All posts by UARC

Taxpayers and Students Pay for Animal Experiments at the University of Utah. We Have a Right to Know.

This is a guest blog post authored by Maria Hiatt.

The federal government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), with an annual budget of more than $30 billion, is the largest funder of animal experiments in the world. Though it is difficult to precisely determine how much of its budget supports experimentation on animals, about half of all NIH grants fund such activities.[1] So far in 2017, the NIH has awarded over $100 million to the University of Utah.[2]

The funding and implementation of animal experimentation at the University of Utah is opaque by design. When an incident at an animal lab led an employee to call the police and file a report, Students for Animal Welfare, of which I am the president, requested information about the experiment and this incident under Utah’s open government law, GRAMA. The University withheld several pages in their entirety regarding this incident, and other pages were heavily redacted.

The University of Utah claims that the “health and comfort of the animals has the highest priority.” If that is indeed the case, why all the black ink?

Now, to be fair to the university, some documents were a little clearer. We know the University paid out $462 to cover medical treatment for the employee who was bit by a mouse, but they refused to disclose who determined that amount. A department at the university—supported by your tax dollars and students’ tuition—funded the experiment gone wrong, but the university will not release which department made the grant. Another separate entity  also funded the research, but the university redacted the identity of this sponsor – we are not even sure if it’s public or private!

Last week, we filed paperwork to appeal the university’s attempts to keep their animal research activities in the shadows, and we intend to relentlessly pursue information about experiments the public is paying for. Though we have not yet been able to uncover so much about the U’s secretive laboratories, we are publicly releasing what we have obtained here.

Public business must not be conducted in secret. We have a right to know.

Maria Hiatt is a resident of Salt Lake City and a student at the University of Utah pursuing a degree in public policy. Maria is the president of Students for Animal Welfare.

[1] Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2012. International Animal Research Regulations: Impact on Neuroscience Research: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13322. p. 23.

[2] NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORTER) online database. https://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm.

RELEASE: Thousands of Attendees Expected at Inaugural SLC VegFest this Saturday at SLC Library Square

September 6, 2016 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Amy Meyer, amy@slcveg.com

This Saturday, thousands of vegans and veg-curious people will descend on the Salt Lake City Main Library Plaza for the inaugural “SLC VegFest,” a free festival presented by the Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC). VegFest will feature food, a beer garden, live music, and informational sessions about how going vegan can improve your health, fight climate change, and save the lives of more than 100 animals every year. More than 20 exhibitors will be present.

“There is growing awareness about how the meat and dairy industries are cruel to animals and a disaster for the environment,” said Amy Meyer, Executive Director of VegFest. “VegFest will be a fun event for people of all ages, as well as a great resource for anyone interested in going vegan but needing help learning how to do so.”

SLC VegFest is a 100% vegan event. Several restaurant vendors will be on hand preparing and serving delicious vegan meals, including Piper Down Pub, Ice Haus, Sage’s Cafe, and Soul Traveler Foods. These vendors will be selling a diversity of options, including vegan “fish” and chips, shepherd’s pie, brats, tacos, mac and “cheese,” Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, and tofu-eggs benedict. Additionally, attendees can buy vegan pastries from Passion Flour Patisserie and Big O Doughnuts, cold-pressed juice from Vive Juicery, and gourmet cashew “cheeses” from Zest Kitchen.

Attendees will have the opportunity to listen to a variety of speakers inside the library auditorium. Speakers will present information about why and how to go vegan, including a keynote address from Matt Ruscigno, MPH RD, who will be giving a talk on how going vegan doesn’t mean you have to prepare expensive or exotic foods.

With a designated kid’s area featuring an inflatable slide, VegFest is an event for families and people of all ages. VegFest also features an Athlete Expo exhibition area, where athletes demonstrate their physical prowess and answer questions about how vegan athletes can best satisfy nutritional needs. The athlete expo will also offer free fitness and yoga classes to attendees.

SLC VegFest will take place Saturday, September 10 from 11 am – 6 pm.
For more information, visit www.slcveg.com

 

The Shameful Bear Circus at the Salt Lake County Fair

Following an investigation by UARC on opening night at the Salt Lake County Fair, we urge our supporters to join us in pressuring the fair organizers to immediately cancel all future scheduled performances of “The Great Bear Show,” a bear circus currently featured at the event. This morning, UARC filed an urgent complaint with USDA officials, alleging violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) at the Salt Lake County Fair.

metal chain hangs from black bear forced to stand on back legs
Steele keeps a metal chain around the bear’s neck while making them perform tricks. Photo: UARC

UARC investigators observed handlers tie an iron chain around the bears’ necks, where the bears appeared to be missing patches of hair. The bears were also pacing neurotically in their cages, a sign of significant stress. The animals were allowed close and unsafe contact with audience members who paid to have their pictures taken with the bear.

bear next to family separated by thin plexiglass
A flimsy plexiglass barrier is all that separates an unrestrained full-grown bear from families as their photo is taken. Photo: UARC

A closer look into Bob Steele, the owner of “The Great Bear Show,” reveals even more cause for concern. The USDA has issued Steele citations for violating the AWA on March 12, 2012, February 5, 2015, August 26, 2015, and March 7, 2016. One of his repeat offenses is failure to provide adequate  veterinary care, demonstrated by significant hair loss on Barney, a young black bear in his care. Despite being cited just months ago, Steele continues to wrap an iron chain around Barney’s neck, where much of the patches of hair loss have been documented, and make him perform tricks in front of small crowds of fairgoers. The Montana Standard also noted Barney’s hair loss at the Butte-Silver Bow County fair just two weeks ago.

