"Our animals used in research up here are treated according to all state and federal protocols," said Remi Barron, public relations specialist for the university. "They are well taken care of." He was taciturn on whether any of the animals are killed or maimed in the course of research. "I'm not privy to all that," he said, noting many experiments are proprietary information.
Most people know that animals abandoned to Utah County's two animals shelters are either euthanized or adopted. Less known is the fact that local cats and dogs are finding their way to medical research laboratories.
"About 25 this year," is how many cats and dogs have been taken for research from the Lindon animal shelter, which processes animals from north Utah County, said shelter director Tug Gettling. "More dogs than cats."
The animals go to University of Utah medical labs as part of a state law that stipulates that shelters must, if asked, turn animals over for research. About the same number of Utah Valley animals were taken last year too, Gettling said.
"A few at a time, about once a month," is how often animals are taken, said Gettling, who was audibly reluctant to speak about the issue.
Animals have also been taken from the south county shelter in Spanish Fork, but not in recent years, for whatever reason, said Mike Morgan, who directs that shelter.
From 1998 to 2003, the south county shelter was asked "a couple of different times to supply animals and we did comply," Morgan said. "These were animals that were going to be euthanized that day, anyway." In south county, animals are humanely killed by gas chamber.
"The long answer" to the question "is what are we going to do if they call us up again," Morgan said. State law requires compliance.
Year-to-date in 2009, the south county shelter had taken in 4,287 animals, of which 59 percent had to be killed, he said. Nineteen percent were redeemed by owners, 11 percent went to animal rescue groups, 8 percent were adopted, and 3 percent were dead on arrival or died at the shelter as a result of neglect before arriving at the shelter.
Shelter animals have been a key to medical research at the University of Utah for the past 20 years, said Remi Barron, public relations specialist for the university.
"Our animals used in research up here are treated according to all state and federal protocols," he said. "They are well taken care of."
He was taciturn on whether any of the animals are killed or maimed in the course of research. "I'm not privy to all that," he said, noting many experiments are proprietary information.
"We have many, many laboratories up here that have animals housed at the labs and they are used as part of research into various medical advances," Barron said. "Some of the most famous medical advances in the last 20 years were through animals.
The experiments they are used in are myriad, and include the creation of medicines including antibiotics, vaccines, insulin, and treatments for asthma, leukemia and high blood pressure, among many others.
"We are not the only university doing this," he said. "It is done all across the country."
State law does require shelters to turn over animals, but the university "just utilizes the shelters where the people running those shelters agreed," Barron said. "They are not forcing anyone to donate."
The university's practice of using shelter animals came under governmental scrutiny after the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently reported findings from one of its agents who spent eight months working undercover at University of Utah research facilities, according to the Associated Press. University officials have vigorously denied PETA complaints about neglectful and harmful conditions at the labs.
Roughly a third of the 276 shelter animals taken to the university's labs in 2007 and 2008 were later adopted, according to state records reported by The Associated Press.
"The public needs to understand that we are all pet owners," said Jack Taylor, director of the university's Office of Comparative Medicine and a veterinary pathologist, speaking to the AP. "These animals are used in research that is helpful to humans and animals and then returned to a normal existence as soon as possible."
"Mandatory pound seizure is disastrous to appropriate sheltering of companion animals," said Holly Sizemore, executive director of No More Homeless Pets in Utah, a nonprofit aimed at ending animal euthanasia, the AP reported.