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ANN ARBOR: PETA receives documents under FOIA showing lab animals typically euthanized, not adopted out

Published: Thursday, December 08, 2011

By Krista Gjestland

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is reporting that the organization has uncovered documents from the University of Michigan showing that cats from U of M's Survival Flight training laboratories are typically euthanized.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, PETA has found documents showing cats are killed, not adopted out, after being used in laboratories, which PETA representative Justin Goodman said is contradictory of previous university statements.

In a letter to the editor to the Michigan Daily, instructor Dr. Mark Lowell states that in 2010, only three cats were used in survival flight training and all three were adopted out.

The letter reads, "Survival Flight held three animal training labs in 2010, using three cats (all of which were adopted) and 12 pigs."

Records obtained by the Freedom of Information Act show otherwise.

One record of disposition of dogs and cats shows three cats were used in 2010, two domestic shorthairs and a manx cross. One of the domestic shorthairs and the manx cross were euthanized, according to the U of M document.

Records of each cat details their care in the facility and what happened to them after they were used, and corroborate this data.

The domestic shorthair's record states: "5/31 BAR (bright, alert, responsive), has small amount of normal clear discharge. Solid stool in box, ate all AD (canned cat food). 6/1 euthanized."

The cats, as well as pigs, are used in a surgical skills lab for nurses in U of M's survival flight program.

The cats are anesthetized and used to practice intubation, a process by which a plastic tube is inserted into the patient's throat to assist breathing. It's a common procedure for cats during spay and neutering surgeries, as well as people whose lungs have collapsed.

Simulators for this practice are available, but are not adequate according to Lowell.

"Simulators haven't evolved to the point where they're superior to training on an animal model for certain surgical procedures," he said in his letter to the editor of the Michigan Daily.

Goodman disagrees, citing the position of Air and Surface Transport Nurses Association President Kyle Madigan.

"Virtually everyone across the country has replaced the use of animals with simulators," Goodman said. "Not only for ethical concerns, but because research shows people trained on simulators are more proficient."

In a 2010 letter from Madigan to Noah Gittell of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explained that simulators are becoming the norm throughout training courses.

"It is becoming apparent that simulators are more advanced than they were 30 years ago, and less expensive than live labs," Madigan writes.

Last year, the USDA inspected the laboratory and cleared it.

Laboratories are free to do whatever they want to animals, according to federal law, said Goodman.

"The USDA does not approve or disapprove experiments," he said. "The federal law allows anything to be done to an animal."

Goodman and PETA also take issue with where U of M gets its animals from, R&R Research.

R&R provides animals for laboratories, not only at U of M, but at Wayne State University and other research facilities. Legally, R&R can only sell animals that have been obtained from shelters or breeders who have raised the animal from birth.

PETA has obtained USDA inspection reports showing several Animal Welfare Act violations at R&R. Violations include illegally obtaining animals, not maintaining records of animal purchases, not being available to the site for inspections, poor housing facilities for the animals.

One report, dated March 16, 2010, reads: "Please repair the ceiling so that the cats enclosed in the room cannot ingest peeling paint for their safety and wellbeing."

U of M is legally buying these animals, but Goodman says that doesn't make it right.

"I think that whether or not killing these cats and getting them form a despicable animal dealer is legal, is an insult to the university community," he said.

Goodman also believes that R&R has violated the university's vendor code of conduct.

"Based on R&R's repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act, we believe that R&R likely has violated the U-M Vendor Code of Conduct which requires that all vendors 'comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, rules and regulations,'" he said.

PETA wants the university to stop its use of animals in their labs.

"We have been working on this case for more than a year," Goodman said. "The most recent FOIA was prompted by a desire to find out how many animals were used in the course and what happened to them. We want them to end the use of animals."

When reached out to for comment, Uof M public relations representative Ian Demsky sent a link to the university's information website, which restates the university's position on animal training labs for survival flight training.

"We conduct the training because our flight nurses may be called upon to perform these life-saving tasks when helping to transport a critically ill patient or someone who has been in a devastating car crash," Demsky said in an email.

PETA has sent letters to U of M describing its complaints, urging the university to change its practices.

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