According to the Humane Society of the United States, GRU purchased six hound dogs from Minnesota-based dealer Kenneth Schroeder, who has been repeatedly cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 2011 and was charged with violating the Animal Welfare Act in September.
The six dogs underwent surgery to have their teeth removed and dental implants inserted on March 22, according to the Humane Society’s investigation released Wednesday. The animal rights group filed a public records request to obtain the federally required protocol for the experiments, but the university responded with protocols that had expired before the experiments took place.
On a second request, the university provided a document naming the specific dogs, but nearly all the information had been redacted. Kathleen Conlee, the Humane Society’s vice president for animal research issues, believes the procedure could not have been written before the experiments occurred.
According to the document obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, on April 18, the researchers looked for an alternative research method that did not involve animals, a step required by the USDA before any animal experiment – a month after those dogs were experimented upon and euthanized.
“It’s just not lining up,” Conlee said in a phone interview. “The surgery happened before the alternative search even occurred.”
At a press conference Wednesday, GRU senior vice president for research Mark Hamrick said all animal experiments are done properly and legally. He could not answer questions about the outdated protocol provided to the Humane Society, however.
He also could not confirm when the experiments took place and how many researchers were involved. Hamrick also said he was unaware Schroeder had been issued any citations by the USDA or is currently under investigation.
Hamrick said the privately funded experiment was conducted to test dental implants, 10 percent of which fail worldwide.
“The research being done with dogs is neither frivolous nor unnecessary, as alleged by the investigation, and is performed in order to develop safe, effective dental procedures for patients,” he said.
The Humane Society also released a video taken by an undercover investigator, who worked in the research lab for 76 days this year and cared for the six hound dogs.
The video shows one dog, named Shy Guy, who was malnourished and underweight “and terrified of everything – particularly men.”
According to the investigation, Shy Guy stopped breathing on the surgical table during the removal of his teeth but survived and was euthanized two months after the operation. The dogs had their jaws sawed to take a bone sample.
According to USDA records, GRU was cited in 2012 for having inadequate temperature controls in its dog kennels and allowing temperatures to frequently rise above 85 degrees, at times reaching 100 degrees.
Hamrick said he was not aware of this violation. He also did not address other allegations made by the Humane Society involving mistreatment of primates.
Conlee said out of 53 non-human primates housed at GRU, only two were caged together, contrary to Animal Welfare Act regulations that emphasize the need for social housing in labs.
Because of the psychological trauma, several primates showed extreme stress by pulling out their hair and eating it, drinking their urine and circling repeatedly in their cages, according to the undercover investigator.
“It showed the lack of training of the employees there when they referred to this type of spinning as happy dances,” Conlee said.
Conlee also cited instances of overcrowding in mouse and rat cages and inadequate veterinary care. In one case a mouse remained untreated after having its eye scratched out by another animal.
In a teleconference Wednesday, Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle called on the USDA to stop the sale of animals from random source dealers like Schroeder. He said these class B dealers increase the likelihood of dogs being obtained from unauthorized sources and sold to research. While there were hundreds of dealers like these 20 years ago, only six exist today, and the National Institutes of Health will discontinue funding research supported by these dealers in 2015, Pacelle said.
The Humane Society’s leadership also called on the USDA to issue “meaningful Animal Welfare Act penalties” against GRU and to push the NIH to look at whether the university should be funded with taxpayer dollars.