Complaint filed over UNC research animal deaths

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Please contact the USDA to insist that University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, receive the largest fine allowable under the Animal Welfare Act for the negligence which caused the deaths of two ferrets and a rabbit.

Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer, Director, USDA, Eastern Region
920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 2000
Raleigh, NC 27606
[email protected]
[email protected] 


Complaint filed over UNC research animal deaths

By Ron Gronberg,, Tuesday, February 24, 2015 

An Ohio-based animal-rights group wants federal regulators to investigate and fine UNC-Chapel Hill over the deaths of a rabbit and two ferrets it says were abused.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now sent the complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Feb. 18. It seeks a $10,000 per-animal fine for the deaths.

The group’s executive director, Michael Budkie, voiced confidence about getting regulators’ attention.

“We have a good record of getting U.S. enforcement action,” he said.

UNC was using the animals in research experiment. Caretakers reported all three of the deaths to a campus oversight group, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

A UNC spokesman, Associate Vice Chancellor Rick White, said that when it comes to research animals, campus officials “take their humane care and treatment very seriously.”

The animal-care committee “fully investigated each incident,” and the university will give the Department of Agriculture any information it asks for, White said.

Budkie’s group based its complaint on what it learned from a public-records request for the animal-care committee’s filings.

The rabbit’s death happened in late October and early November. It apparently suffered a broken back during a veterinary procedure and was euthanized a day later.

A report on the incident said a vet sedated the rabbit in anticipation of changing an ear tag. The rabbit was a subject in an “antibody production study.”

The vet and an assistant put it in a “rabbit restraint device,” and started working on the ear tag. But the bunny “vocalized and squirmed within the restraint,” suggesting that a topical anesthetic on its ear hadn’t taken full effect.

After the rabbit “settled” and the anesthetic took hold, the vet completed the procedure and returned the animal to its cage. The next day, however, the rabbit “was reported to be lame and subdued.”

The original vet and a supervisor examined it, and found it was partially paralyzed. They drew blood for purposes of the original experiment and then put the rabbit down.

The vet “expressed appropriate concern and responsibility” for the animal’s death and later received refresher training, according to the care committee’s report.

A technician who was assisting in the procedure apparently thought the animal was handled “roughly,” and told the vet’s supervisor the vet hadn’t supported its hindquarters and back when returning it to its cage.

It wasn’t clear when the back injury happened. The supervisor thought it could’ve happened during the procedure itself, or as the vet was putting the rabbit back in the cage.

Administrators reported the incident to the National Institutes of Health animal-welfare office in mid-November. UNC’s animal-care committee wrapped up its investigation in December, voting unanimously to close the case.

The death of the two ferrets, meanwhile, happened in early July.

An investigation found they’d tried to escape from a partially latched cage. But they got “stuck between the gate and the side wall of” the enclosure.

One ferret died straight off. The other survived for a time, but had “respiratory distress” and was euthanized.

According to investigators, the cage had two latches. One, the lower of the two, was secured. The other, higher latch “was not engaged.”

The incident was the first of its kind at UNC with that type of cage. It will be phased out after the study the ferrets were involved in is over. In the meantime, caretakers are taking extra precautions.

Officials reported the ferret incident to the Department of Agriculture later in July. The campus animal-care committee investigated and closed the case in August.

Budkie’s group has filed similar complaints against many other universities, including Duke University. The complaint against Duke dates from last year and involved the deaths of two rabbits and two monkeys.

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