Damning series about animal abuse

Frank X. Mullen Jr. of the Reno Gazette-Journal kicked ass with his exposé of the University of Nevada, Reno’s systemic mistreatment of animals. This is exactly the sort of work that daily newspapers do regularly in many cities, and Mullen and the rest of the editorial staff that contributed to this effort, including photographers who produced some riveting images, all deserve congratulations. Mullen has long been known for his investigative journalism in the area—from stories about the Fallon leukemia cluster to his series on the Donner Party—and we’re lucky to have him around.

It would be pretty easy to limit the blame on many of these allegations to the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources at UNR, but the fact is that this waste of livestock resources and inhumane treatment of animals has tendrils that reach to the highest levels of the school’s administration. Is there no fiscal or performance accountability when large numbers of expensive livestock die? In real-world farms, when people are so incompetent as to kill 38 pregnant ewes bearing two or three lambs, the foreman doesn’t dismissively say, as Dean David Thawley is reported to have done, “I don’t think we’ll ever really know what happened to those sheep.”

No, heads would roll, but they wouldn’t be left out in a field near homes to rot and spread disease. They wouldn’t be used as bait for the barbarous wholesale slaughter of coyotes.

The dean has hidden behind lawyers when questions were asked about how the corpses of sheep used in stem-cell research were disposed, calling the information “proprietary.” Yes, and Nevada taxpayers are the proprietors. It’s a clear attempt to avoid liability for the employees, animals and public safety for which he has responsibility.

The pathetic fiscal and public-health irresponsibility almost pales in comparison to the failed ethical considerations. It’s widely acknowledged that limited use of live animals in medical experiments is a necessary evil—although it wouldn’t be hard to find people willing to dispute even this—but part of this is the acceptance of the responsibility to at least treat the animals with respect and proper stewardship. Putting pigs in uncomfortably small enclosures is inhumane, allowing pregnant sheep to die of thirst and shock is appalling, leaving their bodies unburied or uncremated is just plain dangerous and unethical.

At any rate, Frank Mullen’s series is journalism worth reading. Interested people who missed it can find the stories at the downtown Washoe County Library; free for the next week at www.rgj.com, and, after that, free forever at newsbank.com. (You’ll have to use ra-2500 for both the user name and password.)