Another UT Southwestern Employee Says He Was Fired for Reporting Animal Abuse

Donna Pulkrabek says she was pushed out of her job at UT Southwestern in May after reporting mistreatment of laboratory animals even though, as manager of the school's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), that was her job.

According to a lawsuit filed by Pulkrabek, she had raised concerns of animal mistreatment -- mice dying in freezers or in overheated rooms, among other things, her attorney explained -- to the Office of Institutional Compliance, then to the IACUC, then to the school's dean of basic research. At every level, she says her concerns were ignored.

It wasn't until she filed a formal complaint with the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), part of the National Institutes of Health, that she says she got the attention of the administration. Within a week, she was placed on administrative leave and ultimately fired.

Now, a second UT Southwestern employee (who is represented by the same attorney as Pulkrabek) is claiming retaliation for reporting animal abuse. Patrick Thobe, who was hired in 2007 to oversee the treatment of UT Southwestern lab animals, says in a lawsuit that he was fired in September for reporting "UT Southwestern's long and ugly history of mistreatment of animals."

The facts of his case parallel those of Pulkrabek's: Reports to OIC, IACUC and a dean were ignored. A report to OLAW was met with retaliation. His lawsuit does, at least, provide a very detailed list of how animals were allegedly mistreated.

1. Live test animals were found in the carcass freezer. The concern with this situation, obviously, would be that live animals would be permitted to freeze to death.
2. Test animals received surgery without pain killers. These surgeries included, but were not limited to, arterial and venal catheterizations, tracheotomies and ovaryectomies.
3. Test animals were left in cages in excessive heat where they died of heat exhaustion.
4. Test animals received unauthorized surgeries. Unauthorized surgeries means that they were not approved by the IACUC Committee.
5. Unauthorized toe amputations on test animals. The toe amputations were not approved by IACUC
6. Test animals were given a lethal dose of radiation without authorization of the IACUC.
7. The death of a frog colony of approximately 40-50 was not reported.
8. Six incidents of unauthorized laboratory housing. The concern was the test animals were in an unauthorized location where they may not receive food or water or daily health checks.
9. Test animals received unauthorized interspleenic injections of tumor cells.
10. Test animals were subjected to unauthorized circadian rhythm experiments.
11. Test animals were injected with femoral arterial dye without the authorization from IACUC.
12. Test animals were provided a expired anesthetic. One year past expiration. The concern is that expired anesthetics have the potential to break down into painful metabolites causing unnecessary pain to the test animals.
13. Test animals died due to complications of intubations. The intubations were not carried out properly causing unnecessary death to the test animals.

UT Southwestern was served with Pulkrabek's lawsuit last week and has not yet filed a response. Thobe's was filed yesterday. I've passed it along to UT Southwestern spokesman Michael Berman for comment, but here's guessing the response will be the same as it was in the Pulkrabek case.

UT Southwestern does not comment on pending litigation, but we adhere to the highest standards in the care and use of animals in research. UT Southwestern fully complies with all applicable regulations and monitoring requirements, and its animal research program is registered with, and accredited by, all appropriate regulatory and accrediting entities.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson