSU's Research Integrity Office, which is charged with notifying the federal government of animal welfare violations. Instead, the office learned of the incident from an "anonymous note of concern" on December 2013.

According to the note, the caretaker was observed "repeatedly punching a swine in the face till it was bleeding." Employees complained to a supervisor who replied in an e-mail "pretty much making fun of the situation," the note said, "What do you think the USDA would have to say about an OHSU supervisor that handled the situation the way he did." The Oregonian obtained the heavily redacted note under Oregon Public Records Law.

After the incident, no veterinary check was requested for the pig, "although the daily health check records indicated that the pig was bright, alert and responsive," Dora wrote. "The pig was used in a ... terminal procedure within a week of its arrival."

In an interview Monday, Dorsa and other OHSU officials clarified parts of Dorsa's February letter. The caretaker was not fired, but resigned while suspended. Kim Saunders, the veterinary doctor who heads OHSU's Department of Comparative Medicine, said the pig did receive several health checks and there was no sign of injury.

Saunders added that the department did not alert the university's Research Integrity Office because her office considered the matter resolved.

The animal rights group filed its complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Animal Welfare Act. "We find that it is very disturbing that OHSU staff apparently withheld this information for approximately 1 3/4 years before reporting it," wrote the group's Michael Budkie. He requested OHSU be investigated and fined.

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