A rare court hearing later this month – the first in 6 years involving a research-linked pet store – could revoke the license of one of US scientists’ only suppliers of chinchillas due to animal welfare violations . The docile South American rodents, which have human-like ears, are a key role model for auditory studies.
In a hearing that opens on July 26, lawyers for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will argue that Daniel Moulton, owner of Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR) in rural Minnesota, is a willful infringer. to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which the agency is responsible for enforcing. “This is a historic case,” says Russ Mead, animal law attorney at Lewis & Clark Law School. “The government is not going [this kind of hearing] last resort. “
The USDA complaint that prompted the hearing alleges the Moulton facility, which houses around 750 animals, is dirty and infested with flies, with exposed nails and sharp wire tips protruding inside the cages , dead undiscovered animals and dozens of sick and unhealthy chinchillas that fail to receive adequate veterinary care. The complaint cites evidence from 3 years of USDA inspections ending in 2017, which noted chinchillas with oozing sores and sores, untreated abscesses, and crusted, expelled eyes. Since 2014, the USDA has cited Moulton 112 times for alleged AWA violations, most recently after an inspection in May.
By comparison, 11 USDA-regulated establishments that provide another small mammal, rabbits, for research purposes have recorded a total of 35 citations since 2014, an average of 3.2 per establishment.
“This is the worst animal care record I have ever seen in terms of severity and long-term nature,” says Eric Kleiman, a researcher at the Animal Welfare Institute who has been following the application of AWA since. 30 years.
The latest research-related pet store to face a USDA court hearing has been Santa Cruz biotechnology in 2015. The company, which housed goats and rabbits used to make antibodies, agreed to a settlement that included a fine of $ 3.5 million and the loss of its USDA licenses.
Moulton, an attorney from Rochester, Minnesota, denied all charges. (Moulton’s Law License has been suspended in Minnesota last year for failing to file and pay taxes.) In documents and an interview with Science Last year, he said he was providing adequate veterinary care and that overzealous and under-trained USDA inspectors had unreasonably targeted him with minor complaints. It supplies chinchillas for research, hides, and the pet trade.
Researchers use chinchillas for studies of hearing loss and ear infections and their treatment. In 2019, US scientists used 1,250 of the animals, according to USDA data.
Since 2010, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have published 177 articles indexed in PubMed that use chinchillas; of the minority who identify a supplier of animals, many name Moulton. MCR remains on only chinchilla supplier listed in the Laboratory Animal Science Buyers Guide published by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). As part of his freshbased on advertising, AALAS also presents Moulton in its Supplier showcase on the site of its buying guide.
In April, Douglas Taylor, then president of AALAS, wrote in an email to ScienceInsider: “The association monitors the [MCR] situation and awaiting a final decision from USDA and local authorities. If a decision against MCR is made, AALAS will take appropriate action.
NIH-funded researchers continue to use Moulton chinchillas, such as a group from the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine who published this preprint in May.
Moulton is also under criminal investigation for allegedly breaking Minnesota animal cruelty law. The investigation was launched in December 2020 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which says it conducted a secret investigation at the chinchilla ranch from October 2020 to January and presented its findings to a local judge. PETA alleges that Moulton denied the chinchillas veterinary care for open wounds, exposed bones, abscesses and ruptures of breast tissue, and protruding or pus-filled eyes, and that he left an animal to die after the dog de Moulton attacked him.
Minnesota is a rare state that allows citizens to apply directly to a court for a search warrant and police investigation in animal cruelty cases. The search warrant was served on the MCR in January and law enforcement officers removed several animals.
The local prosecutor, who was Facebook friends with Moulton, has transferred the case to the county prosecutor for neighboring Rice County, who says he expects to make a charging decision by the end of this month .