6 Animal Lab Deaths at UMd Could Result in a $60K Fine

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Please contact the USDA to insist on a major fine for University of Maryland for the negligence which killed six bats through dehydration.
Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
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6 Animal Lab Deaths at UMd Could Result in a $60K Fine

By Molly Greenberg, InTheCapital.Streetwise.co, Thursday, September 18, 2014

An animal rights group has filed an official complaint against the University of Maryland this week, claiming that researchers neglected lab animals, which resulted in their deaths. The university could face a fine as high as $60,000 – $10,000 for each of the six bats that died from dehydration.

The watchdog group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, is accusing a university caretaker of violating the Animal Welfare Act, calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct an investigation into the school's self-reported infraction and impose the maximum fine. SAEN spokeswoman Julia Orr says that unless these types of university laboratories are fined for their wrong-doing, they'll never take anything seriously.

“This is the only way to make people sit up and take notice, and that’s what we’re looking for," Orr explained. "Animal welfare violations are just endemic in the entire industry.”

UMd Vice President and Chief Research Officer Patrick O'Shea sent a letter to Axel Wolff, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, to inform him about the university's violation as well as the subsequent bat deaths. He wrote on February 28, 2013, "bats housed in a flight cage had been left without water” on the night of Jan. 5, 2013. The following day, six bats were found dead. O'Shea confirmed that “The [Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee] determined that the deaths of the six dead bats on January 6th did involve a single mistake admitted by an animal caretaker; thus, did involve dehydration."

In a statement to student newspaper The Diamondback, O'Shea defended UMd and said that the university takes the welfare of its research animals seriously.

"The incident that SAEN cited in their letter was swiftly reported by us,” O’Shea wrote in an email to the paper. “We immediately took actions to ensure that the animal care staff supporting that laboratory were provided with additional training, along with the implementation of a daily checklist for tracking completion of tasks.”

While SAEN may want UMd fined for its actions, a statement from OLAW says that the cases SAEN is bringing up are not current and have already been closed.

“These institutions are in good standing with OLAW and in keeping with the requirement for self-reporting, will report to OLAW any noncompliance with the relevant policies and regulations involving research animals, should they arise,” reads the statement.

Still, SAEN remains vigilant in its mission, citing two other UMd cases where chickens were decapitated and chicks were euthanized after hatching from unintentionally fertilized eggs.

“This shows a pattern at the university, we believe, of negligence, and that’s a problem we have,” Orr said. While the Animal Welfare Act doesn't cover birds, Orr said they take those cases "just as seriously."

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa says the department is still looking further into the complaint. Whether UMd will be fined or not is yet to be determined. 

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