University of Maryland accused of violating Animal Welfare Act - Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! calls for $10,000 fine for each of six bat deaths

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
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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
USDA/APHIS/AC 920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 2000 Raleigh, NC 27606
(919) 855-7100
[email protected]

University of Maryland accused of violating Animal Welfare Act - Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! calls for $10,000 fine for each of six bat deaths

By Talia Richman,, Thursday, September 18, 2014

A watchdog group filed an official complaint against this university Monday, accusing an animal caretaker of violating the Animal Welfare Act and causing the deaths of six bats.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! called for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct an investigation into the university’s self-reported infraction and impose the maximum fine of $10,000 per animal death.

“Unless these university laboratories are fined, they won’t take anything seriously,” said Julia Orr, SAEN spokeswoman. “This is the only way to make people sit up and take notice, and that’s what we’re looking for. Animal welfare violations are just endemic in the entire industry.”

Orr said that SAEN obtained through the Freedom of Information Act records sent from this university to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.

The documents were written by university Vice President and Chief Research Officer Patrick O’Shea to inform Axel Wolff, director of OLAW’s Division of Compliance Oversight, of the violation and subsequent bat deaths.

According to a letter written by O’Shea on Feb. 28, 2013, “bats housed in a flight cage had been left without water” on the evening of Jan. 5, 2013. The next day, six bats were found dead, the letter stated.

“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,” O’Shea wrote in the letter.

The letter also contained information on the steps the university took to correct the problem.

“The University of Maryland takes the welfare of its research animals very seriously. The incident that SAEN cited in their letter was swiftly reported by us,” O’Shea wrote in an email Wednesday. “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.”

A statement provided by the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare said that cases shared with the media by SAEN are not current and were managed by the university, reviewed and closed by OLAW.

“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,” the statement said.

Orr said that the FOIA documents revealed other infractions as well. In a separate Feb. 28 letter, O’Shea wrote that a principal investigator and teaching assistants decapitated adult chickens during a course, though the protocol calls for CO2 euthanasia.

Because the Animal Welfare Act doesn’t cover birds, this issue was not included in the official complaint to the USDA, but Orr said it was still indicative of the laboratory behavior at this university.

“This shows a pattern at the university, we believe, of negligence, and that’s a problem we have,” Orr said. “Unfortunately, some of the incidents were with animals that aren’t covered by the Animal Welfare Act, but we take those just as seriously.”

The next step is waiting to hear back from the USDA and see if it decides to proceed with the investigation. Orr said.

Tanya Espinosa, a USDA spokeswoman, said the department is still looking further into the complaint and that there is no designated time frame for resolution.

“The reason we look into things further is so that we can get the complete information,” Espinosa said. “There’s no investigation right now, and we may or may not decide to open an investigation — it depends on what we find out.”

Last year, seven in 10 fines issued by the USDA against research facilities across the nation were a result of official complaints filed by SAEN, said Michael Budkie, SAEN’s executive director. In some cases, he said he’s seen proceedings go on for three to four years before fines are levied.

SAEN has filed complaints against a host of other universities, including Yale University, Brown University and University of Florida.

“Every time we look at a university, we find something wrong, and I think it’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed by the USDA and by the universities themselves,” Orr said. “This is not an isolated incident, and it’s a great concern to us that it is not an isolated incident.” 

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