SALT LAKE CITY — The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a lawsuit against the University of Utah seeking information about the school's animal research programs.
In November 2009, PETA requested documents from the U. including animal requisition records, research protocols and veterinary care reports. At the same time, the organization was protesting what it said were inhumane research practices at the university after an undercover PETA investigator secretly videotaped on-campus laboratories for several months.
PETA particularly condemned the purchase of dogs and cats from Utah animal shelters. The group sued Davis County in January for access to records about transactions in which it sold dozens of animals to the U. from its shelter. That lawsuit was resolved earlier this month when the county agreed to release the documents — redacting names of people who placed animals in the shelter — and pay PETA over $17,000 in legal fees, according to Brian Barnard, an attorney for the group.
He said he believes the North Utah Valley Animal Shelter in Lindon is the only facility in the state that still sells animals to the U. for research. The shelter's director, Tug Gettling, could not be reached for comment but has previously said the research benefits all animals.
Buying animals from shelters for $15 to $25 is cheaper than buying them from breeders, and until recently state law required shelters to make animals available to researchers if they could not find them a home. The Utah Legislature amended that law this year to leave such purchases to each shelter's discretion.
University of Utah spokesman Remi Barron declined to comment on the latest lawsuit, filed Dec. 21 in 3rd District Court. He referenced a university statement noting that research at the U. is seeking the cause of Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses.
"The university's labs are inspected frequently without warning or advance notice by state and national agencies, and our labs are in full compliance with all government guidelines for animal care," the statement says. "Animal research is conducted only when the project has a valuable scientific purpose and is aimed at combating disease and relieving human suffering."
Barron said researchers have addressed problems cited in an inspection report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April, including a kitten dying of dehydration and monkeys being left unattended for days.
The records the U. provided to PETA in several batches since the November 2009 request had information redacted, such as the funding sources, titles and locations of projects, as well as identification numbers that would allow tracking of animals from acquisition through the completion of research. The group wants those details released for a complete picture of lab procedures.
The school rejected PETA's latest request, saying a deadline to appeal the redactions had passed. Barnard says that's because the U. stalled.
"If what they say is true, there's no reason for them to be evasive or elusive about it," Barnard said.
Kathy Guillermo, PETA's vice president for laboratory investigations, said the group is concerned about "invasive" experiments, in which medical devices and electrodes are implanted in animals, detailed in the records that have been released.
Regarding the tussle with the U. over the documents, she said, "We've been playing their game for the last year," and called it "an affront to open-records laws."
PETA is asking the court to force the U. to disclose all the redacted information and refund part of the $2,420 the group paid to fulfill its records request, a sum Guillermo termed "exorbitant."
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