Local News

USDA finds 'health problems' at closed animal lab

Posted October 8, 2010 1:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2010 1:34 p.m. EDT

— Federal inspectors found a large number of dogs with health problems at a research lab closed amid allegations of abuse and ordered it to upgrade its facilities and provide documentation that there weren't less painful alternatives to its testing procedures.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors visited the Professional Laboratory and Research Services Inc. facility in Corapeake on Sept. 14. Three days later, PLRS announced that the lab was closing, and animal rescue groups from across the East Coast held a 14-hour effort to remove more than 200 animals from the facility.

The inspection and mass animal rescue came after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused the lab of abusing dogs, cats and rabbits. PETA released video taken by a volunteer who had worked undercover at the lab.

The USDA ordered the lab to develop a program to identify and treat animals' health problems, including traumatic injuries. The report suggested improving facilities, including drainage, and conducting more frequent health checks.

PLRS said in a release that the USDA inspection found "no evidence of animal neglect or abuse."

"The USDA's inspection report shows there is no proof to PETA's unfounded accusations," PLRS Vice President Dr. Larry Cruthers, who is a veterinary parasitologist, said in a statement.

"PLRS was the target of a premeditated smear campaign by PETA, a group that opposes all forms of biomedical research," he continued. "PETA's contrived video was engineered to mislead the public about PLRS and the company's strong commitment to animal welfare and regulatory compliance."

Meanwhile, PETA issued a news release says the USDA inspection confirmed the group's findings.

"We look forward to the results of the full investigation and any penalties and prosecutions that may come of it," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in the release.

The USDA report states that inspectors found "a large number of dogs" with "health problems," including dental, foot, ear and eye diseases. It also noted rusted caging and drainage problems in the kennels and rough plastic resting surfaces for dogs – a problem uncorrected after being noted in a June 2009 inspection.

The report noted one dog with an apparent severe allergic reaction that needed immediate veterinary care and another dog that had untreated lacerations on its ear that appeared to be a couple days and to have been caused by another dog, though staffers couldn't say where the injuries came from.

USDA inspectors said that the PLRS hadn't provided enough documentation that was using the least painful testing procedures possible.

The lab "did not have a written narrative description of the methods and sources used to determine that alternatives to potentially painful procedures were not available," the report states. "There was only a statement that there were no alternatives to live animals."

In the June 2009 inspection, the lab was ordered to provide documentation proving it was necessary for testing to grow ticks on rabbits, which were left with "large areas of reddened, scabby skin on their backs."

PLRS defended that particular practice, saying it was necessary to practice products to protect against ticks that carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other diseases.