We're glad to see that Texas A&M's collie mascot, Reveille VIII, will be living in luxurious campus digs in retirement. And we're certainly glad for the university's PR machine that it was able to get the Houston Chronicle on its knees." What we're less thrilled about is the distasteful timing: the announcement that this "AKC-registered pooch" has a view of the football stadium from her home at the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center comes on the heels of the university's decision to not release veterinary records for the dogs and cats it experiments on.
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As we reported earlier this week, citing previously released records obtained by Animalearn, A&M has a history of a frowned-upon research practice called pound seizure, wherein institutions pull dogs and cats from city pounds. Woefully underfunded municipal shelters don't offer much in the way of stadium views. Between 2005-2008, A&M "acquired 474 live dogs from local shelters, primarily Lehman Animal Shelter in Giddings, Texas," according to Animalearn's study. "Records indicate that the dogs were euthanized at the university on the same day they were acquired from the shelter."
Our objection in this case is not to the animal research itself — that's a discussion for another occasion — but to the university's lack of transparency, backed by an opinion from the Texas Attorney General's Office. A&M's ability to withhold veterinary records is based on the dubious finding of a veterinarian-client privilege, with the "client" being the owner of the animals. A client may release the records, but is not compelled to. But since A&M is a public university, it would seem to us that the public is the client, and therefore the owner of the animals. So it doesn't seem unreasonable that the public should be able to keep tabs on such research.
The well-being of lab animals is subject to federal requirements. We think the public interest is better served by a university showing that it's adhering to the Animal Welfare Act, as opposed to pre-packaging a puff piece showing off how many bedrooms a particular collie has access to.
University officials obviously have pride in their football program and mascot. They ought to have enough pride in how they care for the animals in their labs. At the very least, they ought to have enough respect for the public to be transparent.