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UW reaches $35K settlement over animal welfare

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has paid a $35,000 fine to settle several animal research violations, including burning a cat and euthanizing a dog without notifying the supervising veterinarian.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the university 44 citations between 2007 and 2013 but apparently has given up pursuing 37 of them, UW Research Animal Resources director Eric Sandgren said.

The agency sent the university a letter on Feb. 3 offering to settle the remaining violations for $35,286, about half of the $70,000 in fines the institution could have faced. Sandgren said UW officials signed the deal on Feb. 18.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals seized on word of the settlemen, issuing a statement saying the fine shows that UW’s “laboratories are a mess and that animal welfare is lacking.”

UW conducts hundreds of animal research projects every day. Sandgren stressed only two of the seven violations resulted in direct harm to an animal.

Still, he stressed researchers want to be perfect.

“It’s very frustrating when we’re not,” he said. “When we do make a mistake, it’s absolutely our responsibility to figure out why that happened and develop a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

According to the USDA’s letter and a UW statement, a hand warmer that was keeping an IV bag warm for a sedated cat in April 2012 accidentally slipped onto the cat’s body, burning it. Staff members quickly removed the hand warmer. The animal recovered and UW reported the incident to federal authorities but USDA cited the university for failing to handle an animal as carefully as possible and causing unnecessary discomfort.

In May 2009, a vet euthanized a dog that experienced post-surgical complications without informing the supervising veterinarian. USDA cited the university for failing to maintain adequate veterinary care and a communication mechanism with the supervisor. UW officials stressed in their statement that the dog was cared for properly, they implemented training on communication and now tell their vets every year to keep supervisors informed.

In December 2009, staff failed to keep a supervisor apprised of a sick gerbil that was ultimately euthanized. USDA cited the university for failing to conduct daily health observations of all animals and communicate problems to a supervisor. University officials said they responded by holding a meeting to stress reporting “adverse events.”

USDA also cited the university for failing to implement adequate retraining after a researcher in April 2012 left a valve that regulated the oxygen flow to a sedated monkey closed for several seconds.

The monkey died but university officials said the valve closure wasn’t a factor.

The only remedial action the university took was to have the supervising vet talk to the employee, according to the citation.  University officials said they instituted a retraining policy immediately after receiving the citation.

The university also was cited twice for failing to maintain facilities. USDA inspectors observed peeling paint and a broken light in a primate housing facility in July 2010. They also noted protruding metal flashing in a holding barn and a pig struggling to stand on narrow slats in a housing pen in December 2009.

The university said paint routinely peels in the primate facility because it can’t stand up to cleaning. Some rooms have since been resurfaced with plastic panels.

More directions on checking light fixtures have been added to training instructions, the barn flashing was immediately repaired and the pig pen flooring has been replaced with rubber mats, the UW statement said.

The USDA also cited the university after inspectors in 2010 found expired or improperly labeled medication in two labs. The university has since implemented a color-coded system to help monitor expiration dates and the school’s animal committees routinely check for expired medication during semiannual inspections.

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