Great Bear Show
Steele pulls on a metal chain wrapped around one bear’s neck to make him do tricks for the audience. Photo: UARC

It is deeply troubling that Mr. Steele is still allowed to conduct business with animals despite his continued violations. The AWA enforcement system is profoundly broken and fails to protect animals.

Animal abuse is inconsistent with the values of Salt Lake County.

Take action:

  1. Call the Salt Lake County Fair at (385) 468-3247 and politely ask that they cancel all the currently scheduled appearances of “The Great Bear Show.”
  2. Sign UARC’s change.org petition asking that the County prohibit the use of all exotic animal circuses and performing animal acts at county-owned facilities. 
  3. Share on social media and encourage friends to sign.
  4. If you are a resident of Salt Lake County, contact your County Councilmember directly to tell them you support UARC’s efforts to prohibit exotic animal circuses at the equestrian park.

Crowdsourcing Transparency in Government

In May 2016, the University of Utah was cited by federal authorities for violating the Animal Welfare Act  when a monkey was  burned during a procedure. Written protocols called for a warming blanket to be used and for the animals’ temperature to be continuously monitored. Neither precaution was taken. In a desperate attempt to bring the animal’s temperature back to normal, the monkey was severely burned with a “hot air” tube. The animal was subsequently euthanized. Failure to comply with simple written instructions was an act of extreme negligence on the part of university staff, and this monkey paid the price for that negligence with his or her life.

Fox 13 News initially reported on the U’s violations. Despite the fact that the story was accurate, and that the photographs were indeed taken inside the University of Utah, university spokespersons misled the station’s news director claiming that they were simply “PETA stock photos.” The story was scrubbed from the internet. The university’s effort to bury this embarrassing story worked. At least in the short term.

There are still a lot of details we don’t know about this incident. We don’t know how this breakdown of oversight happened, nor do we know if anyone was held accountable. We don’t know the nature of the experiment the monkey was used in. The university has not even released this poor monkey’s name (if she has one).

In an effort to learn more about what happened to this animal in this taxpayer-funded laboratory, Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC) has filed an open records request  under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). We requested internal memos, correspondence, veterinary records, and written protocols related to this monkey and the incident where the U broke the law.

The U of U’s legal department responded to UARC’s request by demanding $325 in fees. In consultation with counsel, UARC considered our appeal options, but it was determined an appeal would not likely succeed.
Unfortunately, GRAMA’s fees provisions are incredibly weak. The law allows government agencies complete discretion as to whether or not fees are waived, even if the records are related to a matter of significant public concern. Obviously, when the records would embarrass an agency, fees are rarely waived. There have been legislative efforts to strengthen GRAMA in this respect , but so far these bills have failed.

We think it us vital to acquire these records so we can tell the story of what happened to this animal. The public paid for this experiment, and the people deserve to know the truth, especially when misconduct or negligence occurred. UARC also wants to demonstrate to the university that the public cares about this issue, and that the school’s refusal to offer transparency is unacceptable.

UARC is not aiming to raise any funds for our organization off this tragedy. We are only raising the necessary fees that the school is demanding for the records related to this incident. It’s unfortunate that transparency in government requires a crowdsourcing campaign like this one, but that is where we are.

We know the U will never release these unflattering records voluntarily. It’s on us to raise these funds so that the truth can see the light of day. Thank you.

DONATE TO THE CAMPAIGN HERE: https://www.gofundme.com/UofUMonkey

Official Report: Dog Found Dying in Parked Car had Internal Temperature “Too High to Register”

UARC Calls for Changes to Local Laws to Prevent Future Tragedies

JUNE 8, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jeff Dixon

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC) has obtained disturbing investigative reports from Salt Lake County Animal Services regarding the tragic incident last weekend where a  a yellow Labrador retriever was left to die in a parked car in Salt Lake City. 

Officers responding to the incident Saturday took temperature readings inside the car–which had an all-black interior–of more than 122 degrees. The outside temperature at the time of the response was in the high 80s. Veterinary staff reported to police that the dog’s internal temperature was “too high to register on their thermometer.” The dog’s owner admitted to not checking on her for more than four hours while he was engaged in “recreational painting.”

“The negligence shown in this case is heartbreaking,” said Jeff Dixon, public policy coordinator for UARC. “Sadly, it’s not an isolated incident, and it is clear that stronger action is needed to help the public understand that leaving a pet in a car can easily lead to a health emergency and even death.”

UARC recommends that local officials consider enacting the following policy changes:

  • A new legal requirement that signs be publicly posted in commercial parking lots where there has been a consistent pattern of dogs beings left in hot cars. See attached for suggested artwork for such a sign.
  • Every minute matters in these situations. Local officials should review and strengthen response protocols to ensure that reports of life-threatening negligence and abuse receive an urgent response, including the use of police emergency vehicle lights.
  • The law should provide individuals with criminal and civil immunity for damage to a motor vehicle when it can be established that the damage was necessary to secure the rescue of an endangered person or animal. Such a law recently went into effect in Florida.

UARC urges anyone who sees a dog left in a car this summer to immediately call authorities, even if the windows are cracked.  After placing the call, take a picture of the vehicle’s license plate, and walk into nearby businesses so the owner can be paged to return to their vehicle at once.  Stay with the dog until responders arrive. People should not assume that the dog’s owner will return soon or that someone else has already called.

To review the animal control reports, click here. 

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SLCoAS-hot-dog-sign
Policymakers should consider a legal requirement that retail parking lots that have had recurring problems post visible signs like the one above.