Animal-welfare group files federal complaint against UT
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Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Animal Welfare Operations, USDA-APHIS
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Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the University of Toledo for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence caused a vole to become severely dehydrated, requiring euthanasia. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

 

Animal-welfare group files federal complaint against UT

From Alexandra Mester, ToledoBlade.com, May 11, 2021

An Ohio animal-welfare group is urging a federal agency to cite and fine the University of Toledo following the dehydration-related death of an animal involved in a research project.

Michael Budkie, co-founder and executive director of Milford-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late April seeking an investigation into the death of a vole and requesting a $30,000 fine against the university.

“It’s a situation where we believe the University of Toledo has clearly violated federal regulations,” Mr. Budkie told The Blade on Tuesday. “An animal died, and the cause was something that had happened previously.”

Through its regular records requests regarding research facilities

across the country, the nonprofit obtained a letter sent in January by Frank Calzonetti, UT’s vice president for research, to the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. The letter focused on the January, 2020 death of a vole in an NIH-funded research protocol.

In the letter, Mr. Calzonetti said the vole’s teeth got caught in the “air supply port” of a ventilated cage and it was euthanized after being found with “severe dehydration.” The letter also states it was the “third occurrence of teeth being caught in the air diffuser in the recent past” but the only case resulting in death.

“The university staff was aware of this problem and should have been observing animals more frequently,” Mr. Budkie said. “Severe dehydration to a point where an animal is euthanized takes time. It should have been seen. And the fact that it wasn’t indicates that the laboratory staff at the University of Toledo is not monitoring animals.”

The university would not answer The Blade’s specific questions Tuesday, but a spokesman emailed a brief statement.

“The University of Toledo is committed to assuring the proper care and use of animals in research and training,” the statement

read. “The university works closely with agencies including the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory for Animal Welfare and U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure we meet the applicable standards when it comes to the treatment of animals. In the circumstance that an animal is harmed in our care, UToledo reports the incident to the appropriate agencies and takes corrective action to prevent future incidents.”

In the letter, Mr. Calzonetti said a vendor designed a cover for the port that still permits air flow but prevents the animals’ teeth from getting caught.

“This part has been received and is currently being tested on our caging,” the letter states. “While this testing is occurring on a small number of cages, the animal care staff have increased monitoring on the vole cages to multiple times daily.”

Mr. Budkie said he still questions UT’s commitment to animal welfare despite the changes reportedly made to improve the animals’ safety.

“The real question is why those measures weren’t taken after the first time this happened,” he said. “If the University of Toledo

was serious about making sure these animals are properly cared for, they would have taken those actions as a result of the first incident.”

The university did not disclose what research is being conducted with the voles. However, a search of NIH records regarding grant-funded studies indicates the animals are being used to examine the effects of exposure to pyrethroid pesticides — often found in commercial and residential insecticides — on neurophysiology and behavior relevant to psychiatric disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The principal investigator listed is James Burkett, a research assistant professor in the Department of Neurosciences in UT’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

USDA records show the university reported having 411 prairie voles in a required annual count of animals in its research facility for fiscal year 2020. Reports from the agency’s annual inspections of UT’s facility, including the most recent from November and those dating back to 2014, show no violations were found. 

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