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November 2005
Help Was Never on the Way
By Leana Stormont

 

Original artwork by Sue Coe

Abysmal planning and failed contingency preparations resulted in a tragedy of nightmarish proportions at Louisiana State University (LSU) when all 8,000 animals imprisoned in the university’s laboratories, including mice, rats, dogs, cats, rabbits and monkeys, died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of animals were abandoned in their cages and left to perish. Many animals drowned. Others suffocated, starved and dehydrated to death.

One can only speculate about the suffering those animals endured in the darkened, windowless labs of LSU when polluted floodwaters began rising in their cages. Trapped in a world that they did not create under conditions they could not possibly understand, one thing is certain—they suffered greatly.

In news reports following the tragedy, animal experimenters lamented the loss of their “data,” but failed to mourn the loss of life or to even acknowledge the unimaginable suffering endured by animals trapped in their cages. As home to one of the state’s “hot labs,” LSU handles and stores some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens. While university officials insist that all living samples of these germs have been killed (newspaper articles describe personnel dressed in biohazard suits “armed” with bleach!), they refused to identify which pathogens were being studied. University officials have attempted to deflect culpability and abdicate responsibility for their behavior by portraying their incompetence and lack of concern for the animals as emblematic of their consideration for human beings. Pretending they were forced to choose between saving humans and saving animals, LSU has spun this story into a tall tale where university officials emerge as life-saving super heroes while the plight of 8,000 abandoned animals left to drown and starve to death is conveniently ignored.

Other groups affiliated with animal care in New Orleans managed to evacuate their animals and transfer them to safety. For example, the Louisiana SPCA successfully evacuated its New Orleans animal shelter according to the plan they had developed years earlier. When the levee near the animal shelter was breached, submerging the entire building under water, no animals were harmed because they had been evacuated days before. Surely, if a nonprofit animal shelter is capable of developing and implementing a successful evacuation plan for animals, the state’s largest public university system, with more than $130 million in federal funds from the National Institutes of Health alone, should be able to do the same. It is beyond disingenuous for the university to claim it was forced to choose between caring for hospital patients and caring for imprisoned animals. If LSU had not been so woefully unprepared for this storm, they could have saved both.

The animals hidden behind laboratory walls at LSU suffered and died far from human view. Americans were understandably moved by news footage depicting animals in states of distress, including dogs stranded on roof tops, cats crying frantically from their abandoned homes and dogs swimming for their lives in the New Orleans floodwaters. There is no meaningful moral difference between the animals who were fighting for their lives on the news and the animals abandoned to starve, suffocate and drown at LSU. The only difference between the animals shown on the news and those dying in LSU’s labs, was that the animals at LSU did not have the luxury (if it can be called that) of swimming to safety. No matter how hard those animals fought, or how long they treaded water, no matter how hard they clawed at their cages, or how loudly they cried, their fate in those floodwaters was a forgone conclusion. For them, there was no higher ground, no safe harbor. Help was never on the way. Confined in their cages, the animals at LSU were abandoned by the only people who had knowledge of their dire circumstances and the legal duty to care for them. LSU abandoned those animals to certain death. For that, they should be held accountable.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has asked the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services to withhold permission and federal monies to rebuild any animal facility at LSU. We have also called for the resignations of Larry Hollier, Dean of the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, and Joseph Morschbaecher, Vice Chancellor for academic affairs—both of whom are directly responsible for the massive animal death toll at LSU. More than 100 years ago, the Supreme Court of Louisiana stated that a New Orleans city ordinance proscribing cruelty to animals “is based on the theory, unknown to the common law, that animals have rights which, like those of human beings, are to be protected. A horse, under its master’s hands, stands in a relation to the master analogous to that of a child to a parent.” LSU failed to protect the most vulnerable beings—the animals in its labs—who were entirely at its mercy. LSU’s behavior illustrates with tragic clarity that when animals find themselves at the mercy of individuals who have no mercy to spare, the animals will be spared nothing. For that reason, PETA is asking Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti to acknowledge the price animals at LSU paid with their pain, their suffering and ultimately with their lives by charging LSU officials with cruelty to animals.

You can strengthen the critical message of PETA’s letters by writing to the entities mentioned. Please visit www.stopanimaltests.com for more information.

Leana Stormont is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law. She is working as counsel in Research and Investigations at PETA and shares her home and her heart with the greatest dogs and cats who ever lived.

 


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