Sacramento, CA — A California state appeals court decision has ended a lengthy legal battle by animal protection groups to stop the sale of animals from the County of Sacramento’s animal shelter to research laboratories. The Third Appellate District Court of Appeal has decided that the county has discretion about whether to terminate the practice of selling animals from its shelter to research labs that sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement with the county, despite repeated violations of the contract regarding animal use.
The MOU agreement was created by the county Board of Supervisors in 1986 to protect the shelter animals being sold by the county for research and teaching. It was signed by the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) and Sutter Hospital Medical Research Foundation (Sutter Hospital).
In 2002, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), a Davis-based veterinary association, filed a complaint with the county detailing numerous violations of the MOU agreement including non-compliance with state or federal law; using animals in unnecessarily-duplicative procedures or procedures that resulted in stress, pain, or suffering; redundant uses of animals; failure to keep required records; and not providing the county with records. AVAR asked the county to end the agreement.
“In response to AVAR’s initial complaint, the county merely asked both UC Davis and Sutter Hospital to defend their use of animals from the Sacramento shelter, not to respond to the allegations regarding the welfare of the animals and violations of the MOU,” said Teri Barnato, National Director of AVAR. “The county basically chose to ignore our concerns about the use of taxpayer funds for this program and the welfare of the animals suffering in it.”
Since its initial complaint, AVAR has been joined by the Animal Protection Institute (API), a Sacramento-based animal protection organization, and In Defense of Animals, a Bay Area-based animal protection organization.
“When it became clear that Sacramento County was going to sweep the repeated MOU agreement violations under the carpet, we decided that legal action was necessary,” said Michelle Thew, Chief Executive Officer of API. “The concern for us became: Why is there a contract if the county is not interested in ensuring any compliance with it? According to the appellate court, it is a pretty meaningless document.”
“Because Sacramento County is the only county in the state that still sells animals for research and teaching and because there have been so many attempts to stop the practice, it appears the county is finally getting the message that this is a poor policy,” said Barnato.
An updated draft MOU agreement has been written stipulating that UC Davis can use animals from the county shelter but only for uses that benefit the animals and that the animals must be returned to the shelter for adoption. A county hearing on the newly-proposed MOU agreement is set for August 2, 2006.
It is anticipated that Sutter Hospital will not adopt a similar agreement, as it continues to argue that kittens and dogs are necessary for teaching and research. Sutter Hospital uses kittens to train nurses in intubation techniques, although no other area hospitals use animals for this type of training. Dogs are used for research on a type of heart device; however, no records have been provided that describe the animals’ use in these studies.
Plaintiffs were represented by the law office of Evans & Page, of San Francisco, CA.
Teri Barnato, Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, 530-759-8106
Zibby Wilder, Animal Protection Institute, 916-447-3085 x205