Two research dogs were recently killed after being accidentally exposed to a toxic chemical in what appears to be LSU’s fourth incident involving lab animals.
The National Institutes of Health concurred with the “actions taken” by LSU to bring the facility into compliance after what the university called an accident.
But a national group that advocates humane care for lab animals demands federal regulators fine LSU $20,000.
“It’s a big deal when animals are killed through negligence and they experience horrific deaths as was the case here. LSU should be made an example of,” said Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, known as SAEN and pronounced “sane.”
LSU administrative and Vet School officials did not respond Thursday to repeated communications seeking comment and additional information.
The two dogs were found “down in their runs,” Joel D. Baines, dean of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, wrote in reporting the incident to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare at the National Institutes of Health. Apparently, tubing from a disinfectant dispenser allowed undiluted quaternary ammonium to run across the pen into a drain. The dogs got the chemical disinfectant on their paws and stomachs, licked those regions to relieve the pain and ingested the compound that causes burns.
The dogs were in such bad shape when found the next morning, Sept. 2, 2016, and responded so poorly to treatment that LSU euthanized them.
Baines speculated that the tubing’s fittings degenerated over time, then birds or rodents got on the tubing and caused it to break away from its mounting. LSU has since attached a clamp to prevent a reoccurrence.
What LSU’s Baines calls accidental, SAEN’s Budkie calls reckless.
“Those hoses don’t just come off. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in 30 seconds. An accident like this would have gone on an extended period of time,” Budkie said, adding that LSU researchers would have noticed had they been checking regularly, which is part of the protocol.
“More disturbingly, this incident appears to be part of larger pattern of negligence,” he said. “It demonstrates an attitude to both the research and to the animals.”
Budkie pointed to three other incidents in 2016 and early 2017 — two at the Vet School and one at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.
In September 2016 a cage was left open at the Vet School, allowing a rat that had just undergone implantation surgery to escape, according to letters university officials are required to send to report incidents to the NIH. When caught, the rodent was euthanized, following procedure, to prevent the introduction of pathogens to wild rats.
In March 2017, the Vet School reported that genetically modified mice had reproduced far more than expected or allowed for, other documents show.
And at the LSU Health Sciences Center in June 2016, a researcher failed to properly anesthetize rats being given brain surgery as part of a study.
But those three events involve rodents, which are not protected under the federal Animal Welfare Act. The documents that labs use to self-report incidents involving lab animals were made public in the last few weeks, Budkie said.
The NIH is a funding arm and has no enforcement powers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which Budkie says LSU violated in the case of the two dogs. And while not fast, he said, USDA inspectors do enforce the law that governs the treatment and living conditions of animals used in laboratory experiments.
Budkie pointed to the penalties levied against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as proof that USDA follows up on complaints.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center was fined $100,000 in May for incidents involving monkeys that took place in 2013 and 2014. And ULL paid a $38,571 penalty in March 2013 because researchers were unaware three rhesus macaques had gotten caught in their pen and died. A chimpanzee was injured.
“The killing of the two dogs at LSU is of the same magnitude as this incident at ULL,” Budkie said. The maximum USDA fine is $10,000 per animal. “I’d be very surprised, and disappointed, if LSU isn't penalized the same.”