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For some, like 2002 School of Veterinary Medicine graduate Paul McGough, a report released last week by the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine ranking Penn as the worst offender in the Ivy League of the Animal Welfare Act was not too surprising.

“I was shocked that it was published, but not surprised that it happened,” McGough said.

During his fourth year as a veterinary student, McGough worked in the labs at the School of Veterinary Medicine, where on multiple occasions he saw what he considers to be violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Yet not everyone at Penn has had the same experience as McGough. “I actually found the study to be a superficial analysis, and very disingenuous,” said a current Penn Medical student who does research in a laboratory on campus and wishes to remain anonymous due to the controversial nature of the issue. “There are so many different facilities on campus that it really depends on the [individual] facility.”

The United States Department of Agriculture documentation detailing the violations — obtained by the PCRM through a Freedom of Information Act request — explains violations that occurred on Penn sites, but does not always detail the specific labs where they occurred. “Maybe at certain facilities it’s like that, but others are very, very compliant. It’s very hard to lump everything together,” the Penn Med student said.

He explained that in addition to being annually tested on how to treat animals, a number of facilities are also certified to make sure the highest level of animal care is achieved.

Both the Perelman School of Medicine and Vet School buildings were cited by the USDA as having violated the Animal Welfare Act, according to official inspection reports.

In an Aug. 9 warning letter sent to Penn Med and Penn, the USDA said further violations “may result in the assessment of a civil penalty or criminal prosecution.”

Penn’s size affects the tabulation of repeat violations. Diane Gaertner, director of University Laboratory Animal Resources, explained that a repeat violation means that it happened twice anywhere on Penn’s campus — including the New Bolton Center, which is located in Kennett Square, Pa. — and not necessarily in the same lab.

“Out of the hundreds of areas, if one expired drug is noted on successive inspections in different areas, then it is considered a repeat,” Troy Hallman, director of Animal Welfare of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Administration, wrote in an email. He also explained that because of Penn’s size as the largest Ivy biomedical research institute, he is not completely surprised that, based on raw numbers, it was on the list. “I do not want that to sound like an excuse. I want to emphasize that the Office of Animal Welfare and the IACUC continues to have the goal of no USDA violations — regardless of the size of the institution,” he said.

Gaertner also explained that many of the citations reported by the USDA between 2008 and 2011 did not “directly endanger animal welfare.” If, for example, “an expired container of IV fluids is found, that it is cited as an incident of ‘inadequate veterinary care.’”

According to McGough, the lab where he used to work frequently did not adhere to guidelines for the amount of exercise that laboratory animals need. “It was horrific ­— their idea of exercise is that when they go to clean the cage, they would let the dog out to take a run around the room for a minute while they cleaned it,” he said. “And I’m not against animal testing at all. I think they are needed for a lot of studies … But I was torn as a student.”

McGough was also disturbed by the number of euthanized puppies while he was working in the lab. “I felt like for a laboratory setting there was a lot of waste — and when I say waste, I mean of the use of animals,” he said. According to the Animal Welfare Act, as long as it minimizes pain and distress, euthanasia is not a violation.

McGough explained that in the rare occasion when he had a specific friend willing to adopt a beagle, the lab would allow it — but beyond that, “there was never any effort to adopt them out.”

Although USDA violations from 2002, when McGough was working in the lab, were not included in PCRM’s report, he said that he has talked to current students who have mentioned similar practices still taking place.

In response to more serious incidents recently reported by the USDA ­— such as a puppy found dead under a floor grate — Hallman explained that in no way did Penn “sit idly by and let things like this occur.” “We take these issues very seriously and our program is always in a state of modification and improvement.”

“This is my 9th year at Penn, I have 32 years as a veterinarian and 29 years in the specialty of laboratory animal care and, although our program is not yet perfect, I am proud of the quality of our programs and our continued improvement,” wrote Gaertner.

This article was updated from its original version to clarify Hallman’s quote regarding Penn’s rank on the list.

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