Federal investigators have cleared UW-Madison to continue all aspects of a research study involving cats that last year drew heavy criticism and two complaints alleging cat mistreatment from the animal rights group PETA.
“While the specific (PETA) allegations did not accurately reflect the entire clinical and research condition of the cats, changes were made to enhance the care of the animals and potentially improve research outcomes,” said the report by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
“None of their charges have been substantiated,” said Eric Sandgren, animal research oversight director at UW-Madison. “They were wrong on every count.”
Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations for PETA, said he disagreed with the report’s conclusions.
“We’re disappointed that the NIH downplayed major animal welfare violations,” he said.
Goodman noted that the federal agency temporarily suspended invasive parts of the study for six months starting in April and prompted UW-Madison to make some changes in how it approaches the cat research.
Collecting observations from at least five site visits by federal officials in the last year, the NIH found that while cats generally were treated according to industry standards, there had been a recurring issue of infections related to the placement of head caps, eye coils and ear coils.
Eleven cats previously had been treated for chronic infections in earlier stages of the study, the report says, although investigators found no signs of infection in nine cats on site when they visited.
UW-Madison officials promised changes to how equipment used in head cap care is cleaned, sanitized and sterilized. They also agreed to designate a separate room for cats to play and socialize among other changes.
The NIH approved of the changes in August and closed the complaint, allowing all aspects of the study to resume. PETA vowed that its focus on cat research at UW-Madison will keep going.
“This campaign is going to continue until that lab is empty and there are no cats in it,” Goodman said without specifying the group’s next steps.