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August 27, 2014

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Complaint alleges ‘animal cruelty’ at UNLV research lab

A national animal watchdog group filed a federal complaint against UNLV today, alleging the university mistreated and neglected its research animals.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization, filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates more than 1,000 research labs across the country that use animals for clinical trials.

A routine inspection by the USDA on Feb. 12 found that UNLV failed to administer painkillers to five pigs after a clinical procedure, administered an unapproved chemical to two pigs and did not administer another chemical properly on at least six pigs.

In addition, the federal inspection found the laboratory technician failed to notify the university veterinarian about the health status of two pigs, which ended up dying within a day or two of the trial.

Michael Budkie, the watchdog group’s executive director, monitors thousands of inspection reports from across the country, filing complaints against laboratories that fail inspections. In UNLV’s case, Budkie said the federal reports demonstrate “animal cruelty.”

“Two animals were denied veterinary care despite exhibiting clear signs of distress,” Budkie said in a statement. “The statements quoted in the inspection report … clearly describe animals who are seriously ill and suffering: ‘heavy abdominal breathing, lethargic,’ and ‘heavy labor breathing.’ The next record entries for these animals are: “Found dead” and "Pig died in her pen.”

Research laboratories must follow federal and university approved protocols, which include daily observation and prompt veterinary care, according to the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Laboratories that are cited by the USDA can be investigated and fined a maximum of $10,000 per infraction. The USDA cannot issue criminal charges or shut down laboratories.

Budkie’s organization is seeking the maximum penalty of $150,000 from UNLV.

“Multiple clear incidents of negligence at UNLV has killed animals and caused real suffering to others,” Budkie said in a statement. “This lab deserves the most severe penalty that the law allows.”

A UNLV spokeswoman reached Wednesday night confirmed that three citations were issued by the USDA during a routine inspection last month.

“UNLV is conducting an internal review and also working closely with USDA throughout this ongoing process,” according to a university statement.

USDA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday night.

This is Stop Animal Exploitation Now’s first complaint against UNLV, but not their first in Nevada.

The group filed a complaint against UNR in 2011. The USDA found UNR failed to provide adequate water to ewes, and failed to provide adequate enclosure to animals, causing a wood rat to escape. UNR was fined $7,446 in that case.

In 2005, the USDA cited UNR for 46 violations of federal animal welfare regulations at the College of Agriculture. UNR officials agreed to settle the case for a $11,400 fine.

Last year, the USDA issued fines to 10 laboratories totaling more than $150,000, Budkie said.

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