May 15, 2000
Serious Animal Care Problems
Lead to Strong Actions
Two inspections of some of the University's animal care facilities,
conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this spring,
have found serious but limited problems with research animal
care on the Storrs campus, and continuing - mostly minor - problems
with facilities maintenance.
Even though the research animal care problems were limited to
just two of the 82 labs on campus that work with animals, "we
recognize that every animal must be housed in suitable facilities
and receive appropriate care,"said Robert Smith, vice provost
for graduate education and research and dean of the graduate
The inspections are likely to result in a fine for the University,
Smith said. When the USDA finds repeat violations, it treats
them more seriously than individual violations. Smith said a
type of facilities problem cited in one lab similar to a problem
found in another lab during a prior investigation is deemed
by the USDA to be a repeat violation. UConn was fined $4,500
for facilities problems found in a 1998 inspection. By federal
law, the USDA and the National Institutes of Health regulate
how research animals are treated.
"Unfortunately, we have had problems in the past, and we have
not remediated them as quickly as we should have," said Smith.
"These problems are disturbing, and it is now up to the University
to ensure compliance with USDA standards," Fred Maryanski, interim
chancellor, said. "Prompt action is imperative and I am certain
that I can count on the cooperation of all faculty, staff, administrato
rs, and graduate students in ensuring that our research activities
are conducted in a proper and humane manner. Animal research
is an important piece of our mission as a land grant institution
and we must adhere to all relevant standards."
On Friday, Smith outlined a series of short and long-term steps
the University is taking to ensure compliance with USDA standards
for animal care and noted that "the University is sending a
strong message to faculty, technicians, and graduate students
that we will not tolerate the types of animal care problems
that turned up on these inspections."
Specific violations of USDA regulations discovered in inspections
on March 27-29 and May 8 and 9 include:
- Inappropriate animal care and staffing, resulting in the
death of five rabbits because of a change in their feeding schedule,
failure to notify the University's veterinarian of the illness
of a small number of rabbits, and swine penned outside with
insufficient shade and potable water;
- Procedural problems, including a researcher who began experiments
before being notified that the protocol had been approved by
the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
(IACUC) and who did not keep, in one case, adequate records
of the steps followed during the experiment;
- Management problems, such as labs with outdated drugs, or
drugs stored improperly;
- Structural facilities problems, such as animal care facilities
with broken air conditioning; and
- Minor facilities problems, such as peeling paint, dirty water
troughs, cluttered labs, and a loose board over a swine pen.
"While the animal care problems were limited, we are taking
them very seriously," Smith said. He noted that the facilities
needs have been a continuing problem.
The University is taking immediate steps to address the issues
raised in the inspection reports including:
- Continuing steps begun late last year to centralize the animal
care program, by reorganizing the Office of Animal Research
Services (OARS). Herbert Whiteley, a diplomate of the American
College of Veterinary Pathologists, who heads pathobiology,
is serving as acting director for six months while a search
for a permanent director is conducted. Whiteley has already
drawn up an operating plan for OARS and secured the chancellor's
approval to implement the plan. He has met individually with
every campus administrator and official responsible for animal
research and care.
- Over the next few months, Whiteley will complete specific
plans for centralizing and coordinating all activities in the
numerous facilities where research animals are housed.
- By the end of the month, Whiteley will hire a program manager
of animal care services who will oversee the 14.5 staff assigned
on campus to various animal care facilities. The staff will
be reorganized into one unit so that they can be assigned on
an as-needed basis to any facility on campus.
- The University's attending veterinarian, who is a diplomate
of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, will
focus his efforts on direct animal care.
- Relocating rabbits from a building where the air conditioning
is not working properly to another facility.
- Suspension by the IACUC of the work of a researcher who did
not secure approval before beginning experiments.
- Training sessions for researchers and graduate students involved
with animals will be conducted regularly and attendance will
be mandatory. Three such sessions have taken place already and
more are scheduled in the near future.
- The role of the IACUC has been strengthened, and members
of the committee have already begun inspecting animal care facilities
to determine whether or not the labs are in compliance with all USDA
- The director of facilities operations has been designated
by the chancellor as facilities management liaison for the campus;
the director has added on-call staff for weekend coverage related
to cooling systems.
- Minor facilities problems are being corrected as soon as
- An assessment of major facilities needs is being compiled
and priced so that a plan to correct facilities can be drawn
and incorporated into the University's budget, which takes effect
- A plan for routine and preventive maintenance is being developed,
so recurring problems such as peeling paint can be dealt with
on a fixed schedule.
- USDA officials have met with the IACUC and will meet
soon with researchers to discuss USDA
Karen A. Grava