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Animal rights group targets Waverly company
By Jeff Murray, StarGazette.com, May 13, 2015

An animal rights organization is pressing a complaint against Liberty Research Inc., a company that breeds dogs and cats for research purposes, after USDA inspections turned up violations.

A national animal rights group has filed a complaint against a Waverly-based company that breeds dogs and cats specifically for research purposes.

The complaint was filed after U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections turned up several violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including the deaths of two dogs that were being transported to a research facility.

Liberty Research Inc., which has been in existence for more than 40 years and located in Waverly since 1989, said all of the issues raised in the USDA reports have been corrected and that Liberty has a good track record of properly treating its animals.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW, an animal rights group based in Milford, Ohio, filed a complaint with the USDA seeking a federal fine and the termination of Liberty's license as an animal breeder.

A USDA inspection report dated March 27, 2014, details an incident in which one dog died due to poor ventilation during transport to a facility in Michigan, while a second dog had to be euthanized upon arrival.

The report noted the transport kennels carrying 43 dogs were packed in a way that impeded normal air flow. The back walls of the transport kennels were covered with clear plastic, further preventing adequate circulation of air, the report said.

"Obviously, the violations we've seen are very serious," said Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. "Any time a facility like this can't even transport animals safely they are clearly incapable of working with animals in a way that doesn't kill them.

"When you are so careless that the transportation enclosures cause animals to suffocate, obviously this facility should not be allowed to work with animals in the future," Budkie said. "Liberty had a situation where its negligence killed several dogs and they continued to violate the Animal Welfare Act following that."

Liberty Research Inc. comprises 17 buildings that sit on about 14 acres of land off Route 17C in Waverly. The company employs about 60 people.

Liberty Research breeds and raises cats and dogs for use in research for development of veterinary products, both for other research facilities and its own.

The company follows strict guidelines to ensure the health and well-being of its animals and is not only licensed and regularly inspected by USDA, but is also accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, CEO William Waring said.

The people who work at Liberty Research are also animal lovers and their research can help pets live longer, healthier lives, Waring said.

Problems that were cited by USDA inspectors, including the dogs that died, have already been corrected, Waring said.

"That's the first time in 25 years we've had an incident. We took it harder than anyone else could," Waring said. "USDA came in after it happened and changes were implemented immediately. That vehicle was taken off the road immediately and we took corrective actions. That incident was devastating. It's not what we want to be doing. It will never happen again."

The Liberty Research campus is monitored 24 hours a day by a security firm, and technicians clean the animals' living quarters daily and check their health, Waring said. There are also daily socialization program and the dogs and cats are provided with health care, dental care, plenty of living space and toys.

Still, problems occur, and USDA usually turns up some issues every time it inspects, Waring said. But the company works to quickly correct any violations that are identified, he added.

In addition to the dogs that died, recent inspection reports cited Liberty Research for some dogs that didn't have any toys and appeared hyperactive, structural damage in the ceiling of one of the dog enclosures, grooming issues, grimy surfaces and accumulation of dust.

Inspectors concluded the facility may not be adequately staffed to keep up with all the animal care issues.

USDA will generally not impose fines or other penalties if problems are corrected before the next inspection, Waring said.

Those inspections occur at least twice a year and are unannounced.

A USDA spokeswoman would not comment specifically on the complaint filed against Liberty Research by Stop Animal Exploitation NOW.

"I can tell you that we take all complaints seriously and look into the allegations to determine whether there are any Animal Welfare Act noncompliances," said Lyndsay Cole, assistant director of public affairs for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

In addition to meeting government mandates, along with humane and ethical considerations, it just wouldn't make good business sense for Liberty Research to treat its animal improperly, Waring said.

"We are one of the most responsible research organizations in the industry for 40-plus years. I've been here 25 years," he said. "We're dedicated to animal health products. It's not in our best interest to be out of compliance."

That's not good enough for Budkie and Stop Animal Exploitation NOW, whose stated purpose is an end to all laboratory testing on animals, according to the group's website.

If USDA is unwilling to take punitive measures against Liberty Research, public awareness and pressure might prompt some kind of action, Budkie said.

"In terms of research facilities alone, USDA is responsible for monitoring over 1,000 facilities, and a larger number of animal dealers and breeders," he said. "Not only are they overwhelmed, but we found public pressure and revealing information to the news media pushes USDA to take meaningful action. That's what we hope will happen here."

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