Vet School cited for minor infractions
December 10, 2003, 5:00 am·
Despite a recent report alleging gross violations of animal rights at veterinary schools across the country, Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine was not among those cited for the most egregious violations.
The school was, however, cited by the United States Department of Agriculture for not complying entirely with the Animal Welfare Act.
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights -- "a national organization of veterinarians, veterinary medical students and technicians," according to an official press release -- has recently "obtained inspection reports showing that... nearly every U.S. veterinary medical school" was somehow in violation of the act.
The Animal Welfare Act was passed by Congress in 1966 and has been routinely amended since then. It is designed to protect animals from inhumane treatment and neglect and is administered by the USDA.
As a result of the act, the USDA conducts routine inspections in places like animal shelters and other locations where animals are used for research and learning purposes, including veterinary schools.
"The USDA requires that they look for alternatives" to using animals in teaching methods more than is necessary, said Teri Barnato, the national director of AVAR.
Jeffrey Wortman, the associate dean for student affairs at Penn's Vet School, explained that the institution had already implemented a variety of new teaching techniques respective of such guidelines.
For instance, to teach students how to set bones, previously animals' bones were broken and set -- all under anesthesia -- and then the animals were euthanized at the end of the procedure.
These operations are known as "terminal surgeries" -- ones where the animals do not live to recover.
"We have discontinued terminal surgeries in our core courses," said Helma Weeks, the Vet School's director of communications.
Additionally, Wortman explained that procedures that teach setting bones by breaking them are no longer being used, but rather, plastic models are now used "to teach orthopedic procedures."
Not only have methods been modified, but Weeks also mentioned the process by which these procedures must be approved.
"All the use of animals is reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee" at Penn, she said. This organization must authorize the use of all animals on campus, either for teaching or research purposes.
Barnato even recognized the efforts made at the Vet School.
"They have one of the better curriculums that I know of," she said.
"They could make some improvements, but we applaud the changes that they've made," Barnato added.
A potential concern she raised from AVAR was the acquisition of cadavers used for teaching purposes. She explained that AVAR prefers that schools engage in a process known as a "client donation program."
In such a program, the animals used are ones that needed to be put down anyway or ones that have died of natural causes.
"We have had early discussions about the client donation program," Wortman said, but "there are difficulties."
He explained that in order to teach normal anatomy, the animal cannot have had any diseases or problems whatsoever, and that they must have gone through a special embalming process to preserve the cadaver for the duration of the teaching.
Choosing to use the donated animals can have its benefits, but ultimately each school must choose the method which it finds most suitable for the education of its students.
The USDA still found infractions at the Vet School.
One such violation is simply a procedural recording problem. In this case, a procedure was supposed to be conducted in a particular way, but the first step to the research was not completely in line with the preapproved procedural guidelines designed by the researchers.
The school was also cited for not refrigerating animal food in the proper way in one instance.
While Barnato mentioned that AVAR was not given the information they had requested from the school, Weeks was unfamiliar with any such requests.