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PETA Files Complaint About Cat Experiments

Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will investigate two UConn researchers for animal welfare act violations after the animal rights group People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) registered a formal complaint on April 9th alleging that a cat had died in preparation for an experiment that required a hole be drilled in its skull.

The researchers in question, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Monty Escabi and associate professor of psychology Heather Read would not comment on the matter, but UConn Media Communications Director Karen Grava released a statement that said that the PETA complaint was incorrect in several places.

"As a result of the PETA complaint, The USDA is planning to come and complete an inspection, but that has not happened yet," Grava said in an interview. "But I can tell you that some of the claims PETA has made are false."

The research being done related to how the brain processes sounds, in particular how the ear and auditory cortex function to interpret background noise and focus in on one particular sound, such as a person's voice. The goal of the research was to aid in the diagnosis of poor hearing and to improve current hearing prosthetics, possibly to the point of creating a curative implant that would greatly benefit the 28 million Americans with hearing impariments.

According to Grava, the experiments were approved by the National Institute of Health and UConn's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which must make sure that all animal-related experiments are carried out ethically.

Justin Grossman, a UConn graduate who works for PETA as a research associate, said that the group became aware of possible illegal animal tests after an inside source tipped them off to Professors Escabi and Read's experiments.

"That's how we learned that the cat who was initially used at the health center for an intubation course ended up at Storrs and eventually died in a laboratory while having a hole drilled in her skull for this experiment," he said.

PETA alleges that the research violated key violations in the Animal Welfare Act. The experiments included paralyzing cats with drugs, cutting holes in their throats for breathing tubes, drilling into their skulls, and removing a portion of their brains before being placed in a soundproof room for four days and then killed. The cat mentioned in PETA's complaint is said to have bled to death during this procedure, and that an autopsy was not performed.

Grava's press release said that this was an inaccurate summation of the experiments.

"The PETA account provided to the media has several serious inaccuracies: the truth is that the cat in question was never paralyzed and did not bleed to death," she said.

The complaint also says that UConn did not properly seek alternative research methods that would have spared the cat.

"You can do experiments like this invasively and completely safely with human patients and many highly rated institutions do perform them frequently," said Grossman.

Grava denied this charge as well, saying that the research team had already exhausted all alternative experiments before moving on to cats, whose hearing ranges and anatomies are similar to those of humans.

"[The researchers] are using computer modeling and they have used humans, but they have to use a limited amount of animals in order to make any gains whatsoever," she said.

PETA has also taken issue with the UConn Health Center's (UCHC) use of animals in some intubation training exercises. Intubation is a medical technique of inserting a plastic tube into the body, commonly to provide a clear airway for breathing. Last week, PETA offered to send the UCHC a non-animal simulator for intubation training.

Contact Christopher Duray at

Christopher.Duray@UConn.edu.

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