After the unexpected deaths of three animals on campus — a horse, a rabbit and a ferret — multiple sources have accused NC State of gross negligence. According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2022 Inspection Report, the University has committed multiple violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Furthermore, USDA’s inspection at NC State in 2021 reported three specific violations pertaining to NC State’s mistreatment of animals. One of the violations, 3.127(a), mentioned that a pasture containing five horses “had no shelter or shade of any type,” despite the summer heat.
“The violations of animal protection laws documented by federal inspectors at North Carolina State University (NCSU) are so severe that the school should lose its license to house and experiment on animals,” said PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo in a statement.
NC State was inspected May 11, and it was found that three animals unexpectedly died — one horse had urine scalding, and lack of quick action resulted in the horse’s euthanization. A veterinary student also improperly handled a rabbit, breaking its back, while another veterinary student prolonged surgery for a ferret. Both the rabbit and ferret were also euthanized.
“Students are not being properly trained, and with all the animals dying and being hurt, it seems like a systematic problem,” said PETA Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Dr. Alka Chandna.
These health problems are not being properly addressed, and the University has now received a complaint filed by a National Research Watchdog, SAEN, a non-profit watchdog that monitors U.S. research facilities.
“A rabbit died of a broken back, a horse was euthanized after failure to receive veterinary care and a ferret died in connection to a botched surgery,” said co-founder and executive director of SAEN, Animal Health Technician Michael Budkie in a press release. “These deaths are made worse by NC State’s failure to investigate these deaths. This attempted cover-up by research administration is criminal.”
Any research facility must have an animal care committee, also known as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). IACUC is responsible for evaluating and approving every research protocol, experiment or procedure that use live animals and making sure animals are taken care of in correspondence with the Animal Welfare Act.
“The IACUC failed to investigate what was going on with injured animals, such as with the rabbit, horse and ferret recently,” Chandna said.
The complaint from SAEN was written to Dr. Robert Gibbens, director of Animal Welfare Operations, USDA/APHIS/AC, discussing the violations that NC State has committed. In this complaint, Gibbens is urged to penalize the University $10,000 per infraction/per animal.
“Most of the time, the fines are considered part of the cost of doing business,” Budkie said in an interview. “My opinion is that they are more concerned about the negative media intention that can come out of things like this than the fines.”
In a statement, Mike Charbonneau, the director of communications and marketing at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said the euthanization of the horse was an isolated incident, and after this incident, the University is working with the USDA to ensure care of animals.
“In an unfortunate, and isolated, incident, a team caring for a horse that was on campus to provide life-saving blood donations for sick horses didn’t immediately recognize medical symptoms of a bladder stone, and when the condition was discovered and diagnosed, the decision was made to humanely euthanize the horse,” Charbonneau said. “Following this incident, we strengthened our procedures and requirements for daily health monitoring of all teaching and support animals.”
While the statement Charbonneau offered referred to the horse’s euthanization, it failed to provide clarity on the unexpected deaths of the rabbit and ferret mentioned in the original inspection notes. When asked about the same, Charbonneau declined to give any further information.
According to Budkie, NC State’s first citation was for not performing investigations on animals after they were hurt or mishandled, leading to the death of the animals.
“When the injuries occur, it is not being reported so the animals can’t receive veterinary care, and the IACUC is not looking into it to find out what the problem is so procedures can be changed to keep injuries or mistakes from happening again,” Budkie said.
Budkie also voiced his concerns that the University may have committed more violations than just those the inspections revealed.
“There is no reason to assume that more things have not occured and just were not discovered by the inspector,” Budkie said. “When the inspector comes through, they only have one or two days to inspect everything.”
According to Budkie, critical citations are rare, yet NC State has received several. One of these critical violations found after an inspection in August 2021, showed that five employees did not know who to call if there was a hurt or mishandled animal, revealing a lack of knowledge on what to do in a veterinary emergency.
“We are talking about the workers, the animal technicians and the students, and they have not been trained that they need to inform a veterinarian if there is a problem,” Chandna said. “Students are not only injuring animals, but are handling them so poorly that they require euthanization. There's an issue in the classroom, and with the IACUC.”
According to Charbonneau, the necessary changes have been made to ensure that animals are properly taken care of.
“We continue to work with our partners at the USDA to ensure that all animals at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine have the recommended level of shelter, food, water and medications as well as exceptional medical care,” Charbonneau said. “The compassionate treatment of all animals is at the heart of all we do, and it’s something clinicians, faculty, staff and students at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine carefully train for and prioritize every day.”
SAEN and PETA are urging NC State to make a change. Animals are suffering, hurting and dying due to the lack of care from the University, and if concrete change doesn’t happen soon, it’s possible more animals will be mishandled and mistreated at the hands of faculty, staff and students.