The University of Idaho Caine Research Center in Caldwell, Idaho has been cleared of all violations it received in a USDA report in August.The report included seven violations ranging from animal care to sanitation, but the most serious of the violations involved a sheep that died in August under the care of university officials.
Bill Loftus, science writer for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said the Caine Research Center is home to a flock of donated sheep susceptible to scrapie — a degenerative brain disorder found only in sheep. Loftus said the flock exists to train veterinary students on the signs of scrapie.
“The Caine Center is a veterinary clinic,” Loftus said. “That’s where we educate veterinary students, primarily. Basically, that exists to train vet students and it’s fluctuated between being research oriented and being more teaching oriented … we’re moving away from the research focus and concentrating on teaching again.”
The allegation against the research center was that a sheep that displayed signs of scrapie was not euthanized in time and could have experienced pain when it died.
According to the USDA report, it was noted in a daily log kept at the center that someone observed the sheep falling and stumbling a lot — a sign of scrapie. On Aug. 19, the day the observation as made, it was recommended the sheep be euthanized. The sheep was found dead in its pen the next day.
“One of things about scrapie is they can stumble for a long time,” Loftus said. “Because an animal stumbles doesn’t mean it’s on the verge of dying. They can go on for a long time in spite of that or they can just drop dead. It has a really wide range of symptoms and so had a vet been available would have taken care of it that day.”
The death of the sheep, without proper euthanasia, violated sections of the Animal Welfare Act and could have carried a maximum penalty of $10,000 caught the attention of an animal rights group, Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
According to Michael Budkie, executive director and co-founder of SAEN, the organization seeks to hold all public and private animal research facilities accountable for any infractions they receive during inspections from the USDA and other agencies. Budkie, who has worked in veterinary and animal research clinics and received his degree in veterinary science from the University of Cincinnati, said he personally reads all reports from the USDA.
“My recommendation to the university would be that they should be aware they are on our radar now and we will be watching them very closely and if there are any other infractions, we will do our very best to make sure they are penalized to the maximum level that the law allows,” Budkie said.
The other infractions received by the university included observations of a fly infestation by an inspector, algae in a water trough and failure to comply with the semi-annual inspection policy of the Institutional Animal Care and Youth Committee. All violations were to be corrected by Nov. 15. Loftus said in the secondary report submitted to the USDA, UI had cleared all of the previous infractions.
Jack McIver, vice president for research and economic development at UI, said he attributes the death of the sheep to human error. He said anytime the university receives an insufficient mark on an inspection report from any agency, a full evaluation of the current processes and policies are evaluated.
“When those reports come in, we really look at those very seriously and there’s basically three levels of review we do on them,” McIver said. “First of all … how do we fix the immediate problem that we’ve got.”
McIver said the second level is taking a look at how the university will ensure the problems won’t occur again.
“So what processes do we need to change? Is it something that we’re doing, is it something that they’re doing, is it that we need to put another level of inspection or check in there, some kind of follow up and how do we document whatever we’ve done for the next round,” McIver said.
He said the third round of evaluation is to look at the policies and regulations to make sure the university is in compliance with all state and federal codes. He said sometimes one infraction will trigger a whole chain of things the university should be looking at.
McIver said the university followed this intense review policy in correcting the infractions from the USDA report. He said he and the rest of the researchers at UI take animal safety very seriously and the death of the sheep was not taken lightly.
“We are constantly making sure that our policies are consistent and that we have the appropriate training for people out there,” McIver said. “It’s not a simple process when these things come in that we simply go out and fix them. We do a whole set of analysis on different levels to make sure that we are not going to be caught with this again. It’s not so much being caught that’s the issue … but what we’re really trying to do is … protect the animals that we’re using. We’re consistently doing this.”
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org