OSU under scrutiny from USDA for rabbit, dog deaths
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OSU under scrutiny from USDA for rabbit, dog deaths
By Chris Day, EdmondSun.com, January 9, 2015

STILLWATER — The United States Department of Agriculture is looking into the use of a .22-caliber rifle to euthanize a sick rabbit at Oklahoma State University, and the death of a dog that was run over during a military training exercise out of state.

An animal-rights group filed an Animal Welfare Act violation complaint in December. U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa confirmed Friday the agency was determining if an investigation would be warranted.

The agency’s first step, she said, will be to determine what actions, if any, are required. If an investigation is launched and action is needed, OSU could receive anything from a warning letter and increased inspections to fines, she said.

Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now Executive Director Michael A. Budkie said the organization filed its complaint against OSU after it learned of the dog and rabbit deaths.

"Negligence at Oklahoma State University has allowed animals to suffer and die horribly," Budkie said. "Evidence now clearly demonstrates a long-term pattern of serious Animal Welfare Act violations. This lab deserves the maximum penalty from the USDA."

The rabbit incident

Oklahoma State University had taken two ill rabbits from a breeder in early August to determine the type of illness and a recovery plan. OSU veterinarians determined the animals had coccidiosis, a highly contagious infection caused by one-cell organisms and provided a treatment plan.

One of the rabbits was found unresponsive and barely breathing about a week later. An OSU employee didn’t inform the attending veterinarian or any licensed veterinarian the animal was in distress, and used a .22-caliber rifle to kill it.

Oklahoma State reported the incident to the USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. On Nov. 19, an inspection report revealed additional problems. It noted using a .22-caliber rifle for euthanasia is not approved in the American Veterinary Medicine Association guidelines.

It also showed the rabbits were moved into the main rabbit holding room while still undergoing treatment, which increased the risk of contamination or infection to healthy animals. It ordered OSU to keep sick animals isolated in the future.

In its 2013 annual report, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service indicated OSU had 406 rabbits used for animal research.

Oklahoma State University spokesman Gary Shutt said the agencies were satisfied with the university’s corrections and determine no further action was needed.

"OSU regrets its error in protocol and has addressed the seriousness of the incident with the employee involved,” read a statement. “It also conducted re-training with the employee and other staff members.”

Firing a gun on university property violated university policy. The incident, which occurred in a remote area outside the city limits, was reported to university police, Shutt said.

“The employee was advised that use of the gun was a violation of university policy. No other action was taken,” he said.

The dog incident

The dog was owned by a private company that trained animals for military and security roles. The dog was unrestrained when it was hit by a company truck during a company-conducted training exercise out of state.

An Oklahoma State University investigator was using approved protocols to investigate the dog’s physiological responses to heat and exercises as part of an endurance study.

The company determined the vehicle’s driver hadn’t followed its protocol for driving a truck near unrestrained animals. The company fired the employee and conducted refresher courses for vehicle operators and handlers.

Past problems

The university was cited in September 2013 for the dehydration deaths of 15 voles after OSU’s Animal Resources Unit failed to provide adequate water for the animals. A vole is a small rodent that resembles a mouse.

Twelve voles died and three were euthanized after a failure between employees caring for the animals. OSU took corrective action.

The university conducts agricultural, biomedical, veterinary and scientific research using animals.

The 2013 Animal Care and Plant Health Inspection Service annual report shows Oklahoma State University had more than 2,400 animals used for research. The animals ranged from dogs, cats and rabbits to mice, bats, deer and cattle.

Oklahoma State University supports the use of animals for research, testing and teaching, Shutt said.

“All research, teaching and testing activities involving live, vertebrate animals at OSU are in accordance with internationally accepted guidelines for animal care. In addition, OSU is fully complaint with federal and state laws and regulations,” he said.

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