We're a little perplexed by a Texas Attorney General's opinion stating that Texas A&M doesn't have to release records related to testing done on cats and dogs.
The opinion was spurred by activists' requests for daily care logs and health logs, in a story originally reported by the San Antonio Express-News last week. The Beagle Freedom Project, which finds homes for former laboratory beagles, had requested the records, but university officials declined to release them with the aid of the opinion, which states: "A veterinarian may not violate the confidential relationship between the veterinarian and the veterinarian's client." The client in this case is the university.
The story noted that A&M "reported last year using 428 dogs and 15 cats for research. In 2009, Texas A&M said three-fourths of tests done on 82 dogs produced some 'pain or distress,' according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
The AG's opinion is especially perplexing because the university has released records in the past, notably in a 2009 report called "Dying to Learn," put out by a division of the American Anti-Vivisection Society called Animalearn. The report's authors queried university institutional animal care and use committees, which oversee animal testing, and were able to receive some pretty alarming information from Texas A&M, including the fact that the university engaged in a practice called "pound seizure," wherein research institutions obtain animals from municipal animal shelters:
Between January 2005 and July 2008, Texas A&M acquired 474 live dogs from local shelters, primarily Lehman Animal Shelter in Giddings, Texas. Records indicate that the dogs were euthanized at the university on the same day they were acquired from the shelter. Between January 2006 and March 2008, Texas A&M acquired 86 dead cats from Lehman Animal Shelter.
But even outside of pound seizure, A&M's sourcing can be problematic. We also noted in May that the Humane Society of the U.S. obtained records showing that the university purchased over 100 beagles from a Sugar Land company called Stillmeadow between 2010-2011. As we wrote in May,"in February 2015, the USDA fined the company $3,071 for failing to provide dental care to two beagles suffering from 'swollen gums and severe brown and tan hard material attached to the upper canine and cheek teeth.'"
In addition to supplying dogs, Stillmeadow also conducted research for drug companies, and, as we wrote, "a USDA inspector noted in 2012 that Stillmeadow did not meet the bare minimum of laboratory animal research by failing to 'give a rationale for involving animals' and for 'the appropriateness of the species and numbers of animals to be used' in an unidentified experiment. (The 'animals' on hand during the inspection were 13 adult dogs and three adult cats)."
We can understand why A&M doesn't want any information getting out anymore. Like other institutions that conduct animal testing, A&M is aware that the details of animal research can be discomforting. As we also noted in May, the school maintains a colony of golden retrievers afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, overseen by nationally renowned researcher Joe Kornegay. Here's what we wrote about those experiments:
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Kornegay's work has been of particular concern to Alka Chandna, PETA's senior laboratory oversight specialist, who questions the techniques used on the dogs, as well as the overall value of the experiments. A 2012 journal article discussing these studies states that, unlike mice, golden retrievers afflicted with Duchenne "develop progressive, fatal disease strikingly similar to the human condition."
The article explains that, to measure muscle degeneration, a dog's ankle joint was extended by using a tiny motor called a servomotor, which is attached to a lever. Then the muscles "are repeatedly stretched to induce mechanical damage." Dogs were subjected to "three sets of ten stretches," with a five-second rest between stretches and a four-minute rest between sets.
Nicole Green, director of Animalearn, was surprised to hear about the AG's opinion.
"Animalearn successfully obtained records for Texas A&M on dogs and cats used in education and training for our Dying to Learn Report," Green told us in an email. "We did not request veterinary records, but in general, we support transparency and think that public institutions benefit from an outside perspective. For example, we were able to see that alternatives to dissection were not being appropriately considered, and could point that out. That benefits animal welfare, which is a public concern and it benefits the institution."
A public university should be requires to disclose how its money is spent, period. And if a university has historically acquired animals from a taxpayer-funded animal shelter, that's all the more reason for transparency. Texas A&M's silence speaks volumes.