Grad speaks out on Penn's animal welfare record

The Daily Pennsylvanian - the student publication of the University of Pennsylvania - talked to a PennVet grad who said he was not all surprised that his alma mater was found to have the highest number of federal animal welfare law violations among Ivy schools.

“I was shocked that it was published, but not surprised that it happened,” Paul McGough told the paper.

The Washington D.C.-based group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine released a report last week that concluded that Penn was the worst offender of the Animal Welfare Act among the eight Ivy League schools.  The federal law governs the care of animals housed in research and breeding faciliites as well as zoos, circuses and other exhibitions.

Under the AWA, Penn's multitude of research facilities housing some 5,000 animals, including the vet school campuses and the medical school, are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on an annual basis to ensure that the research animals are provided humane care, including safe housing, adequate food and water and medical care. 

The university attributed the number of violations to its size and downplayed some violations found including the discovery of expired medicine as "not directly endangering animal welfare."

McGough, who graduated in 2002, countered that he witnessed violations that directly affected animals while he was a student.

According to McGough, the lab where he used to work frequently did not adhere to guidelines for the amount of exercise that laboratory animals need. “It was horrific ­— their idea of exercise is that when they go to clean the cage, they would let the dog out to take a run around the room for a minute while they cleaned it,” he said. “And I’m not against animal testing at all. I think they are needed for a lot of studies … But I was torn as a student.”

McGough was also disturbed by the number of euthanized puppies while he was working in the lab. “I felt like for a laboratory setting there was a lot of waste — and when I say waste, I mean of the use of animals,” he said. According to the Animal Welfare Act, as long as it minimizes pain and distress, euthanasia is not a violation.

McGough explained that in the rare occasion when he had a specific friend willing to adopt a beagle, the lab would allow it — but beyond that, “there was never any effort to adopt them out.”

Although USDA violations from 2002, when McGough was working in the lab, were not included in PCRM’s report, he said that he has talked to current students who have mentioned similar practices still taking place.

The PCRM report noted "the most extreme case of negligence and disregard for animals" was the discovery of a dead puppy under a  kennel floor grate. In another incident, three gerbils died when water was just out of their reach due to unsuitable sipper tubes; these gerbils also likely suffered a long, drawn-out death, the report said.  PCRM concluded "All of these deaths could have been prevented with proper equipment and facilities or with appropriate attention from laboratory personnel."

One USDA report ordered veterinary care for dogs with interdigital cysts (growths between their toes cause by bacterial infections) - which may well have been the result of living long periods on wire flooring as has been revealed in cases of breeding dogs rescued from puppy mills.

PCRM focused on the Ivies because of their prestige and the billions they receive in federal research dollars, presumably the notion being that prestigious universities ought to know better. 

The fact that an institution like the Universit of Pennsylvania received repeated violation notices as well as  the revelations that animals at a vet school failed to get proper medical care is particularly alarming to animal welfare advocates.