One side sees the issue as pets being used for experimentation. The other side believes animals used in medical research are vital in curing disease and saving human lives.
Animal rights advocates and medical scientists met Thursday to find a compromise that could conceivably prevent researchers at seven certified institutions, primarily the University of Utah, from buying unclaimed pound animals.
HB109, sponsored by Rep. Melvin Brown, R-Midvale, would require the institutions to obtain permission - written permission in some circumstances - from municipal governments before they could purchase animals. The current law requires animal control agencies to turn over the animals upon request.
Brown, who admits to no strong opinion on the issue, said the groups would talk compromise. Among the modifications being considered are whether a citizen could decide if his animal could be used for research; if the institution should be required to pay for impounded animals; and if the institution should be in the animal adoption business. Animals now used in research are destroyed after the medical procedure is finished.
Animal rights advocates who support the bill believe the current law erodes public confidence in animal control.
"Some people will drop their animals on the street rather than take them to an animal shelter because they don't want the animal used for research," said Lynn Bradak, a board member of CAMP (Citizens Animal Management and Protection). "It makes a shelter not a shelter."
The U. is worried that the original bill would end the institution's use of pound animals, causing it to turn to more expensive, harder-to-obtain laboratory animals.
Dr. Jack Taylor, director of U. Animal Resources, said the university voluntarily pays area animal shelters $20 for dogs, $15 for cats.
Taylor said if local animals are not available, they'd have to be purchased from breeding facilities, located primarily on the East Coast. Cost is as much as $500 per animal, plus shipping costs.
"Obtaining dogs from these facilities has become a major problem because similar types of bills have been Continued from A1
passed in other states," said Taylor. "Therefore, the demand has outstripped the supply. In some cases you have to get on a waiting list before the dogs are even born."
If local animal shelters refuse to cooperate, the worst-case scenario for researchers would be this: The U. would have to pay $362,000 for 850 dogs and cats in fiscal year 1989-90.
The university's concern prompted the 16-member State Board of Regents to take a firm stand against the bill, calling it "fiscally irresponsible."
Salt Lake City Animal Control Director Lou Lynes said although the city has no position on the bill yet, it in the past has favored local control, the main feature of Brown's bill.
Because of the controversy, Salt Lake County is neutral too, although Animal Services Director Peggy Hinnen said she personally favors local control.
Neither the city nor the county supplies many animals to the U. Lynes said the U. purchases most of its impound animals from Davis and Utah counties and only sporadically asks the city animal shelter for a specific type of animal.
The county animal shelter received 7,400 animals in 1988 but sold only 15 to the U. Of the total received at the county, 1,200 were returned to owners, 800 were adopted and 3,800 were destroyed.
Lynes said the relationship between the agencies and the U. has improved. "We have worked out a decent relationship," he said. "I want to keep an open mind. I wouldn't want to sit and say that if you can find a cure for AIDS with dogs, I wouldn't do it (release impounded animals for research)."
Taylor insists animal research done in the U. vivarium is the key to saving human lives.
"Every day in this facility I see research done here go right over to the University Hospital, where it's applied to infants and others who would die otherwise," he said. "There are literally thousands of examples like this."