Johns Hopkins Researchers Harmed Dogs, Animal Rights Group Claims

August 15, 2019by Meredith Cohn
Gilman Hall was the first major building on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

BALTIMORE — An animal rights group has filed a complaint against Johns Hopkins University for what it describes as botched surgeries on nine dogs that led to their paralysis and euthanasia.

This is the second complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against Hopkins this year by Stop Animal Exploitation Now, though the Ohio-based group has filed complaints in recent years against multiple research labs that still use hundreds of thousands of animals in scientific experiments to test medical treatments and conduct other research.

The group’s previous complaint against Hopkins came in February and was related to the accidental crushing death of a marmoset. The USDA inspected Hopkins and cited the lab for “unqualified personnel.”

In the case of the dogs, the group cited a letter Hopkins wrote to the National Institutes of Health stating that the federally funded experiment was stopped.

The letter said researchers had been exploring the use of spinal cord stimulation for the gastrointestinal disorder gastroparesis, which the scientists said has no effective treatment. Surgeries were planned on 19 dogs in 2017 and 2018 and nine dogs had “unexpected complications that led to dogs being euthanized for humane reasons.”

The animal rights group called Hopkins staff “bungling” and “unqualified,” and said they violated the Animal Welfare Act. The complaint seeks the maximum penalty of $10,000 for each animal.

“It is quite clear that something is rotten at Johns Hopkins University,” said Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of the animal rights group, which is the leading lab animal watchdog group. “Causing paralysis in dogs and crushing a marmoset monkey in a cage door are not only immensely cruel, but these incidents also clearly demonstrate that bungling JHU staff is unqualified.”

Kim Hoppe, a spokeswoman for Hopkins, said in a statement that officials were “deeply disappointed” by the events and have taken steps to prevent anything similar from happening. She confirmed the study was terminated and said the other dogs involved were adopted out.

She said Hopkins provided a full report to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. Hoppe also said Hopkins’ animal care program is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and that the university complies with USDA regulations and other government and institutional guidelines and policies.

“The care of animals involved in our research is incredibly important to us,” Hoppe said. “We rigorously adhere to all state and federal animal welfare requirements and guidelines, including closely monitoring all animal research and providing regular reports to government agencies that oversee such research.”

Almost 800,000 animals were used in research facilities in fiscal 2017, according to the latest data available from the USDA. That includes dogs, cats, sheep, rabbits, pigs and primates, among other animals. It does not include mice or rats, the most common animals used in experiments.

There were more than 41,000 animals used in Maryland facilities that year, including 856 dogs.

The use of animals in research has gained attention in recent years, and use of dogs has been especially controversial because they are so closely associated with humans, animal rights activists say.

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Beagle Freedom Bill, which requires research labs in the state to make more of an effort to find homes for their adoptable dogs and cats once experiments are complete.

Hopkins already had a program to find adoptable dogs homes, and officials have said hundreds of dogs have been adopted out. University officials also have said labs have been shifting to use more mice and rabbits.

Medical schools, including Hopkins in 2016, have stopped using animals in training, and cosmetic companies have moved away from animal testing. Federal law, however, still requires animal testing of drugs for humans.

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