Rodents drowning in cages when their water bottles malfunctioned. Cats being prepped for back surgery without adequate anesthesia. A monkey with a displaced colon, waiting four hours in pain for a veterinarian to arrive.
That's what occurred at a University of Colorado research lab, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals charged in two complaints filed with the federal government on Tuesday and supported by a whistleblower's documents, photos and video footage.
The complaints allege numerous violations of the federal law and guidelines that Karl Mann said he witnessed between August 2005 and March 2007, including inadequate anesthesia, unnecessarily painful procedures and substandard basic care such as a lack of food and water.
University spokesman Steve Krizman said animals used for research and education at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center aren't mistreated.
"In order to get good research, you need to have well-cared-for animals," Krizman said. "We have a state-of-the-art facility. We have employees specially trained to care for the animals."
He said the university's standards are higher than what is required and complaints are investigated and corrections are made when necessary.
But Mann, who left the lab in March after five years on the staff, said he contacted PETA last fall after his complaints to supervisors didn't change anything. He said he used hidden cameras to photograph and videotape lab conditions.
"It really sort of surprised me that no one was willing to do anything about it within the lab," said Mann, 42, who previously worked at the Denver Zoo.
The complaints were filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, and the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.
USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said he hadn't seen Mann's allegations. He said the agency looks into all complaints from private citizens or groups.
"We certainly take them seriously," Rogers said.
NIH spokesman Joe Balintfy said the agency investigates all allegations but doesn't discuss specific complaints or ongoing investigations.
PETA's complaint alleges the university and an oversight committee violated federal law and NIH guidelines by giving inadequate veterinary care, failing to respond to Mann's complaints, failing to require procedures to minimize pain and distress and failing to ensure that workers were properly qualified and trained.
The allegations include that cats being prepped for back surgery didn't appear to be fully anesthetized; that mice and rats were kept in crowded and sometimes dirty cages; that some rodents drowned when their cages were flooded with malfunctioning water bottles; and that in August 2005, a veterinarian did not arrive at the lab until four hours after Mann reported a bonnet macaque monkey had colon prolapse, or displacement. The veterinarian took another hour to euthanize the monkey, the complaint alleges.
Kathy Guillermo, PETA's research director, acknowledged that her organization opposes research on animals. She said even if people believe the research is worthwhile, the way it's being done raises questions about its effectiveness.
"There are laws and guidelines in place to protect these beings who have essentially no rights other than those written in the law," Guillermo said.